When the pandemic started almost a year ago, breweries were in a particularly precarious position. Forced to shutter their taprooms and facing declining sales as bars across the state closed their doors and restaurants limited capacity, Dallas-Fort Worth’s breweries contended with a future that looked more uncertain than ever.
And so, in the midst of all that chaos, Martin House Brewing Company decided to get creative.
The Fort Worth brewery had already earned a bit of a reputation as one of the city’s quirkiest beer destinations after the release of the Salty Lady, a sour German gose with a serious saline punch. Then came its program of “micro-seasonal” brews. While most breweries might run a seasonal beer for three or four months, Martin House started switching things up monthly, introducing limited runs of wildly creative beers that were brewed in small batches and only served on-site in the taproom.
The most successful of those micro-seasonal beers came in 2019, when Martin House collaborated with iconic Fort Worth pickle makers Best Maid to produce a sour beer spiked with pickle juice. Aptly called the Best Maid Sour Pickle Beer, it earned a rabid following in DFW and beyond, selling out immediately and spawning a new series of increasingly wacky brews that have kept Martin House in the mix during the pandemic.
“Every social media message and every phone call was from people trying to find this beer that we had no intention of keeping around for more than a couple of weeks,” says Martin House marketing director Shugg Cole. “We had people calling from across the United States, from Australia and Scotland. It just took on a life of its own. It was like a train, and we had to hop on.”
But when COVID-19 hit, the Martin House team realized that the micro-seasonal program would have to change dramatically now that people couldn’t come into the taproom to try all these cool new beers. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to make draft beer anymore because we didn’t have anyone to sell it to. We’re closed,” Cole says. “But we knew that we still had this smaller system, and decided to just make whatever the hell we want, however weird and crazy. We wanted to continue to push the boundaries.”
From there, the brews got even wackier. There were beers flavored to resemble Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies and Christmas Tree Cakes, and more savory options, like pizza beer, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos beer, cheesy popcorn beer, and a bloody mary-style version of the famed pickle beer. The team was seriously devoted to making sure that these beers tasted like the flavors advertised on the can.
To do that, the brewery engaged in intensive taste-testing, steeping spices into hot water and trying to figure out how to integrate just the right amount of tomato powder into the recipe for a traditional beer. “There’s a…