Before I stepped foot inside The Bearded Lady a few weeks ago, I had a sneaking suspicion I’d stumbled into a Rahr & Sons release party. Parked outside the Near Southside gastropub was a rusted-out Ford 100 pickup. A large logo on the driver’s-side door read “DADGUM,” and a sixer of Dadgum IPA lay on the dash. On the Bearded Lady’s patio, a dozen or so Rahr staffers mingled and hoisted craft brews. That’s when I first met Rahr’s creative director, Jeff Wood. The release of Dadgum IPA, he told me, took a year of debate, research, polling, and, yes, plenty of drinking.
The following week, I met with him and Rahr’s head brewer, Nate Swan. My question was straightforward: How does a beer go from concept to recipe and then release? Dadgum IPA’s genesis was anything but easy. Part of the reason, Wood explained, is the prominence of India pale ales in the craft beer market. It’s an insanely popular style, as evidenced by the dozens of varieties that line specialty stores like Central Market and Spec’s. Rahr’s longtime flagship IPA, Stormcloud, was beginning to taste dated, Wood said.
“The English-style IPA is mild-mannered,” Wood continued, referring to Stormcloud’s flavor profile. “It doesn’t have that kick in the face that West Coast styles do. The American style is one of the fastest growing craft beer categories out there. We were one of the only major breweries not doing an American-style IPA.”
The debate over when to replace Stormcloud has preoccupied Rahr employees for six years, Wood added. Last year, the Rahr team decided it was time for a change. In the competitive craft beer world, branding is everything. The process of developing a name and image for the new ale began nearly a year ago. Swan, Wood, and then-VP of operations Craig Mycoskie traded hundreds of ideas over email and late-night text messages. Most were duds. Early suggestions like “Heavens to Murgatroyd” were too wordy, while “Rahr’s IPA” was too vague. “I wanted an earworm that was simple and short,” Wood recalled.
The team, with the blessing of Rahr co-owner Fritz Rahr, finally settled on Dadgum IPA a few months ago. The term had potential hipster appeal, Wood said, and, most importantly, it hadn’t been trademarked. Mycoskie, Swan, and Wood organized blind tastings of the most popular IPAs on the market, taking note of the most appealing flavor profiles. Tropical, citrus, and piney topped the list.
Once the brewers had a general idea of the maltiness, alcohol level, and hop profile they wanted, seven test batches were made. Each week, the IPAs were sampled by visitors at Rahr’s weekly taproom tours.
“A lot of people think there’s one flavor in an IPA,” Mycoskie said. “I could put 25 IPAs in front of you, and each would taste different” depending on which malt, yeast, and hops were used.
It was a fortuitous time to be upgrading Rahr’s flagship IPA. The United States’ obsession with hopped-up beer has led to a renaissance of hop varietals hitting the market.
“Even 10 years ago, there wasn’t a big variety to select from,” Swan said. “That’s why there can be so many IPAs on the market now that don’t step on each others’ toes.”
Mycoskie and Swan settled on Citra, Eureka, and Lemondrop hops (the latter with its notes of tea, grass, and herbs) for Dadgum IPA. The results are bold enough to satiate hopheads while maintaining broad appeal across a wide range of craft beer consumers, Swan added. With the beer recipe in the can, as it were, Wood was tasked with guaranteeing that Dadgum’s release created a splash, both in Fort Worth and regionally. The creative director relied on his past experience tinkering with hot rods and following automobile trends.
“I immediately thought of getting an old rusty truck and painting logos on it, then taking it to events,” Wood said. “There was already a trend of taking beat-up trucks and installing new drivetrains in them.”
Wood also collaborated with a friend and local rapper, J/O/E, to promote the new brew by featuring the hip-hop artist in promotional photos.
The truck, fitted with a fog machine in the cabin to give it the appearance of being hotboxed, has been to 18 beer events and counting, Wood said.
“This is a turning point for us,” Swan said, noting that Rahr & Sons has “been seen as conservative at times. This is a step in the ‘cool’ direction with a beer style that’s all the rage.”