Although Fort Worth is commonly called Cowtown, it’s the city’s lesser-known Funky Town nickname that applies most accurately to the beer scene that has developed in the western half of D-FW. For those drinking under a rock these days, beers from Fort Worth breweries have featured some rather funky, headline-grabbing ingredients.
Martin House Brewing has been selling beers with Buffalo sauce, breakfast cereals, cakes, pies and barbecue spices for some time now. It and HopFusion Aleworks have both brewed craze-inducing pickle beers, and Panther Island Brewing has offered up a brew packed with Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets snacks. Want to exercise while you down a cold one? Turning Point in Bedford has seen great success with multiple flavors of a Gatorade-style “sports beer.”
Perhaps it’s easy to see why, when Neutral Ground Brewing opened on Race Street in March 2021, its main draw, the King Cake beer, seemed more familiar than funky. If pumpkin pie can be brewed into beers in Tarrant County (see Brutal Beerworks in North Richland Hills), then why not make a beer taste like the popular Mardi Gras-season baked treat?
In rather short order, Neutral Ground’s pastry ale has given the New Orleans-themed spot an identity. One of the brewery’s two owners, Sean Doublet, is from the Big Easy, while co-owner Stan Hudson is a native Texan. The brewery’s name is a historical reference to the days along the Texas-Louisiana border following the Louisiana Purchase. Oddly enough, it was Hudson, the Texan, who came up with the King Cake beer concept.
The current version of the beer, available inside the brewery, is the result of over a year’s worth of tinkering. Doublet says Hudson first brewed a batch of the beer as an avid homebrewer in 2018 before landing on the finished recipe in 2019. And like New Orleans itself, this beer is an intoxicating melting pot of styles. Hudson says his beer “is almost a bunch of different beers,” noting similarities to a Scottish ale or British brown. With several malts, including Vienna and lactose, the King Cake beer is one of a kind.
On a recent weekend visit, the brewery was just opening up for the day, with a large garage door rolled up, exposing a two-sided communal table with seats both inside the storefront and on the sidewalk. The decor presented industrial touches such as exposed beams, combined with classic NOLA touches, including gorgeous French Quarter-style ceiling tiles. Situated next to the Post at River East and just down the road from several well-appointed shops and restaurants, Neutral Ground should enjoy its role as chief beer spot for the area.
Better yet, for craft beer drinkers and curious seekers, the 4% ABV King Cake beer is a year-round staple, not just a seasonal offering for Mardi Gras.
Sporting a hazy golden hue, our full pint glass was rimmed with yellow, purple and green sugar. We tried a sip, sans sugar, first. A pleasing twinge of sweet spice was evident in the aroma, not unlike gingerbread. Our sipping yielded a malty, bready flavor that bock lovers will appreciate. With only a hint of sweetness on the tongue, it was nice to see the beer was well-balanced and transcended the possibility of being a gimmick beer. After a few gulps, we lapped up a touch of the colorful sugar to go with the beer, and while it didn’t necessarily add anything to the experience for us, the sugar sweetness didn’t detract from the beer’s flavor, either.
While we were there, we also tried the Ode to Excess oatmeal stout (6.6% ABV) and were again happy with the pick. When we visited, six house beers were available, with several draft options from other breweries available, including a couple from Louisiana-adjacent Buffalo Bayou Brewing in Houston and Bayou Teche Brewing from Arnaudville, La.
The King Cake beer is a legitimately drinkable beer that simply happens to come at you from a unique angle. After all, it’s all fun and games with wild beer flavors and ingredients until an undrinkable brew comes along. The King Cake beer from Neutral Ground Brewing, however, is a prime candidate to keep putting the fun in Funky Town.
“Every year for my birthday, I have a king cake shipped in,” Hudson says. “And when we started thinking about opening a brewery, I knew we needed a King Cake beer.”