On the surface, you wouldn't expect the craft brewers of today to have much in common with those existing in the Metroplex before the birth of the microbrewing era. The craft beer culture is nothing if not unique, but certain themes date back to when Dallas was just beginning to get a taste of locally brewed beer.
As a point of reference, the first large-scale brewery in this area opened in 1885 on the site now occupied by the Dallas Brewery building. Its initial capital investment was $100,000, which by current standards equates to a development cost of somewhere in the millions. The Texas Brewing Company followed in 1891, it being a $150,000 endeavor built on the land where the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center now resides. Suffice it to say, both dwarfed present-day start-ups in both size and scope.
Prior to that, the evolution of the brewing industry followed a similar path to that of the craft beer movement. Small brewers, some operating out of their own homes, formed the foundation of early Dallas beer. One particular home-based brewery, which lasted into the mid-1870s, met its end due to what was known as the State Tax. Enacted in 1873, this piece of legislation levied a tax on alcoholic beverages sold in quantities of less than one quart. In effect, it placed a burden on small businesses and made it impractical to run a brewery out of the home. Breweries which opened later, both before and after the larger breweries were established, still tended to be modest operations, but were usually attached to a saloon or similar type venue.
Those staying afloat faced the likes of Anheuser Busch and W.J. Lemp head-on. While seasonal and specialty beers did exist, basic lagers were the primary product of both local and national breweries. Absent the kind of taste differentiators which distinguish modern craft beers, hometown brewers were left to compete on price while touting the benefits of their brewery fresh beer. Evidence of this can be found in some of the earliest newspaper advertisements. Locals promised "fresh beer, equal in body and flavor to the best St. Louis beer", with retailers pricing Dallas brews 15-25% lower than Budweiser.
Of course, topics of freshness and competition from out-of-state brands naturally segue into a discussion of what small brewers depend on most: local support. The Dallas Brewing Company attributed their success "to the determination of our people to patronize home enterprises", while some argued that supporting the Texas Brewing Company was the best way to foster growth and prosperity in the Fort Worth economy. Clearly "home beer" was something local brewers wanted people to identify with and take pride in.
Imagine that. Brewers of the past depended on a "drink local" mentality in their daily struggles to overcome regulatory adversity, and in their battle to sway consumer dollars from the pockets of big beer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Sources: The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Daily Herald, Fort Worth Gazette, The Fort Worth Register, and the Memorial and Biographical History of Dallas County, Texas.