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Big Buck

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

A quick trip to Dallas. Even though the brewpub landscape hadn’t changed much since my last visit, we tried to make the best of the situation. Since Texas opened their doors to brewpubs, back in 1994 or so, the Big D has definitely become home to good beer. There’s Copper Tank, whose older sister shines in Austin, a couple of grungy Hoffbrau Steaks, Humperdinks/Big Horn chain brewpubs all over the place and Two Rows. Routh Street unfortunately discontinued brewing last year.

There was just one new kid on the block, so that’s where we headed. Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse opened in Grapevine, Texas on August 31, 2000 in a shopping mall with a gigantic Bass Pro sporting goods store, not far from the DFW terminal. The fourth brewpub, and first outside the state, for Michigan-based Big Buck, this one fits the company mold. A huge, wood and stone structure with floor plan similar to that of a church. The open kitchen on the pulpit end was noisy, busy for a Monday night. Illuminated overhead, a mammoth dear head, antlers spread majestically, overlooked activity below. The brewery and fermenters sat along the right wall, glassed in on the second floor overseeing a sprawl of a dining room. On the balcony, spread across the back of the room, we found the bar bustling with smokers, dinner and televised sports action.

And that, quite obviously, is where we found the beer. As they do in Michigan (the other Big Bucks can be found in Gaylord, Grand Rapids, and Auburn Hills), Big Bucks offers a brew for practically everyone. An even dozen selections were on tap, so instead of pints, 23 ounce “Big Beers” or 1/2 yard tubes, we chose the five ounce sampler route. Low calorie “Buck Naked Light” was pungent Saaz-inflicted lager. Buck Wheat, known up north as Wolverine Wheat, was American-style, yeast-free and golden. True to its name, pinkish hued Raspberry Wheat was berry in nose and flavor. Medium bodied and uneventful, Big Buck Beer had weak signs of hops and a faint corn taste. Billed as “transitional flavor between lighter and darker beers,” translucent amber colored Old Bill Tate’s Antler Ale was fruity in mouth and flavor, chased by just a hint of hops bitterness. Bright copper, Red Bird Ale’s medium body proved somewhat sour in flavor, while Doc’s ESB was thick in mouthfeel, smoothly malty and bitter from mid-swallow onward.

Seasonal Wholly Wit was color gold in appearance, topped by a high white head of foam. Yeast dominated this Belgian-style brew with distinct banana and clove taste, yet expected coriander and orange peel were not noticeable. Scotch Ale was flat yet close to full bodied. Though its nitro smooth mouth revealed maltiness near barleywine level, there was no anticipated alcohol effect until the very end. This deep ruby brew improved as it warmed. Brewed with six grains, Black River Stout was a sweet stout, creamy coffee and roasted malt came alive in a similar but heavier-than-Guinness beer. Concluding our taste tour were two mixed beverages. Black ‘N Berry blended Stout and Raspberry Wheat into a too-much-wheat cocktail, while Cherry Shandy was a soda pop sweet combination of homemade Black Cherry Soda and Buck Naked. I’m sure those weren’t head brewer Howard McMurry’s creations. Considering the newness of the brewery and the expanse of beers he produces, Big Buck beers are pretty darn good.

And the rest of the place isn’t bad either. A nice selection of appetizers, including Doe Tails and Venison Beer Sausage, is followed by sandwiches (Smoked Venison Ruben, to name but one), Entree Salads, Soups & Chili (Big Buck Beer Cheese Soup), Steaks & Chops (28 ounce Big Buck Top Sirloin), Ribs & Chicken (Wisconsin Street Ribs) and Fish & Seafood (Smokehouse Shrimp). Merchandise galore at the downstairs store, you can also shop at www.bigbuck.com.

During the first 60 days of operation, this Big Bucks served 66,000 guests, producing revenue of $1.1 million. Big Buck CEO Bill Rolinski, in a website letter, was pleased with the new facility’s early success: “What is most remarkable about these numbers is that they were achieved before we started a full media blitz. Sales at Grapevine continue to demonstrate the benefit of how our alliance with Bass Pro is adding to the bottom line. Our guest profile closely matches typical Bass Pro customers, and we are now beginning cross marketing programs."

All four Big Bucks pulled in over $11.5 million in the nine month period ending October 1, 2000. Unfortunately, the company is not yet profitable. Corporate Big Buck stock is traded on the Nasdaq SmallCaps markets (BBUC).

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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