Fort Worth has not been kind to beer. Home of Billy Bob’s Texas honky-tonk, the Stock Show and Rodeo and a major Miller brewery, as well as a couple of major universities, this is the land of Miller Lite and Michelob Ultra. Past brewpubs and craft brewers in North Texas have not lasted very long. “Exotic” generally means something along the lines of Shiner Blonde.
One man intends to change that image. His name is James (Jamie) Fulton and his new endeavor is The Covey Restaurant & Brewery. Scheduled to open in March 2006 close to the TCU area of Fort Worth, this brewpub promises not only locally brewed beers but also world-class cuisine with their Certified Master Chef, Sean Bautista.
Relatively young for a professional brewer and business owner, Fulton has an enviable beer resume. A graduate of Chicago’s Siebel Institute and Munich’s Doemens Brewing Academy, he has also studied in brewing programs at the University of California, Davis, and the Institute and Guild of Brewing in London. Professionally, Fulton has worked most recently at the Blue Star Brewing Company in San Antonio under the direction of Joey Villareal.
Fulton is equally accomplished as a hunter and outdoorsman. From a five-time All-American NCAA Championship Skeet Team member to the Texas State 12-Gauge Skeet Champion in 2001, Fulton comes from a long line of shooters and wild game is no stranger to his family’s table. Texas is a hunting state, and starting a business named The Covey (he credits his mother for the name) makes one feel right at home.
How did you first get interested in beer and started in the brewing industry?
Fulton: Two wholly different questions! I’ll never forget the first time I tried a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I was immediately hooked on hops. I started home brewing in college after I got back from Europe in 2002. I was in London for six weeks in a summer culinary course at Le Cordon Bleu, drinking the great English pub bitters and cask ales. A buddy met me there and we toured all over, from Paris to Amsterdam to Prague to Munich to Rome to Florence to Switzerland and back. Along the way, I had so many great beers I began thinking how I could get them back in the states. When I returned home, I started beer hunting online and then began buying my first brewing equipment. My friends and I loved the results, and they would always kid me about being a professional brewer. Well, I finished my degree and decided I wanted to brew professionally.
How did you end up in Texas and, specifically, Fort Worth? Why open your business here?
Fulton: I am a seventh-generation Texan — both sides of my family have been in Texas for a long, long time. My mother’s family was predominantly German, settling around the Fredericksburg area. My father is of Scottish descent and his family settled in North Texas. I grew up in Cedar Hill [a suburb of Dallas] and went to school at Trinity University in San Antonio. My parents own a ranch in Paradise [about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth] which is where I was living while I developed the business plan for what is now The Covey. We love great food and drink, so I would take weekly trips to Central Market and tool around Fort Worth when I got a chance. The old Fresh Choice building on Hulen Street was incredibly appealing, so I began a lease negotiation with the owners (which ended up taking over six months to finalize). But I would say it is worth it. It is definitely one of the prime locations for the combination of an upscale restaurant and brewery in Fort Worth.
What’s your personal brewing philosophy?
Fulton: First and foremost, get the best ingredients, even if they cost more. Beer is so cheap to make—especially when you are not bottling or packaging it—it only makes sense to use the best, most expensive ingredients.
Cleaning and sanitation are perhaps the most important part of brewing and must be monitored weekly from a visual and microbiological standpoint. From the area where the malt is stored to the cleanliness of my heat exchanger to the draft beer lines, all is of paramount importance. This is essential to bringing my customers a consistent, tasty product time after time. If I name a beer after a style—for instance, a Dry Irish Stout—it will be just that. Remaining true-to-style matters if you give it a name, but I will be more adventurous with one or two of the beers on draft at a time.
Does your brewpub and product line have a stylistic focus (i.e., German lagers, British ales, experimental beers)?
Fulton: I will brew world styles of beer. Certain beer styles have been around for centuries for a reason—they are enjoyed by many people. I will brew German, English, and American ales and lagers, with true-to-style ingredients. I am using some of the best malt in the world, produced by Weyermann Maltings of Bamberg, Germany, and Simpsons Maltings from England. It is more expensive but it produces superior, more consistent beer.
You initially have seven beers planned for the local market. Any plans to produce more or different styles in the future?
Fulton: Of course! That is part of the beauty of an independently owned brewpub: I can brew whatever I or my customers want. The website lists probably 15 beers or so, all of which will make appearances at some point. But there will be some flavored beers, maybe a toasted coconut brown ale, or a chocolate Belgian blonde.
What are some of your personal favorite styles or brands of beer? Favorite places to raise a pint?
Fulton: You could say I don’t discriminate when it comes to beer styles and favoritism. I think there is a time and place for every beer. Some of my favorite brands are Rogue, Sierra Nevada, Saison DuPont, Belhaven, many Belgian beers in general. I am also an avid lover of chocolate and love obtaining chocolates from around the globe.
Some of my favorite spots are the Flying Saucer in San Antonio; North by Northwest and The Bitter End, both in Austin; Hopleaf in Chicago; Nodding Head in Philadelphia; Goose Island Restaurant and Brewery in Chicago; U Fleku in Prague and the Chinese Tower in the English Gardens in Munich. My parents’ cellar in Paradise, Texas, also has to be one of the best.
Tell us about your relationship with your chef, Sean Bautista, and his role in this enterprise.
Fulton: I met Sean through some mutual friends in my third year at Trinity. We both shared a passion for food and were always the ones cooking at get-togethers. Sean eventually went to Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. I brought Sean into the planning phase early, even before I found a location. Sean has been just as instrumental as I have in the development of The Covey’s concept and menus.
Are there any secret, special or unique ingredients that you use in your products? Any brews or dishes you’re particularly proud of?
Fulton: Secrets are just that! I will be using the finest raw ingredients, and that’s not just a cliché—I will pay more for quality. I will be using White Labs for much of my yeast, especially specialty yeast strains for special seasonal beers. I take pride in everything that comes out of my brewery and kitchen. We have an amazing start-up crew of employees and managers who will provide outstanding service to be proud of as well. But I especially love the amber ale and the German-style helles, which will be called Cowboy Lager. I will initially brew a smoked lager from a recipe I obtained in Bamberg.
Will you use your own beers in any of your recipes?
Fulton: Oh, yeah! One ad we were considering said, “Waiter, there’s beer in my soup!” From the “Not-so-French” Onion Soup to the Chocolate Stout Cake, beer from the onsite brewery will make our dishes that much more flavorful.
What is the food dish and beer that a brand new customer should try first?
Fulton: If I were sitting down at The Covey for the first time, I might try the Chinese Five Spice Rack of Lamb and a rauchbier, or the Asian Chicken Salad and a helles (Cowboy Lager) or bitter. The Pork Tenderloin with Stout BBQ sauce and a stout or amber would be tasty, or the Chicken and Chorizo Quesadilla with a hefeweizen.
Where do you see this enterprise headed in the future? Will you be looking to open other restaurants or brewpubs?
Fulton: I could see opening a few other Coveys in the future. One common problem with restaurants though is expanding too soon. This will not happen here. While I have no doubt this location will be successful, for many reasons it is very risky to over-expand at an early age. But I think expansion would be limited to Texas or the Southwest. Sean and I have flirted with the idea of opening a very upscale, smaller volume restaurant many years from now, but that’s just dreaming big.
What’s your opinion of the current Texas beer and brewing scene?
Fulton: I think it is still very young, but there are people enjoying great beers everywhere. After the booming fad of sub-par brewpubs hit and died, it will take time to gain the appreciation of many who are doubtful of the quality of such places. Like any successful restaurant, you have to bring together many facets of the business to succeed. It’s not just the beer, or the food, or the atmosphere, or the location, or the service, or the art on the walls—it is all of the above. It is all of premium quality at The Covey, and I believe that is important to being a successful restaurant and brewery.
Any secrets you want to reveal?
Fulton: I wouldn’t really say I have many “secrets” besides some recipes, but I am always willing to share my knowledge of brewing with those who inquire. One commonly overlooked, but vitally important, aspect of brewing is keeping the correct pH levels throughout the process. This greatly affects the stability of the end product, as well as keeping husk astringency low to none. Really, I could go on and on here but like I said, from one brewer to another, knowledge should be shared, not guarded.
Will you have growler fills? Cask ales?
Fulton: As of now, there will not be growler fills due to lease restrictions. Cask ales are a definite possibility down the road.
Will you host tasting nights or other special local events?