A few years ago, Jim Elliott was a mild-mannered high school marketing teacher in Lewisville who liked to brew beer on the side. Today he’s retired from teaching and putting his marketing and brewing knowledge to good use as owner of the fast growing Cedar Creek Brewery in Seven Points.
Cedar Creek Brewery makes a variety of beer — exceptionally good beer, in fact, proclaimed so by the hundreds of samplers who visit the brewery each weekend, as well as the experts who really know their beer.
What has rocketed Cedar Creek Brewery on its current trajectory of success is the gold medal they won last October at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. That festival, considered the premier competition for micro beers nationwide, showcases hundreds of beers in dozens of categories. Some very successful breweries compete for years without winning, but Cedar Creek took home the gold on its first try, just 15 short months after opening its doors.
"I didn’t even go to Denver for the festival," Elliott says with more than a hint of remorse in his voice. "I travel all the time for the brewery, and I had no reason to believe we’d win anything. I sent our head brewer and his assistant and told them to try to learn something."
On the night of the festival’s awards ceremony, Elliott and his wife Cindy gathered with about 30 of their close friends and family members in the brewery’s taproom to sample a little of the Belgian Dubbel they’d sent to the Denver competition.
"We had a small laptop and we were watching online," Elliott said. "When they got to our category, we listened as they gave out the bronze and silver medals to larger, more established breweries. When it was time for the gold, they said ‘…and the gold medal goes to Cedar Creek Brewery in Seven Points, Texas, for their Belgian Dubbel.’ The room went silent, everyone gathered around the computer because we thought we’d heard wrong, and then we saw our own Damon Lewis and Blake Morrison headed on to the stage, and we just went nuts."
Retelling the story still brings tears to his eyes, but what happened next has provided his team of five employees and dozens of loyal volunteers no time to pause and reflect on their victory.
The phones at the brewery started to ring.
"We got hundreds of calls. Everyone we had ever talked to wanted our beer. From Austin and Houston to Dallas to Denver. Everywhere," he says.
The national win, continued rave reviews, and growing sales have accelerated plans for expansion at the brewery. To meet 2014 demand, the brewery invested in larger, state-of-the-art equipment, replacing the used dairy equipment they started with.
A canning line that was added in 2013 to keep up with demand for the breweries three year-round beers was working at capacity for a February special release of Belgian Double. It was he first of four special releases by the brewery planned for this year.
"We did three beers in 2013, and this year we’re going to do six," Elliot said.
The Biergarten at the brewery, which opened last fall, has quickly become a popular weekend spot for sampling beer, eating a brat, and listening to live music. For colder months Elliott opened a taproom where chili (made with beer of course) is served.
The brewery is always busy on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, and beginning in February they added Sunday afternoon hours. The brewery is child and pet-friendly, with free root beer on tap for kids and tours conducted by volunteers or Elliott "on demand."
"We’ve become a popular destination for beer lovers, bikers, lake residents, and people from Dallas and all around who have tried our beer in bars or seen it in the store and who want to see where it’s made," Elliott says.
National success hasn’t changed everything at the brewery. On a recent weekend a first-time visitor arrived on horseback. To accommodate that in the future, Elliott is adding a hitching post outside.
Cedar Creek Brewery is open on Fridays from 4–9 p.m., Saturdays from Noon to 9 p.m. and Sundays from Noon to 4 p.m. For more information on their beers, where they can be purchased, or directions to the brewery, visit www.cedarcreekbrewery.com.