North Texas Daily

Beer connoisseur sets up shop as The Bearded Monk

Beer connoisseur sets up shop as The Bearded Monk

November 25
12:26 2015

Linda Kessler | Copy Editor


As people pour into the Bearded Monk for the growler bar’s grand opening, a line forms from the front of the house to the back, weaving around shelves of ale, beer and cider.

Venture into the Bearded Monk, and one will see tables to the left and right, as well as a vast display of spirits. Over 700 varieties are available, with 21 craft brews on tap.

At 33 years old, owner Ben Esely uses his growler bar, among other beer enterprises, to engage the Denton community with beer.

As he runs back and forth, greeting patrons, Esely talks up the new brews and mingles with the crowd. As the line to try what’s on tap grows longer, he jumps behind the bar to help his beer “monks” keep the customers happy.

A food truck, a T-shirt company, an artist painting on the sidewalk and a vendor selling handmade leather beer accessories were just a few elements of the opening night, showing Esely’s appreciation of all forms of creation.

“I grew up in the Dallas art and music scene, so I was constantly surrounded by artists, musicians and chefs, and there’s a passion there,” he said.

The Bearded Monk is a haven for beer connoisseurs and those who value what’s in the bottle—beyond getting drunk off of its contents.

“I’ve wanted to own a stationary business in Denton for years,” Esely said. “And now I’ve kind of got my pulpit to yell about Denton with [the Bearded Monk], to celebrate the creative culture here and to tell the rest of the world about this place, about Denton.”

 Bar owner Ben Esley talks with with a regular customer while ringing up his beer. Ryan Vance | Senior Staff Photographer

Bar owner Ben Esley talks with with a regular customer while ringing up his beer. Ryan Vance | Senior Staff Photographer

Family ties

The Bearded Monk isn’t the first of Esely’s beer-related enterprises. In addition to managing the growler bar, Esely runs a craft beer blog called Beer Drinkers Society and writes a column for The Dallas Morning News blog, Craft Beer and Cocktails.

Esely said his parents were never interested in drinking, and other than his grandparents’ 3 o’clock scotch, he didn’t necessarily grow up around alcohol.

But Esely attributed his interest in entrepreneurship, and ultimately his career path, to his parents. Growing up, his father owned a psychotherapy practice, and his mother worked as a freelance graphic designer.

“Without realizing it, they led me down this path from an early age,” Esely said. “They were both really supportive of creative thinking and problem solving. I grew up in this [entrepreneurial] environment, so it wasn’t so dark and scary to me.”

Settling down and starting up

Katie, Esely’s wife of almost 15 years, said he makes everything look easier than it is in reality.

“Ben has this way of making life look effortless, making it look easy to navigate the social aspects of life that make introverts like myself cringe,” she said. “Starting the Beer Drinkers Society blog and opening the shop took so many phone calls, so many meetings, so much work and so much of his time and energy. But the perception that Ben gives off is that it all just magically came together.”

Esely and Katie met while he was studying at UNT. He graduated in 2008 with a B.A. in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies.

“Looking back from college, I always started businesses,” Esely said. “I couldn’t hold down a job. I couldn’t have anyone else directing me, so I made my money by little toy sales along the sidewalk outside our house and selling candy out of my backpack at school.”

When he started at UNT in 2001, Esely pursued his childhood dream of becoming a comic book illustrator and said he came to Denton because of the strong creative community.

“I came here for college, and I’m never leaving, and it’s because of that culture. It’s because of the drum circles, twilight tunes, house concerts, paintings and theatre. This is where a lot of the creative culture of D-FW is birthed,” Esely said.

Bar owner Ben Esley pours a Funnel Cake Ale from one the 21 taps the Bearded Monk has. Ryan Vance | Senior Staff Photographer

Bar owner Ben Esley pours a Funnel Cake Ale from one the 21 taps the Bearded Monk has. Ryan Vance | Senior Staff Photographer

Beer enterprises

Beer Drinkers Society was founded in the fall of 2011 after a brainstorming session between friends. Two years later, Esely began working for the Dallas Morning News.

He said he became involved with the publication through Matt Dickson of the Dallas Brew Scene and Dallas Brew Bus, whom he knew through the Dallas craft beer community.

“He approached [the DMN], or they approached him, about building this craft beer, craft cocktails side of their website,” Esely said. “He made suggestions of people he wanted on that team, and I was one of those people.”

Throughout his beer-related ventures, growing craft beer has remained Esely’s overarching goal.

“There [are] still a lot of brewers out there that don’t get a lot of attention. There’s a bunch of beer in there we’ve sold that people have come in [and said], ‘I’ve never seen this before,’” Esely said. “They didn’t know about it because nobody is really testing the boundaries of what can sell or what people might like.”

He said Beer Drinkers Society promotes “beerducation” for the masses because a lot of people still don’t know the intricacies of craft beer—beer made in a traditional, non-mechanized way by a small brewery.

“There’s some education that needs to happen there, and that’s what we were doing in the blog, with the intent to educate folks who may not know,” he said. “‘Hey, here’s a brewer that you might like, and here’s a little description of what the beer is or the history behind it.’”

He added that they are in the planning stages of hosting physical “beerducation” classes at the Bearded Monk in an effort to help increase both people’s knowledge of craft beer and the craft beer culture in Denton. These classes will be ticketed events where patrons can come in, participate in tastings and learn about different beers.

“If you get folks in here that are better-educated, then they find beers that they like better, they will be more passionate about it, and they might tell their friends about it,” Esely said.

Co-manager of the Bearded Monk Ben Webster said he and Esely talked about trying to monetize the blog before settling on the idea of opening the bar. Although they never used the blog to make money, it helped the two get on the beer community’s tap.

“We’d been doing the blog thing for a while. We’d made several connections in the industry and gained a good amount of knowledge,” Webster said. “We were interested in the product, so when it came to it, we decided to abandon the blog as far as actually trying to make an income from it and do this.”

Beer Drinkers Society photographer Rasy Ran said in the 10 years he has known Esely, he has expanded his aspirations from simply owning and running a small business to building one from the ground up.

“Seeing that transition and application of principles… is nothing short of amazing,” he said. “The Bearded Monk and Beer Drinkers Society go hand-in-hand, and there aren’t many shops, nor local beer blogs, that do and have done the things the two platforms offer. There are blogs that pick and choose, but this one is focused on North Texas and somewhat of Texas as a whole.”

When it comes to beautiful things, there are always people who just aim to produce, Esely said. They reach their parameters and hit a “go” button. But such is not the case with brewing.

“Craft brewers are more akin to artists. They love what they do,” he said. “They get up in the morning, and they don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but they enjoy the art of it.”

Featured Image: Ben Esely, left, and Ben Webster pose for a photo. The two are co-owners of the new Bearded Monk growler bar. Courtesy | Beer Drinkers Society

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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