Craft Beer in the Heaven Known as Sonoma County

Redwood ForrestDespite being an avid traveler across the US and Europe, until last year I had only been to California twice before. Once if you don’t count a layover on the way to Hawaii. And that was only San Diego, pretty much as far Southern California as you can get. Now that I have experienced both sides of CA, I can confidently say that Sonoma County and Northern California are where it’s at. The breadth and quality of the craft beer scene and culture there, coupled with the awe inspiring beauty of the Russian River, Petaluma Gap, and seemingly endless Redwood forests, make for one of the best trips I have ever taken.
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After landing on a Friday morning in San Francisco, my wife and I had a day to spend around the city before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge towards Sonoma County. We did what the tourists are supposed to do around San Fran for a day. We went down to look at the harbor seals at Pier 39. We tested the zoom on our cameras 21st amendment Hell or High Watermelonrather than pay the $30+ a person to go tour Alcatraz. We scaled seemingly endlessly high-angled streets in our quest to accidentally summit the city. We drank at Mikkeler for a hot second, before sprinting a mile and half to have a Hell or High Watermelon Wheat at 21st Amendment (my all-time favorite watermelon beer.) However, after the fast paced and crowded day in the city, we were aching for the peace and serenity of Sonoma County as we BARTed our way back to the parking lot to take our rental car to our friend’s house in Forestville.
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After about an hour on down the highway past San Francisco, you notice the scenery start to change. The crowded neighborhoods and suburban shopping centers begin to give way to sprawling fields, house-less hills, and soon enough, acres upon acres of vineyards for the area wineries to welcome you to Sonoma County.
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The one thing that you first begin to notice with the beer, wine, and food scene in Sonoma County is the whole area is heavily populated with locavores. The more local the items or ingredients are, the better. Food menus at locally owned establishments will even break down exactly where different produce, proteins, and cheeses came from in the area. It’s like a scene straight out of Portlandia. This localized mentality also translates to local craft beer. Russian River Brewing, Hen House, Lagunitas, and other Sonoma County craft breweries populate the shelves of almost every eatery in the area. Whether the restaurant is a 20 seat breakfast place in the sleepy town of Guerneville or a backyard burger place in Petaluma, there is definitely a focused effort to make sure your craft dollars go back into Sonoma County and not into the pockets of AB-InBev or MillerCoors. And on our first day in Sonoma, I wanted my dollars to go to the shining gem of their local craft beer scene: Russian River Brewing Company.
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No matter what time or day you decide to go to Russian River Brewing Company, be prepared to wait in line. Unless you are going solely to purchase beer to go, you will have to wait in a line to get into the admittedly small and intimate taproom for one of the nation’s top breweries. If it’s during the Summer, you will have to wait in the sun and sweat alongside your fellow drinkers. My group of 6 hipsters in cat shirts waited a good hour in line before getting inside to put our name on the list for a table. But, our patience was rewarded. It is all worth it.
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Russian River Brewing Company is one of the rarities in the craft beer world where the experience absolutely lives up to the hype. When I first got to the bar, I was overwhelmed by the tap listings. Save for Pliny the Younger, everything they produced was available. It must have been quite a site for the bartender to see a bearded hipster in a cat shirt barely able to speak at the bar, surrounded by other hipsters in cat shirts. Thankfully, my wife was there to take control of the ship and make our orders.
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Feline Friends at Russian River BrewingThere are two orders that I would recommend everybody make when going to Russian River. First, a pint of Pliny the Elder on draft.  Fresh Pliny on tap is a magical experience of crisp yet smooth hops that words cannot begin to describe. Second on the order was a flight of all 20 beers currently being offered by Russian River. The flight takes you from the Belgian offerings, through the California Ales, and finally ending on the sours after your palate is pushed to its limit. I did not take notes on the tray of offerings because I wanted to taste every beer for what they had to offer and limit my distractions. This was also the point of the day that I began to get drunk. Pliny and a flight of 20 beers will do that to you. What they don’t tell you about Russian River in previous reviews about the brewery is the food. The jalapeno bread sticks (called “Pliny Bites”) and pizza at Russian River is the perfect type of food to throw on top of a stomach full of Pliny the Elder, Damnation, and my person all-time favorite wild ale, Supplication. I didn’t confirm it with our server, but I am almost 100% certain that the dough used in the menu is from spent grain at the brewery nextdoor. So, in a way we experienced the full life of Russian River’s beer while drinking our way through their impressive catalog.
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I wish we could have spent all day there. However, this wasn’t the end of our journey. After buying 5 Pliny the Elders, a Supplication, and a Damnation to-go (you are capped out at buying 24 Pliny the Elders and 5 each of the bottled sours to-go,) we got back into our hippie convoy to go down the road to Petaluma to the second leg of the beer-centric day: Lagunitas Brewing Company.
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An easy 15 minutes down the highway past the Petaluma Gap, you can find Lagunitas Brewing Company tucked away in a business park, as many other breweries do nowadays. But, I was a little surprised that the 6th largest craft brewery in the nation could be so hidden on a quiet road off of the highway. If it wasn’t for the 5 to 6 foot sign in a parking lot, I would have missed it entirely. Luckily, the local hippies in our car used to live in Petaluma, so we found parking pretty easily and ran across the road to the brewery.
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lagunitas fermentersThe very first thing you notice as you get closer and closer to Lagunitas is the large group of 750 bbl fermenters that seem to tower among the warehouses in the business park. I walked right past the front door of the brewery and towards the giant chrome behemoths like a moth to a flame. They are enormous and numerous. However, I’d kick myself if I didn’t actually go inside the brewery to drink with my other cat shirted hipsters in our group, now calling ourselves the Feline Friends.
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Even though Lagunitas’ brewpub and drinking areas are several times larger than Russian River’s setup, it is just as crowded, if not more.  You have the option here of hanging out on a grassy knoll type area with a few beers pouring, or head to the brewpub nextdoor with a large covered patio, every beer pouring, and a gigantic god damn line to get into it. However, if you want to enjoy a pint of Sucks, Undercover Investigation Shutdown, or even their Barrel Aged Cappuccino Stout, it’s a necessary evil that is worth it. We hung out on the lawn for a while enjoying our pints of Sucks, IPA, and Pils for a while before hearing that they were having the last tour of the day. As someone who became obsessed with their herd of fermenters, I knew we had to join in.
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Now, let me state that even though I do not imbibe in it, I am 100% for the legalization of marijuana for responsible adults. That being said, some people take their love of marijuana a little too far and our tour guide at Lagunitas was that kind of person. Mixed in between several very interesting stories, and most likely tall tales, about the history of Lagunitas and the previous locations of the brewery, were several not so subtle jokes about smoking weed that not only drew very little reaction from the crowd, but seemed to increase in number as the tour went on. The portions of the tour discussing the origins and exponential growth of the brewery and West Coast IPAs in general were interrupted by at least 8-10 pot jokes. I’ve been on brewery tours that make the mention of hops belonging to the same family as cannabis, but trust me on this, one reference is enough. But I digress; the operation at Lagunitas is jaw dropping.

Lagunitas is a testament to modern brewing and engineering. Inside their brewery warehouses are more pipes, lagunitas brew tourautomation panels, and tanks than I have ever seen in a brewery. It would take me a year to understand the purpose of all of the machinery there. After my vintner friend and I answered that we had brewing experience, we got a separate behind the scenes tour of the facility, including their barrel aging program which is surprisingly small right now. This was the second time during my visit to Petaluma that I got lost in a gaze with the pure size of these fermenters. But, alas, this was the point of our trip that we had to go back to our hippie compound in Forestville to BBQ some veggies, listen to Mumford and Sons, and drink some of the best wine I’ve ever had, all the while knowing that that this is a trip I’m making multiple times in the future.
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As someone who is relatively new to traveling across California, I wish I had been told about Sonoma County sooner. Though San Diego and San Francisco definitely have their upsides for both culture and craft beer, Sonoma County is for the outdoors loving, hiking, kayaking, craft beer drinking type hippie that I have become. The landscape is breathtaking and the people are some of the friendliest and most helpful that I have encountered on my travels. The fact that some of the best craft beer comes out of this area only cements it as one of my favorite places in America. If you want to refresh your soul and fall back in love with the world, fly to SFO and take the 101 up to Sonoma. It is a craft beer heaven nestled among wine country.

Lee Knox is the adventurous Travel Contributor for Beer Drinkers Society.

Texas Kumquats from Jester King

Vernal Dichotomous LabelWe’re pleased to introduce 2015 Vernal Dichotomous — a blend of mature barrel-aged beer brewed with rosemary, lavender, and spearmint with young farmhouse ale refermented with Texas kumquats. 2015 Vernal Dichotomous is our fifth seasonal saison, and our first inspired by the spring. The Dichotomous series is our effort to present sensory characteristics from the various seasons of the year through beer. The particular season (in this case, spring) is representative of the time of year from which the beer received its inspiration, rather than, like most seasonal beers, when it is released. This is because our Dichotomous series, like all our beer, isn’t fermented in mere days or weeks using pure culture brewers yeast. Instead, it slowly ferments and develops over the course of months in the presence of our mixed culture of brewers yeast and native yeast and bacteria harvested from the Texas Hill Country.
For 2015 Vernal Dichotomous, we once again returned to the practice of bière de coupage, which involves blending or “cutting” old beer with young. In fact, the old beer we blended had been aging in oak barrels at our brewery for over two years. It was originally brewed in November 2012 with rosemary, lavender, and spearmint, and comes from the same old barrel stock we used in the blend of 2014 Hibernal Dichotomous. The old barrel stock was blended with young farmhouse ale refermented with kumquats. Here is our Head Brewer Garrett Crowell, in his own words, on his inspiration for 2015 Vernal Dichotomous and his decision to use kumquats:
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“Spring is always a ‘fresh’ season to me, with everything tender and green. I felt the kumquats and the floral Garret Crowell cutting kumquats for Vernal Dichotomousbarrel-aged blended beer would approximate the delicate air of blossoming trees and flowers. The kumquats are the most springlike ingredient in the beer, as they were picked only a few days before going into the beer. So there is this interaction between the sensory and agricultural aspects of spring, that oftentimes are tangents of one another. There is even a metaphorical evolution of this season when tasting and smelling the beer. First you smell the flowers, and then the kumquats, just as you’d smell the citrus blossoms on the citrus tree followed by the citrus itself.”
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The blend for 2015 Vernal Dichotomous contains old beer brewed in November 2012 with Hill Country well water, barley, wheat, hops, rosemary, lavender, and spearmint, and young beer brewed in March 2015 with Hill Country well water, barley, spelt, and hops. Both the old and young beer was fermented with a mixed culture of microorganisms consisting of brewers yeast and native yeast and bacteria harvested from the air and wildflowers around our brewery. As mentioned, the young beer was refermented with kumquats. 2015 Vernal Dichotomous was blended shortly before packaging on April 20, 2015. It is 100% naturally conditioned in bottles, kegs, and casks. 2015 Vernal Dichotomous is unfiltered, unpasteurized, 5.4 percent alcohol by volume, 20 IBU, 3.95 pH at the time of packaging, and has a finishing gravity of 1.001 (0.3 degree Plato).
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2015 Vernal Dichotomous will be released at Jester King when our tasting room opens early for the holiday weekend at 12pm on Friday, July 3rd. It will be available by the glass, as well as to go in 750ml bottles ($14/bottle, limit 3 per customer per day). Approximately 3,700 bottles are available, and at this point, we do not anticipate 2015 Vernal Dichotomous being available outside of our tasting room, aside from special events. The label art was created by our own Josh Cockrell.

Householder Reviews Deschutes New IPA

Pinedrops IPADeschutes is yet another brewery that holds a special place in my liver. I’ve been in love with this excellent brewery since the first sip, which for me was their Black Butte Porter. For a brewery in Oregon, or anywhere else in the world, to have a dark beer as their flagship is almost unheard of. Especially back in the late 80’s, when the brewery opened its doors and fermenters to the good folks of beautiful Bend, Oregon. Thanks to my good pal, Kyle, who happens to work for this amazing brewery, I got to have a little preview of more heady, hoppy, excellence to come from Deschutes. The packaging is pretty, and somewhat silly, which is totally okay with me. (I do enjoy “Dad jokes” and awful puns. Feel free to send me yours!) This beer is also hopped exclusively with Chinook, and an “experimental varietal”, AKA Equinox. As I mentioned in my last post, expect to see great things from the latter hop in the future. It has “Capital P” Potential!!!

Remember, Kids, keep your legs and arms inside the cart at all times, don’t punch your neighbors, and relax, and have a beer!

Pinedrops pours a clean, mellow gold, and kicks up a light, fluffy head, that lingers about like an over-friendly cat, before dissipating to a thin ring of foam. The nose is awash in dank, hoppy goodness. The Chinook jumps up and down excitedly, yelling “I’M HERE!!! PICK ME!!!” throwing some serious grassy tones, and vegetal aromas into the mix. Mango and pineapple are incredibly present in the aroma as well, with more vegetal notes, along the lines of sweet Italian Peppers, berries, kiwi and pear-skin. The malt isn’t overly present in the nose, which in my opinion isn’t a bad thing. This is an IPA darn it!!! It’s supposed to be about the hops!

The palate is awash in Equinox Excellence!!! Dry, lightly kilned malts are up first, chased across the palate by tickling, bright carbonation, that resolves into an almost creamy finish. The fruit is in your face, and for some reason, makes me want to watch the video for “Never Gonna Give You Up”, by Rick Astley. Don’t judge me. You know you love that song too…Apricot, Pineapple, more Kiwi, and wet limestone make an appearance, as well as your typical offenders, (Light) pine resin, tangerine peel, and just a hint of tomato greens. It’s fruity, and residually sweet, but in a kickass, well-restrained, and quaffable way! I can’t wait to have this more readily available!

Overall, this beer is yet another milestone in the brilliance that one can only expect from a brewery as experienced and on-point as Deschutes can be. I have NO complaints about this beer. None. I don’t think I’ll get sick of it any time soon, either. There are plenty of breweries out there who do a whole slew of beers, every single year, but not all of them handle said slew with the balance, finesse, and sheer damned high-five-worthy inspiration as Deschutes does. Yes, I realize that that is just one man’s opinion, but you know what, people? I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it… Most of you like me. I’m doing something right, yes? I’m super excited to share pints of Pinedrops with all of you awesome Beer-Radasses as soon as it hits shelves and taps here in Texas, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed!!! (If you are, I’ll give you a hug, and a “there-there”, but I doubt that will be necessary.) I hope that this post finds you all well, and well full of food, tasty beer, and happy thoughts. Thank you all again for being awesome humans, and for sharing the love that is The Craft! Oh, and one last thing, before I forget… HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII KYLE!!!!

Cheers!!!
<Matt The Beer-Guy>
Mattdabeerguy01@gmail.com

reDANKulous, Founders’s Imperial Red IPA, is coming back!

reDANKulous_bottle_hi_rezFounders Brewing Co. will release reDANKulous Imperial Red IPA in late August 2015 to mark the thirteenth installment in the brewery’s popular Backstage Series. Like all of Founders’ Backstage Series beers, reDANKulous will be sold in 750mL bottles, and it will have a suggested retail price of $9.99 per bottle.

reDANKulous Imperial Red IPA is a no frills, bold 9.5% ABV India Pale Ale. It pours a pleasing burnt amber with some sweetness due to the Caramalt and roasted barley used in the malt bill. But hops are the true headliner in this elaborate sensory experience. The spicy, piney, tropical complexities of Chinook, Mosaic and Simcoe hops hit you right away with their dank aroma—and they stick around. Take a sip to have your palate simultaneously walloped and caressed in all the right places. Combined, the hops take the beer to 90 IBUs. It’s not just ridiculous. It’s reDANKulous.

“We love hops,” said Co-Founder and President Dave Engbers. “Simple as that. Our brewers love to experiment with new varieties, new combinations and new techniques. This dank beer is a fun, intense showcase of hops. We hope all of you hop heads out there enjoy it.”

Founders’ Backstage Series is made up of boundary-pushing, experimental beers. The intent of the series is to take the diehard Founders fan experience to a wider audience—though all of the beers are released in limited batches. Since its introduction in the summer of 2011, Founders’ Backstage Series beers have quickly become some of the most sought-after releases in the industry.

reDANKulous will be released in limited quantities across Founders’ distribution footprint beginning on Monday, August 31, and will be available at the brewery’s taproom beginning on Friday, August 28. This will be the second Backstage Series release from Founders in 2015; beer enthusiasts should expect one more release from Founders later in the year.

Five Rules for Kayaking with Craft Beer

kayak 3In addition to my love for craft beer, I am an unapologetic environmentalist. I am most at peace when I am in nature, quietly observing the wonders and marvels that the world can offer us. I have found that kayaking and hiking are two of the best ways to experience the outdoors. And in my most recent trip to Sonoma County, I was able to kayak 10 miles of the Russian River with a few friends and some Nalgenes full of Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder, the #8 beer ranked in the world on Beer Advocate.  Here’s what I learned on this paddling trip and how you too can enjoy a peaceful day on the river as a responsible lover of craft beer.

Rule #1: Do not openly advertise that you are bringing beer with you on the river.

Though it is extremely common to pass by more than a few fellow paddlers enjoying beers on the river, it is an unspoken rule to keep everything hush hush. If you are renting your kayak for the trip, most have written rules about not bringing alcohol on the river. These rules are mostly for the tourists that are there trying to turn the river into a party cove type environment. If you own your own kayak, just go about your business as usual. Instead of being the guy trying to drag a 30 rack of Keystone behind your kayak, be the person with a 20-24 oz container of beer meant for sipping. Make sure that everyone knows that you are there for the river, not to party like a sophomore on Spring Break. Which brings me to my next rule.

Rule #2: Use a secondary container for your craft beer.

One of the main ethics that all outdoorsmen should adhere to is LNT, short for Leave No Trace. It is a way for you to respect nature and the wildlife that inhabit it. One way you can support the principle of LNT is to minimize the amount of potential trash that you bring with you on the river. This is why I encourage you to place any drinks you may want to enjoy on the river into 20-24 ounce (or larger if you wish) Nalgene containers.  On every paddling trip that I go on, I make it a point to pick up every piece of trash that I encounter on the river. A lot of these are beer cans. Though you may have noble intentions, a sharp turn or fast water, could take your empty cans from the back of your kayak and deposit them in the river. A Nalgene that you can attach to your person with a carabiner helps support the foundations of LNT. However, make sure that you don’t only bring Nalgenes of beer on your trip.

Rule #3: Bring plenty of water and high protein/carb food.

This seems like a no-brainer when kayaking for 5+ hours, but I have seen far too many people on the river with no food or water. According to the American Council on Exercise, a 150 lb person burns 340 calories an hour while kayaking. A 175 lb person burns 397 calories per hour. Without stopping for rests (which you should do every hour or so), you will average around 2 to 3 miles per hour, or up to 5 miles per hour if you are going with a strong current. That means during my 5.5 hours down the 10 miles of the Russian River, I burned between 1,870 and 2,183 calories. Much like with running and hiking, you need to fuel your kayaking. The carbs and sodium in Pliny will help your paddling, but the calories are empty. Protein bars and a sandwich with whole grain bread will do wonders to help you get down the river. And a Nalgene of water will keep you hydrated enough so that you can fully enjoy the river without cramps or dry mouth. I recommend putting your food and water in a separate day pack or messenger bag. Do not bring a giant cooler for everything like a family of 4 on their first trip to the NASCAR infield. Why? Well, that brings me to rule 4.

Rule #4: If you need your water or beer to be cooled off, use the river water.

kayak 1This is less of a rule, and more something that my Sonoma County friends showed me during our trip. Most rivers that you will kayak down in America with have cool or cold water. At the very least, even a river like the Guadalupe in Texas will have water cooler than the pounding heat around you. While on a rest during your trip and your Nalgene of beer appears to be heating up, try burying your Nalgene 4 to 6 inches into the river rocks in a still portion of the river that is very shallow. The cool water, river rocks, and sand will help cool your beer off for you. Don’t expect it to be fresh out of the fridge cool, but a lot better than it would be strapped to your side in the North California sun. Using this method of cooling during a few stops on the bank to rest, I was able to respect my Elder and drink the Nalgene of cool beer within the first 3-4 miles, allowing me to follow the fifth and most important rule of kayaking with craft beer.

Rule #5: Take time to enjoy the river and nature that surround you.

Yes, kayaking with craft beer is a truly spiritual journey through the living world, but I will always understand and kayak 2remind myself that the beer is only secondary to the trip. If you get too caught up in examining and dissecting your beer, whether it’s Pliny the Elder, Heady Topper, or even Lakewood Rock Ryder, you may miss out on the full experience that river can offer. The cliff swallows skimming the water. The family of Common Merganser ducklings being taught how to dive for food. The Great Egret slowly stalking Rainbow Trout fry in the shallows. Kayaking through the wilderness of a river can bring you closer to nature than you once thought possible. Sipping on craft beer while doing so should only enhance your trip, not be the center piece. You’re not out there to get drunk. You’re there to kayak.

We’re only on this world for a short amount of time. Take time out of your day to take a look around and enjoy it.

Lee Knox is the adventurous Travel Contributor for Beer Drinkers Society.

Paige Gibson Visits Rabbit Hole Brewing for Summer in Wonderland

Rabbit Hole GlassRabbit Hole Brewery has a way of creating a unique (and tasty!) cast of characters when it comes to craft beer. Taking inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Rabbit Hole offers unconventional beer styles with appropriately peculiar names. The brewery’s three founders bring diverse expertise to the craft: Matt Morriss and Tom Anderson both have backgrounds in engineering and homebrewing, while Laron Cheek is skilled in Computer Information Systems, and concentrates on marketing and distribution. They opened their facilities in Justin, TX, in January of 2014, and have been brewing up a good reputation throughout the metroplex ever since. Their second annual Memorial Day extravaganza, Summer In Wonderland, took place on Saturday, May 23. It included crafts and games, hot dogs, guest breweries, live music, one-of-a-kind glassware, gourmet coffee and ice cream, and even custom-designed coloring books. There were some patches of rain that day, but I’m willing to bet that didn’t keep anyone away – it was an excellent kickoff to the summer season. Also, I’m a big fan of Alice and her adventures, so I might be a bit biased.

General Admission began at 12:30pm, but those with VIP ticket were admitted at 11am, so we got a bit of a head start on our drinking. Tents and vendors were set up around the open lot, along with wooden tables, benches, and umbrellas, which were nice to huddle under during the occasional rain shower. Laron, Matt, and Tom were busy greeting guests, handing out taster glasses, and being all-around nice guys when I arrived. Tait Lifto, self-described Chief Sales Sensei, gave a brief run-down of the day’s schedule of events, as well as additional details on the taster glasses. The commemorative Pawn Taster Glass is only the first piece in the Rabbit Hole Beer Chess Set – Tait says Rabbit Hole Cornhole Boards by Nick Gloverthe brewery will eventually release a glass for every chess piece, the idea being that you actually play the game using your complete set of Rabbit Hole glasses. Chess enthusiasts, be on the lookout for the next piece to be released. Guests also received a Rabbit Hole-themed coloring book, designed by Matt Morriss’s father, Jim. Its pages feature each of the employees, as well as the delivery van and the Cool Rabbit (dishing up awesomeness). This artistry was clearly a labor of love. I was also impressed with the work of Nick Glover, whose hand-painted cornhole boards were a mix of Wonderland and beer-drinking imagery. He has a good sense of humor, too – my favorite board depicted Alice doing a kegstand.

After I had enough time to take in all the design and décor (and have my picture taken in the Alice and Mad Hatter face cutout board), it was beer time. VIP admission also included first access to some special offerings, including four of Rabbit Hole’s test batch beers. These were in addition to the 10 beers already on tap, and samples available from guest breweries Oasis and Adelbert’s. I didn’t have the chance (or tolerance) to try every beer, but I thoroughly enjoyed those I did try. Several times I found Tait in the taproom, serving beers and giving recommendations. I started with the test batches, and my first sample was Decision of the Brecht, a German-style hefeweizen. It was refreshing and creamy, everything a hefeweizen was meant to be. My second sample, The Masks, was the first sour ale test batch from Rabbit Hole. It was tangy and fruit-forward, but had its own mellowness about it – very nicely balanced. Well done!

At this point I decided I’d better put something other than beer in my belly, so I headed across the lot to Dawg ‘N Roll, a food truck based out of Lewisville, TX. If you’re ever in the area and craving a good hotdog or polish sausage, Rabbit Hole Brewing Glassesbe sure to look them up. I also caught up with Matt, co-founder and Brewmaster, to talk about Rabbit Hole’s limited-release beers, Hole Lang Syne and Dark Snark. He explained that since there were very limited quantities left of Hole Lang Syne and Dark Snark, they weren’t tapping them until later in the afternoon, in order to give general admission folks a chance to taste them before they inevitably ran out. Turns out that the folks at Rabbit Hole are both talented and generous. It was well worth the wait! Hole Lang Syne, the brewery’s New Year release, is a Belgian Strong Ale that’s deceptively smooth and sweet – somehow, it’s easy to forget that it’s 10% ABV. Dark Snark, a stout launched for this past Valentine’s Day, features fresh strawberries, chocolate, and delicious toasty flavors. Speaking of strawberries, yet another of my favorites was Tweedleyum, a strawberry hefeweizen. I went back for seconds, I think.

Not to be missed was Rabbit Hole’s tapping of a special version of their Rapture ale, brewed with a very rare and unique coffee from Mystical Coffee Roasters, called Wild Mountain Luwak. What’s so unique about this coffee, you ask? Kopi Luwak, or Wild Civet coffee, is made from carefully-selected coffee berries that have been digested by civets. Throughout the day, the Kopi Luwak Rapture was given more than its fair share of colorful nicknames due to its, ahem, unconventional production method. Nicknames and methods aside, this beer was a wonderfully rich and complex mixture of chocolate and coffee flavors. To top off the Rapture, and to finish out the day, I headed over to the booth set up by Local Urban Craft Kitchen (LUCK) for some ice cream. Known for its beer-inspired comfort food menu, LUCK was giving out sample scoops of some ice cream they had made using the Kopi Luwak Rapture itself. I’m sure a small amount of the beer actually went into the ice cream to give it its amazing flavor, but I think I could easily have eaten enough of it to become intoxicated (or at least have a really uncomfortable sugar high).

Rabbit Hole’s tendency towards eccentricity and experimentation, while also staying down to earth, set this brewery apart from the rest. Plus, you won’t find friendlier or more hard-working staff in the Beer Universe. Be sure to check their website, or give them a call, to find out about special events, taproom hours, and brewery tours. I’ll be making a trip back to Wonderland soon.
Alice and Wonderland Rabbit Hole Brewing
Paige Gibson is a contributor for Beer Drinkers Society and an amazing photographer.

You won’t want to miss the next beer class and cuisine at this Dallas restaurant

Victor Tangos restaurant in Dallas.  Photography by Mei-Chun Jau.

Victor Tangos restaurant in Dallas. Photography by Mei-Chun Jau.

Hidden in an unassuming brick building on Dallas’s Henderson Avenue is the cultivated, smooth and comforting atmosphere of Victor Tangos. The bar and restaurant is touted as contradictory. From the Victor Tangos website, “While its aesthetic is warm it is also refined, while its dining is elevated it is persistently creative.” The place truly is all of these. The staff is welcoming and relaxed, yet the décor is swanky and the food is most definitely elevated and creative! Just try their ahi tuna nachos or the toffee cake with its fluffy mascarpone cream.

Kirstyn BrewerNow Victor Tangos is moving beyond its creative and eclectic menu and is delving deeper into the beer world with a series of beer classes that pair the fine cuisine from Executive Chef, Kirstyn Brewer with a hand-selected list of great beers from Manager, Matt Ragan. And that is why I found myself in a back booth of the restaurant with a group of drinkers of all beer-ducation levels.

Ragan is a self-taught beer nerd and a man that appreciates excellence, subtlety and simplicity in skill. His appreciation shows in the beers covered in his beer class. From explaining the hidden flavors of the light and crisp Pilsner from Urquell, to the smokey-campfire smell of Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier to finish with sours like Brouwerij Verhaeghe’s Duchess and Boulevard’s Love Child #4. His explanation of the beers was so in depth that it kept me enthralled, but also explained in a way that beginners easily retained the info and were enticed to learn more. Ragan clearly loves subtle flavors and cherishes each style for what it is.

He also has a strong understanding of the history of beer and the mechanics of the brewing process. In the class, we discussed the entire process from the malting of barley all the way to fermentation. Again, he explained the science behind brewing in such a simple, but entertaining, way that all of us were hanging on every sip. And it’s no surprise that Ragan made each section of the night’s course so interesting. He’s a former actor. “I’ve always found myself at home on a stage in front of a thousand people. I felt more alive and comfortable in that setting than anywhere else in life.”

While acting in New York, Ragan always had one foot in the service industry. “The entire time, I’ve always worked in Matt Raganthe service industry. I was always bartending, serving or what have you. It’s my other love. Food, restaurants, people and service.” After building a small, up and coming restaurant into one of New York’s highest rated, Ragan headed to LA to start the owners’ second location. After making it to LA, the owners decided it wasn’t time so Ragan began tending bar at Westside Tavern. He learned the meaning of excellence while working there, “It was higher end and tougher food to pull off and we would do massive numbers. It was a beat down. We’d have 1,200 people a night. Usually places that are just cranking out numbers provide decent food and decent drinks at best. We were determined to be a place that offered exceptional food and drinks all the time. Making sure every single cocktail and meal was perfect. It was an enormous challenge. That place took years off of our lives, but I couldn’t be more proud to have been part of it.”

Ragan then came to Dallas with that same focus on excellence when he agreed to manage Victor Tangos. So expect to see excellence in a seasonal menu of amazing food, wonderful cocktails and now even more beer, since Ragan wants to hold more of his fun and educational beer classes.

Enjoy Your Craft,
Ben Esely is a co-founder and the Brewer Interviewer for Beer Drinkers Society.