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Triangle Downtowner Magazine

White Rabbit Brewing Company

Jul 01, 2015 02:06PM ● By Parker Martin

Ken was beginning to get very tired of his day job. So, he began to ponder whether the pleasure of owning a brewery would be worth the trouble of getting up and mashing the grains and boiling the hops, when suddenly he had a vision of a white rabbit running by him. There was nothing so very remarkable in that, but when the rabbit actually took a full beer out of its waistcoat-pocket and drank from it and then hurried on, Ken started to his feet, for he had never before seen a rabbit with either a pint glass, or a beer to drink from it. He ran across the field after it and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole. A moment later, Ken went down after it!

White Rabbit Brewing Company is Ken Ostraco’s realization of Wonderland and the bizarre cast of characters who call the rabbit hole home. The brewery has 23 different beer styles in their cookbook, each accompanied by a character from Lewis Carroll’s whimsical universe. The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, the usual suspects are all in attendance, complete with artwork from John Tenniel, who provided the original illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). Each of White Rabbit Brewing’s beer labels sports a modernized version of Tenniel’s artwork (now in the public domain) that makes for a remarkably artful voyage into the world of craft beer. These illustrations adorn the walls of the taproom like a hall of fame, with a very cool portrait of the white rabbit himself, by Ralph Steadman, hanging by the dartboard.

The taproom has a very cozy—almost cabin-like—feel to it, with lots of warm wood paneling accented by clocks and rabbit-ear-shaped tap handles. “We try to do everything differently here,” Ken tells me. Behind the bar, a window looks into their brewhouse, and a row of tarnished steel barrels

Curiouser and Curiouser. The brewmaster, Matt Ehlers, explains to me their unique brewing method, which utilizes these one bbl (barrel) steel drums as both the mash tun and boil kettle. “T e drums hold the temperature pretty stable during the mash, then we just rack the wort into the next drum and put it on top of a propane stove for the boil.” This is a very hands-on approach that allows them to brew a full barrel at a time without straying too far from their homebrewing roots. Matt even has a pulley system rigged up in the rafters to help him dump the spent grains. Their method might not be very flashy, but it certainly makes for a delicious beer, with an emphasis on creativity rather than productivity.

White Rabbit Brewing specializes in high-gravity dark beers. During my visit to the brewery, I tasted the Rabbit’s Nutbrown Ale (7.5% ABV), a deep copper ale with a robust barley flavor and mouth-watering caramel sweetness with hints of banana. I also had the Jabberwocky Belgian Tripel (11.3% ABV), a well-attenuated tripel with great fruity esters that does not taste so alcoholic, considering its high ABV. Before stumbling out of there, I also managed to get a taste of The Footman, an extraordinary Crème Brûlée Chocolate Milk Stout that really is one of the most flavorful beers I’ve had in a long while. It’s like rich chocolate mousse drowned in espresso, brewed with lactose to make the beer sweet and creamy. As I write this, I’m drinking a Tea Party Vanilla Bourbon Porter (9.3% ABV, so you’ll excuse any typos). It has a bittersweet chocolate nuttiness, laced with vanilla and a subtle hint of that whiskey burn in the finish.

Their full repertoire of beers is a bit too long for me to list here (I recommend checking their website for updates), but also on tap during my visit was the White Knight Blackberry Hefeweizen (5.8% ABV), Gryphon’s Lager (4.7% ABV), Dubbel Trouble (9.3% ABV), Mad Hatta Black IPA (9.9% ABV), and The Duchess Jalapeno Pale Ale (6% ABV), along with a few rotating guest taps.White Rabbit Brewing has been in business for a little over three years, but currently has a limited distribution as they expand their facilities. They are boosting their production size from three to six bbls, and could have a move planned to a new location on Hwy 401 by Wake Tech sometime in the future. You can find 22 oz bombers of their beer in most Total Wine stores, as well as The Beer Dispensary in Apex, 42 Craft Beverage in Garner, and a few other bars and bottle shops across the Triangle.

The Brewery and taproom is located in Angier—on Fish Street, just West of downtown. Currently, they are the first and only brewery in Angier, a town that has welcomed them with open arms. “The people come to see us might stop at one of the restaurants and have dinner, or fill up their car at the nearby gas station,” says Ken. “So it’s good for the whole community.” They have a loyal following of regulars, such that the BBQ place at the end of the street is apparently considering getting a golf cart to deliver food to all those who come hungry (fingers crossed).

White Rabbit hosts live music a couple times a month, as well as food trucks whenever there is a special event. Pints go for $5 in the taproom, and they also fill growlers to take home with you.

They are a Veteran-run business, as both owner Ken Ostraco and brewmaster Matt Ehlers have served in the armed forces. They host events to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

Even if this is the first you’ve heard of White Rabbit Brewing Company, I’m willing to bet it won’t be the last. And if you ever find yourself in Angier (perhaps on the way to a very important date), follow the White Rabbit down to Fish Street, to see just how mad they all are.