The Story Behind Rabbit Hole, North Texas' Newest (and Mike Modano's Favorite) Brewery

Rabbit Hole Brewing is the latest craft brewery to open in the North Texas area, bringing the total number of beer makers up to about 17 in all, which is 16 more than there were 10 years ago (Rahr opened in 2004). Rabbit Hole is located in the small town of Justin, which occupies part of the wide-open spaces between Denton and Fort Worth along Interstate 35 West. Laron Cheek, Matt Morriss and Tom Anderson are the trio behind this Mad Hatter-influenced brewery (if you know the meaning behind 10/6, the name of their English IPA, you get a gold star for the day).

There's also Mike Modano, the ex-Dallas Star. He met the brewers a few years ago at an event and liked his cold beer so much that he decided to join the team as well. He's even got a beer that's a tribute to his career goals scored, 561, the most by an American-born hockey player.

Following is a chat with head brewer Matt Morriss about opening a brewery, what he plans on adding to the local craft beer scene and what he has in his fridge right now.

Tell us a bit about the process of opening a brewery. Certainly not a walk in the park. Building a manufacturing facility like this is fairly complicated, with a lot of individual pieces that all have to come together. Add to that the fact that the alcohol business is highly regulated and there are a lot of permitting and licensing hurdles to overcome, and the process is not for the faint of heart. But with commitment and determination, and perhaps a dash of luck, all things are possible. We're all very proud of what we've built here -- it's been a long road, but to finally be able to produce our beers and see them do well in the market makes the effort worthwhile.

Your website explains that you'll be "... focusing on underrepresented beer styles." Can you expand on that ? Rabbit Hole Brewing isn't out to reinvent beer -- we don't plan to start brewing the next Cranberry Peanut Butter Lambic Ale. But we also don't feel the need to be yet another brewery producing the same styles that are already well represented in the marketplace. I enjoy drinking pales, porters, hefeweizens and American IPAs, but I can already find plenty of great examples of these beers.

What's harder to find are some of the classic styles that are popular elsewhere in the world but haven't really been discovered here yet -- styles such as the kölsch, which is crisp, light and flavorful, but a bit more interesting of a style than the American blond, or the English IPA, which is bold and hoppy but with a stronger malt component than its American counterpart and flavored with English hop varieties that provide a more spicy, herbal character than the typical American IPA citrus aromas.

We also wanted to bring some respect back to the lowly brown ale style, recognizing that this beer should be more than just a pale ale with some sort of coloring just to make it darker. The "brown" color traditionally comes from the malt, so we make a brown ale that accentuates this character. That's not to say that we'll always just stick to classics, though -- I'd expect to see a few interesting concoctions pop out of the rabbit hole now and again too. After all, beer is fun, and that's how we approach it.

Is Mike Modano an owner/investor or just eye candy (he's really nice eye candy). What's the story with him? We got connected with Mike Modano several years ago through a mutual friend before Rabbit Hole was even in the planning stages. Our homebrew club brewed a batch of Bohemian Pilsner for our friends at the Famous Mineral Water Company, and a bottle of it found its way to Mike. He was impressed and asked about us, but at the time the commercial enterprise wasn't there. A few years later when we were in the planning stages, we contacted him again about a possible partnership opportunity. Mike prefers to support locally made products that he personally enjoys, and we were able to make it happen. He does have an ownership stake in the company, and has been very helpful in promoting the Modano's 561 Kolsch.

What are your goals this year for your beer and brewery? The first goal for a company as new as we are is always just to get off to a strong start, and I think we're well on our way with how well our first two beers have been received. We'll be adding our third year-round beer in mid to late February with the 10/6 English IPA, then start turning our attention to seasonal releases starting in the summer. I expect the first of these will be a saison, followed by other new releases in the fall and winter. Of course, part of the fun of owning a brewery is that we get to play around with different concepts, so I'd expect some other creations to pop up from time to time in our tasting room and at beer festivals throughout the region.

What are you drinking right now? What's in the fridge? Aside from Rabbit Hole? Surprisingly I actually drink a lot less beer now that I have a brewery, since the place keeps all of us pretty busy, but at the moment I've got a stash of Deviant Dale's Pale in the fridge that I've been drinking. We also still have a lot of homebrewing friends that make outstanding beer, so I'm never short on supply.

In terms of beers you're brewing, what are you most excited about? I'm really looking forward to the launch of the 10/6 English IPA. It's a genuine India pale ale, but I think a lot of people will be surprised by how different it is from its American counterparts. More than once we've had people tell us after trying a pilot sample, "I don't like IPAs but I really like this." The balance between the malt and hops on that beer really make it stand out, and it brings a new perspective on the style to the marketplace.

Rabbit Hole Brewing is open for tours and tastes every Saturday at noon. The brewery is located at 608 Topeka Ave. in Justin. If you can't make it out, there's a map at the bottom of this page that pinpoints where you can find a pint.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.

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