Rabbit Hole Brewing released its first beers at the end of 2013 and hosted its first brewery tour this past January. At the time, I had many questions. For example, why would someone open a brewery in Justin? Where exactly is Justin? Was Mike Modano born in Justin, and is that why his picture is all over this press release?
I promptly forgot about all of these questions until a recent Saturday, when I found myself driving way too far north on Interstate 35W and saw a sign for the fabled Justin, Texas. "It is real," I thought, and Google Maps successfully led me three miles west to the brewery.
I'd like to call this part of Justin the "industrial district," but for all I know it could've been the main street through downtown or I could've been parked in front of the mayor's house. Really, I'm not sure if a town with the population of a 5A high school even has a mayor.
The building is smaller than most, though not radically smaller than what Deep Ellum Brewing Co. occupied when they began hosting tours a few years ago. I walked onto the patio, paid the $10 entrance fee, and received three purple poker chips that could be traded in for three beers of my choice. Inside, four dudes in identical Rabbit Hole Brewing shirts were chatting with a few other guests, all with beers in hand.
A lot of the tours I've been on are packed and energetic. Community, Rahr & Sons, Peticolas -- these guys throw a block party with a brewery tour on the side. Mind you, they're fun as hell. But Rabbit Hole is different. There couldn't have been more than 80 people total, and I'm told they average between 75-100 per week. Just about everyone was hanging out in the Kickstarter-funded biergarten drinking beer, and they seemed to already know each other. If the downtown breweries offer the mythical, John Hughes-movie party atmosphere, Rabbit Hole creates a scene much more akin to my favorite real-life parties. A reasonable number of people. One dude on an acoustic guitar, blending in to the background. A group of bicyclists coming in from God-knows-where for a brew. A big dude on a loud motorcylce -- is that Craig Ludwig? Dude, I think Dallas Stars legend Craig Ludwig just rode up. (He did.)
I talked for a while with owner/founder/beer scientist Tom Anderson, but instead of chasing him down and saying, "I'm with the Dallas Observer so you have to talk to me," I walked up to him while he was tuning the musician's guitar and adjusting the speaker levels. Throughout the afternoon, his job description also included rolling a keg over to the bar, adjusting CO2, leading the tour, and getting change for the cash box. I asked Tom about the accessibility of the three owners and the laid-back atmosphere. "We have let the tours grow organically and value the fact that we have a manageable sized crowd," he said. "We think it's important that all of these folks get to relax and talk with us, not just wait in line for their next beer."
Rabbit Hole gave me a quirky, pleasant experience, made weirder by stumbling on it in the middle of nowhere. Instead of album-release parties, they host signings for local independent authors who write mystery novels. In a football town, they're obsessed with hockey. Among a beer culture striving to make the hoppiest IPA, their first release was an authentic Kolsch. Tom knows that his brewery is well off the beaten path and seems to have planned it that way all along. "We want to be on the tap wall not because we're the new guys," he told me, "but because the beer we offer gives the customer something different and it belongs on the wall."
Rabbit Hole Brewery is located at 608 Topeka Ave. in Justin and is open every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. On May 24, they are inviting Denton County's two other breweries (Shannon and Independent) to join them for a Hatter Party, with extended hours, kids activities and music by Dank.