SANFORD ARTS & VINE FESTIVAL: White Rabbit Brewery slowly building a faithful following
Each one of Kenneth Ostraco’s craft beers has a personality, much like the "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired characters assigned to each brew.
Alice herself represents the blonde ale, for obvious reasons. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are the images associated with Ostraco’s Belgium dubbel ale. And the Mad Hatter is symbolic of the tea party porter, a dark, flavorful beer with a twist of vanilla.
These and nine other flavors make the lineup for White Rabbit Brewing Company, the Angier-based craft brewery launched in 2012 that has already developed a growing and devoted following. White Rabbit will be one of three Central North Carolina breweries represented under the wine tent at this weekend’s Sanford Arts & Vine Festival at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.
The brainchild of Ostraco — a U.S. Air Force veteran and software engineer — and business partner Anthony DiBona (who has since handed things over to Ostraco), White Rabbit has faithfully followed a “slow and low” business plan from its bar and warehouse in rural Harnett County. Open to the public Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and nights, White Rabbit has become a popular “brewery tour” destination — the tours are most popular in April, which is officially North Carolina Beer Month — and has steadily grown its body of regulars.
“We're a little off the beaten path, but I think that adds to our allure,” said Ostraco, standing in the dimly lit bar area that's a stone's throw away from the warehouse where his beer is crafted. “Once people come here and experience our product and our atmosphere, they often become a regular. We have a product they’re interested in and can’t get anywhere else.”
That product has been a hobby of Ostraco’s for several years. In 2011, that hobby became an investment, and White Rabbit was incorporated on Jan. 2, 2012. Phase I has been laying the concrete and slowly building a following, and Phase II will eventually be getting the brand out to more stores and restaurants (his beers can currently be found at the County Seat restaurant in downtown Lillington and the Applebee’s in Fuquay-Varina).
Aside from its colorful cast of characters/flavors, White Rabbit beers are popular among fans because they aren’t brewed in what Ostraco calls the “American style.” Like the origins of Alice in Wonderland, these are crafted in the English style, which Ostraco calls a “mellower, smoother and more drinkable” type of beer.
“American beers are a single note, and they're in your face,” he said. “Craft brewers today seem to be competing to see how much hops they can add to a beer until it's undrinkable. It's like drinking a bale of hay … that's just not my thing. And there are lots of people who are just not into that. We subdue the hops presence in our beers. Our beer has a different feel.”
Other flavors include Gryphon’s, a California common lager; Jabberwocky, a tripel Belgian style ale; Absolom’s, a lighter ale; the Queen's red ale; and Rabbit's nutbrown ale. Seasonal flavors include the Dunkin Dormouse Octoberfest ale, a blackberry hefferveisen for spring and the Cheshire pumpkin ale.
Ostraco has made back his original investment, and he says White Rabbit has been “running in the black” since last May. It will remain a part-time hobby until the demand is enough to sustain full-time salaries and his full-time attention.
“When that time comes,” he said, “then I'll be living the dream. Until then, I'll just feed it my time and continue to let it grow.”
White Rabbit will be making its second appearance at the Arts & Vine Festival, which is also entering its second year. The May 3-4 event will include more than 80 potters and other artists, plus 10 North Carolina wineries and two other breweries — Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen and Bear Creek Brewery of Chatham County.
The festival's wine tent organizer David Nestor said the wineries and breweries represent the artistic side of North Carolina just as much as the potters and painters.
“Not all wine needs to come from the Napa Valley, and not all beer comes from Budweiser,” Nestor said. “We hope Arts & Vine shows the classier side of our area and our state.”
WANT TO GO?
The Sanford Arts & Vine Festival runs this Saturday and Sunday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. General admission is $5 for adults (children are free), and admission to the wine tent is an additional $10. For more information, visit www.sanfordartsandvine.com.