North Carolina microbrewery is starting small.
But not every micro includes obscure references to Ludwig Wittgenstein, the dead Austrian philosopher, on its bottles.
The Farmville brewery's logo is based on an illustration originally found in one of Wittgenstein's classic texts. It's the duck in the label, facing to the left. No, look again: Now it's a rabbit, facing right. What you see depends upon your perspective.
Stop in at the Farmville Public Library seeking a copy of the Wittgenstein, and you'll have the same success as you would asking for a sixer of Duck-Rabbit beer at the nearby Piggly Wiggly. While the Pig can set you up with a loaf of barbecue-infused white bread, inquire after a "milk stout," and you'll likely get confused directions to the dairy section.
Over in Greenville, things aren't a whole lot better. Two places currently carry a couple of Duck-Rabbit brews: Christy's Europub and Boli's Pizzeria.
A locally made beer--and you're hard-pressed to find any around here to drink.
Duck-Rabbit beers are, however, distributed widely across the state, with particular concentration in the Triangle area.
Things are really taking off for the little local brewery no one around here seems to have heard of.
"Holy Moses!" owner and brewmaster Paul Philippon said back in mid-February. "Two weeks ago was our biggest week ever, and last week we kicked its butt."
The Farmville brewery is about as easy to find as is one of its beers east of Raleigh. Duck-Rabbit sits across from a tobacco warehouse at the end of West Pine Street, about a mile from downtown. Nothing about its nondescript exterior suggests what's brewing within.
The small sign near the office door, which the state required Philippon to put up, is barely visible from the road.
But step inside. Immediately, a Duck-Rabbit poster on the wall proclaims: "Made by polite brewers in NORTH CAROLINA."
Nice local guys, good beer.
Philippon is, in fact, unfailingly polite. You see it especially when he discusses the mass-market brews from The Big Three (Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors).
"They do what they do beautifully," he says, when pressed. "It's just not what I'm after. I also think McDonald's does what they do beautifully, but that doesn't mean it's the type of hamburger I want when I want a hamburger."
An the local brewmasters want to dispell some well-known beer myths.
Myth No. 1: Serious beer-making is some gentlemanly pursuit involving wood barrels and finely dressed dandies hoisting frosty steins at day's end, dabbing their fancy handlebar mustaches with linen napkins, and saying things like, "Hear! Hear!"
Not quite. The reality of the brewing business, Philippon explains, is "concrete and stainless steel and guys in dirty jeans."
During your average midmorning, Philippon's face is soon streaming with sweat as he stirs malt into a massive, steaming cooker atop an elevated metal platform. "You can imagine that this is not quite as much fun in August," he quips.
He typically puts in 60-70 hours a week. "I wouldn't have it any other way," Philippon says.
"I like the idea that the owner of the company is actually directly involved in making the beer," he explains. "People see that (he) isn't just a pencil-pusher, a financial guy or something like that."
Duck-Rabbit is really just two people, Philippon, 38, and brewer Brandon Cubbage, 29. Typically, these guys are running back and forth across the building, between steel vats and the capping line, bags of grain and stacks of packing boxes, doing a bit of everything.
Myth No. 2: Below the Mason-Dixon, we don't drink no dark mess. Duck-Rabbit's biggest sellers are, in fact, its two darkest brews, the porter and the milk stout.
As editor of the Durham-based All About Beer magazine and beer critic for the Raleigh News & Observer, Julie Bradford couldn't be more pleased.
"People will say that Southerners drink wussy beer," says Bradford, a vocal fan of Duck-Rabbit's porter. "Paul Philippon has challenged the clich, that we in the South won't drink dark beer."
"That's partly why I did it," Philippon admits. "Not just to be contrary, but I think it's an underserved part of the market."
Before becoming a bona fide beer maestro, Philippon gave serious thought to becoming a professional philosopher. Which means, of course, that he planned to teach. So when he started his own company, he says, he wanted it to "have some reflection of his former life." Thus, the Duck-Rabbit name.
A Michigan native, this is Philippon's fourth job as head brewer since launching his career in 1998. His last stop was the Pipkin Brewing Company in Louisville, Ky.
While there, he got an offer from a man named Bob Cabaniss about opening a brewery in Farmville. Philippon took the job in 2000 with what was then the Williamsville Brewery, bringing assistant brewer Cubbage with him. They are Duck-Rabbit's only full-timers.
The master brewer was working at BrewMasters, a brewpub in Cincinnati when he first hired Cubbage, who then had no brewing background. Now, the younger brewer is irreplaceable, Philippon says.
"I couldn't do what I do here without him. He cares about quality. He's absolutely my right hand."
Currently, the brewery also employs three sales reps out pounding the pavement, trying to sell the brand.
By the end of 2003, Williamsville owner Cabaniss wanted to get out of the brewing business. Philippon decided he wanted to buy the equipment and the building, but not necessarily the Williamsville company--he didn't want the brewery's recipes.
"We started from scratch," he says. "I wanted this to be its own thing. I don't want to be beholden to anything that had come before me."
So he started from scratch, with loan assistance from East Carolina Bank, and Duck-Rabbit's first beer rolled out last August.
Brewing, he explains, is "the confluence of art and science." Experimenting to find new, or improved, recipes is the art part; achieving the same beer daily is the science. Here is a man who gets emotional on the subject of consistency. "I love the consistency part every bit as much, maybe even more, than the experimentation side," Philippon says. "It's a great challenge; I find it intellectually stimulating."
But his overriding satisfaction, Philippon admits, comes from knowing that people are appreciating beer that he's made. "This is something I did," he says, "and they're liking it."