Monday, December 13, 2021

The legend of Lead Belly lives on in new brand of beer

A pint of In the Pines IPA, a beer named after a song most associated with Lead Belly and later performed by Nirvana (© Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

John Reardon is back in the beer business. Fifteen months after separating from CANarchy, and by extension the Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (DEBC) he founded over a decade ago, Reardon's new Lead Belly Beer Co. debuted its inaugural brews this past weekend in Dallas.

Brewed at Deep Ellum Distillery, Lead Belly Beer is a follow-on to products in the distillery's Lead Belly Whiskey line. The brand pays tribute to Huddie William Ledbetter, otherwise known as the blues legend Lead Belly. He and fellow musician, Blind Lemon Jefferson, were renowned for their performances in and around Deep Ellum after joining forces in Dallas around 1912.

Regarding goals of the project, Reardon says he's no longer looking to achieve "total beer domination," as was the case with his prior venture. This time around, the focus is on making a quality product with good people and good ingredients, and then drinking it while telling the stories of Dallas, Deep Ellum, Lead Belly and beyond.

To aid in this endeavor, Reardon enlisted Kyle Willborn, himself a graduate of the DEBC school of beer-making. Willborn presided over production at DEBC for over six years before joining the distillery, where he now works with the brewery's original 30-barrel system. This setup resides in the former Deep Ellum Barrel House space, from which some of DEBC's more experimental recipes emerged over the years.

As for what's to come under the Lead Belly Beer umbrella, Reardon says he's not limited by any sort of non-compete clause as it pertains to what he may choose to brew. The first two beers, Lead Belly Blonde and In the Pines IPA, are just the beginning. Naturally, there will be barrel-aged offerings at some point, but near-term work will center on dialing in the initial recipes. For example, Reardon intends to lighten the color and hop presence of Lead Belly Blonde in future batches.

And, just in case the choice of a blonde and an IPA to start haven't triggered certain memories, they surely recall styles DEBC released in the days and months after its introduction just blocks away in late 2011. In fact, the 12/12/2021 launch date for Lead Belly Beer is a rather pointed reference to exactly that time, as Reardon looks to embrace this evolution and one-up his previous employer. You see, Deep Ellum Brewing Co. sold its first keg on 11/11/2011.

Lead Belly beers are draft-only offerings at the distillery for now, but cans are promised for the future. In the meantime, try one or both during tasting room hours Thursday-Sunday at Deep Ellum Distillery.

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