The Food Biz: Crafty approach

Jackalope Brewing’s owners prep opening, make pub distribution plans. Also: Ohio ice cream venture dips into East Nashville [From our print edition featured in this week’s City Paper]

Jackalope Brewing Co., a new locally owned brewery on Eighth Avenue near Division, has opened its taproom to the public, serving up four craft beers on tap and a small menu of beer-friendly gourmet snacks. Entrepreneurs Robyn Virball and Bailey Spaulding are kicking off the taproom slowly: It will be open only 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays for the first few weeks.

Jackalope, like its neighbor Yazoo, is focusing mostly on distributing beer to restaurants and pubs, with the taproom just a fun secondary venture. There are no immediate plans to branch into bottling, as Yazoo did.

The taproom is cheerfully appointed, but there’s no kitchen. Caterer Karla Ruiz, considered a local authority on Mexican cuisine, cooks up empanadas and other snacks offsite to serve at the taproom on Fridays. Meanwhile, gourmet cheese purveyor Kathleen Cotter is putting together cheese plates to complement the beer.

Spaulding and Virball are both New Englanders who happened to meet while attending college at St. Andrew’s in Scotland. (Prince William and Kate Middleton were classmates.) Spaulding came to Nashville to attend law school at Vanderbilt University and began making beer as a relaxing hobby.

“I started out as a home brewer,” she says. “My undergraduate degree was in science, and brewing is a science, but it’s also artistic.” She adds that whenever law school got a little overwhelming, it helped to “just create something.”

After graduating and working in law for a while, Spaulding started a business plan for a brewery here. “I love Nashville. It’s a unique city with so much energy. And there are a lot of people here interested in craft beer.”

Also, having grown up in Vermont, where there are 24 craft breweries for a state boasting just 600,000 people, Spaulding figured Nashville, with only a handful of local beer ventures, is ripe for more. She recruited Virball, who was in sales and marketing in Boston, to move to Nashville and join the business. The third member of the brewing team is Steve Wright, and Bounty Bev will handle distribution.

The current beer lineup consists of three year-rounders and one seasonal. In keeping with the mythological animal theme – yes, apparently the rabbits with antlers known as Jackalopes don’t actually exist – the three permanent brews are named after imaginary beings: Puck, a pale ale; Rompo, a red rye brew; and Bearwalker, a maple brown ale.

The current rotating tap is an ESB (extra special bitter) brew called Bitter Over Ewe. Not a mythical beast reference, but it combines the name of an animal and a tongue-and-cheek comment on their old classmate William picking somebody else to be his princess.

The menu is intriguing. Cotter’s cheese selections are a Nashville Farmers’ Market favorite, and Ruiz’s empanadas are a hit at Fido. Other snacks include fresh guacamole and chips for $4, and a tostado topped with cochinita pibil (braised pork) for $3.

Don’t expect to see Jackalope beers appearing immediately at your local pub. Spaulding says the brewing team is making the transition to bigger commercial equipment, and they want to properly ramp up production before clinching deals. As for the taproom, they hope to extend hours to Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m., in a month or so.

Jackalope is at 701 Eighth Ave. S. (837-4313). For info, check out their website or visit Jackalope Brewing Company on Facebook.

Ohio ice cream shop opening

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a Columbus, Ohio, company that touts its creative flavors and artisan ingredients from small farms, will open its first Tennessee scoop shop later this summer.

In an interesting twist, Jeni’s dipped its spoon in the Nashville market via the Fido spin-off Hot & Cold in Hillsboro Village before deciding to open its own store in East Nashville.

People who’ve checked out Jeni’s ice cream, sold by the scoop and pint at Hot & Cold, have been dazzled by the wild flavors, which often hint at savory over sugary. Top sellers include Salty Caramel (a pinch of sea salt balances the sweetness) and Poached Pear Riesling Sorbet.

Jeni’s own space will be on Eastland Avenue in the Walden development, which also houses restaurants The Wild Cow and The Silly Goose.

I can’t immediately think of another case where a national eatery staked out its first Nashville location on the East Side, though with just a handful of stores (currently all are in Ohio), Jeni’s isn’t exactly a megachain.

We hear that owner Jeni Britton Bauer has already been to Tennessee to harvest strawberries, and that’s what’s being used in the company’s Strawberry-Buttermilk flavor. The company tentatively plans to open on Eastland by late June.

(Thanks to my colleague Steve Haruch for getting the scoop on this.)