Fermenting on the Farm
Dueling dogs offers craft beers and seasonal ciders
By Daniel Barnes
The bucolic 10-acre property owned by Earl and Adriana Stephens was just an empty cattle pasture when Earl purchased it in 2006, three years before he met his future wife at a farmers market.
Thirteen years later, that once barren land now boasts a house, a working farm and one of the most unique craft breweries in the state. All three were designed by Earl, a licensed engineer, and largely built from scratch by Earl and Adriana, the owners of Dueling Dogs Brewing Co. in Lincoln.
Dueling Dogs is unique because it is so much more than a brewery. In addition to a rotating lineup of craft beers created by Earl, a graduate of the UC Davis brewing program, Dueling Dogs offers seasonal meads and ciders made by Adriana.
The surprisingly elegant tasting room is just one floor up from the fermenting space, and both are a short walk from the hop bines and orange trees that supply key ingredients for Dueling Dogs beverages, such as Hoppy Tails IPA and Mandarin Spiced Mead.
There are two acres of mandarin orange trees and one acre of hops on the Dueling Dogs property, but none of it came easy.
“I had to bring in water from the ditch many hundreds of feet away,” Early says. “I had to get electricity to the property to run pumps, develop the infrastructure, in addition to building the barn and the house.
“The first year was a quasi-disaster because the deer came in and used the trees to take the velvet off their horns. That took my trees down to bare nubs.”
Erecting an 8-foot fence around the perimeter kept the deer out and allowed the orange trees to slowly recover, but nothing could protect the Stephens from a lengthy construction and permitting process. The Dueling Dogs project was first announced in 2014, but because two separate licenses were needed to ferment and serve beer and cider on the same premises, it took four years and more than two dozen permits before the doors officially opened in May 2018.
By that time, Dueling Dogs was the third farm brewery operating in the area, following GoatHouse Brewing Co. and relative newcomer Hillenbrand Farmhaus Brewery. All three grow hops and crops that make their way into the beers. However, Dueling Dogs stands out from the crowd thanks to Adriana’s ciders and meads, which are often spiced and flavored with seasonal ingredients.
“I take whatever’s in season. I make what I will with it, and then it’s gone until the next season,” she says. Adriana created a pumpkin-pie-spiced mead for the cold-weather season and hopes to have a pomegranate mead ready for spring.
Another unique Dueling Dogs offering is braggot, an ancient drink that is fermented with both honey and barley malt, resulting in a strange combination of mead and beer. “We’ve only had three people come in here that have ever even heard of a braggot,” Earl says. Recent Dueling Dogs braggots have included a velvety sweet chocolate buckwheat and an IPA with some bourbon notes.
Although open less than one year, the outdoor patio overlooking the pond has already become a favorite spot for families with children and dogs. “It is such a pleasant thing to see Grandpa, Grandma, Dad, Mom and kids playing Candyland or Scrabble or cards or Jenga,” Earl says. “It becomes quite a family gathering.”
People are drawn to Dueling Dogs for many reasons, including the paw-shaped sampler paddles known as “pawdles” and the communal farmers market in the tasting room.
In fact, Dueling Dogs drinks have been so popular that Earl and Adriana can’t keep up with the demand, even after doubling fermenter capacity. Right now, everything flows out of the Lincoln tasting room, and it’s only in the last couple months that they started filling growlers.
“I grew up in Lincoln, and I know several of the facilities in Lincoln and Auburn, and they keep saying we have an open invitation as soon as we have excess product,” Earl says. “We would like to do something like that, we just haven’t gotten there.”