Midwest Beer Galore

By | November 11, 2010

I’m freshly back from the week long trip which took me through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan visiting a total of 11 breweries. I’ve had some time to digest my notes and think about the conversations I had with the numerous brewers throughout the trip. By far the greatest experience was visiting with Dan Carey of New Glarus. He is truly a master brewer or brewmaster as some would say. I find this to be a title often misused in the craft brewing industry, but Dan is one of the exceptions, and truly is a master of brewing!
Dan was quite interested to hear about Crooked Stave as brewery project and even had some advice for myself given the small niche beers we will be producing. Quite possibly the most exciting was Dan’s interest to do a collaboration with Crooked Stave! Rest assured all who read this, I will make sure to follow up with Dan.. here is to a New Glarus and Crooked Stave collaboration brew!
Visiting New Glarus’s newly built Hill top brewery is nothing short of entering a castle. A brewers castle with all the bells and whistles, it may be the most glorious brewhouse I’ve ever seen.

New Glarus Brewery
New Glarus Copper Kettles
New Glarus Beer Haul

After New Glarus we were off to Chicago. We met up with a bunch of brewers the Friday night before the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers at a gathering held at the Chicago Rock Bottom. It was a great opportunity to meet with Jeff Sparrow author of WildBrews. We talked traditional Lambic, Belgian sours, the types of sours Crooked Stave will be producing, as well as trying some of his sours he had brewed with Pete Crowley who previously was the head brewer at the Chicago Rock Bottom, and now has his own venture called the Haymarket Pub and Brewery. A group of us including friends from Nebraska Brewing Company left and travelled to visit Eric Salazar of New Belgium Brewing who was holding a tasting further up town. Needless to say a few La Folie’s later and it was time to judge.
Judging then next morning for the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer was a great experience. I say this especially since I was chosen to judge the first round of sours and then went on to judge the medalling round for the sours as well. It was then a great honor to be asked to judge the best of show for all the first place medal earning barrel-aged beers. Along side me was Keith Lemcke Vice-President of the Siebel Institute as well as Ray Daniels Director of the Cicerone Certification Program. Some great beers in the best of show but it was the sours that shined over the other barrel-aged type beers as both a Sour Cherry beer and Funky yet clean Saison took Best of Show and runner up respectively.
The rest of the festival was a great time and I would highly recommend the festival as it is the premier venue for barrel-aged beers of all kinds.

Little rest and we were off again and on the road. This time to visit Jolly Pumpkin. This was supposed to be a must visit for me given the research I’ve done with Brettanomyces yeasts, my passion for barrel-aged beers as well as the chance to talk brewing philosophy with Ron Jefferies. Sadly it wasn’t all I had hoped for as Ron was extremely busy and I have a feeling we caught him on a bad day. We were able to stop into the Dexter brewery and see the operations as well as have a look around at all the barrels. Very interesting brewery and concept which I draw much inspiration from. While there we saw four barrels from Cantillon which were being used for their spontaneous fermentations. The maze of cobwebs in between some of the barrels was great to see as its natural protection from fruit flies and reminded me of the the Belgian Lambic breweries.

Cantillon Barrels at Jolly Pumpkin
Jolly Pumpkin Foeders

After visiting Jolly Pumpkin we drove up to Grand Rapids to eat lunch at Founders Brewing Company and check out some of their beers. Founders is going through a major brewery expansion and that is due to the high quality beer they are producing! Great place, awesome beers! It was then down to Kalamazoo to meet with Zeke who along with Andy are responsible for the sour barrel-aging program stationed at the Eccentric Cafe pub brewery. We spent a considerable amount of time talking over their small but growing sour program. It was especially nice as Wild One their sour beer was on tap. Gary Nicholas head of Quality Control for Bell’s also joined us for the night and a lot of great brewing talk ensued. The next day we drove out to Galesburg to see the production brewery. My interest in brewhouse engineering and operation got the better of me while we were there as it is one sweet set-up. There is essentially two brewhouse lines which all lead to a single whirlpool. The brewery is a great show case of equipment, engineering, and process control. They are also getting ready for a huge expansion so I’m interested to see what will come… Maybe a massive barrel-aging facility? For now they had their barrels chilling along the wall of cellar number two I believe it was. The barrel currently hold Expidition Stout and Oatmeal Stout and will be blended together to make one delicious bourbon barrel-aged Stout.

Bell's Sour barrels
Bells I Don't Play Well With Others Barrel
Bell's Non Conformist Barrel
Bell's Brewhouse
Bell's Bourbon Barrels