Isthmus beer reviewer Robin Shepard recently offered a look at the year ahead, providing a list of 14 anticipated beers from southern Wisconsin breweries. It’s a wide-ranging survey of some of the folks making fine beer here and some of the styles we’re lucky to explore. Among them? A new version of Vintage’s Jinja Ninja, which I have previously enjoyed in its standard incarnation. The new spin?
This batch of spelt-based ginger-spiced beer will be aged for about eight months in a Cabernet barrel. Spelt, a grain similar to wheat, has a deep nutty flavor. The Cabernet barrel-aging is a fun twist that should lend sweeter fruitiness to complement the ginger. A release date hasn’t been set.
Others include Common Funk, jointly produced by the Grumpy Troll and Sweet Mullets, and an intriguing set of collaborations spearheaded by Sierra Nevada with multiple breweries, one of which is our own New Glarus Brewing Company.
For the details, all the beers, and links, head here.
Small-scale farming of hops—the flowering cones of the vining hop plant, used almost exclusively in beer making—is fast becoming a booming business. As Georgina Gustin reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
The boom in small-scale hop farming stems in part from the all-things-local ethos in today’s food culture, and the continuing interest in craft brewing. But many growers say they’re attempting to decentralize a hops industry long dominated by growers in the Pacific Northwest and Europe, where, combined, farmers grow about 80 percent of the world’s 120,000 hop acres. “We were really interested in creating beers crafted from ingredients from our region,” said Marika Josephson, of Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Ill., which harvested its first hop crop last year. “To a certain extent, it’s about control.” A turning point that launched many new growers came in 2007 when weather conditions in Europe and a warehouse fire in Washington’s Yakima Valley destroyed a huge chunk of the globe’s hops. The remaining hops went to fulfill contracts with giant international breweries, leaving craft brewers scrambling. “Smaller brewers started saying: ‘This is kind of crummy. We need a better source of hops,'” said Joel Mulder, a hop farmer and managing director of the Michigan Hop Alliance, which formed four years ago with five growers.
It’s a nice article, so check out the full piece here.
In Wisconsin, the biggest force behind the rise in small-scale hops farming has been Gorst Valley Hops. (They even score a mention in the St. Louis piece referenced above.) Wisconsin State Journal business reporter Gena Kittner has been writing about the outfit for years. Her first article, from 2009, reported that
In the 19th century, Wisconsin grew one-fifth of all the hops raised in the country until mildew and aphid problems resulting from overcrowded plantations forced growers to move the crop the Pacific Northwest. Now [Gorst Valley director and horticulturist James] Altwies said state farmers have more sustainable production practices and new hop varieties that are disease and pest resistant and much higher yielding. The state has the right growing conditions, including the right amount of sunlight, 120 frost free growing days, and very cold winters, which allow for the dormancy the hops require to flower properly and produce optimal yields, Altwies said.
Kittner’s second article on Gorst Valley described the evolving enterprise a few years ago:
For many of the Gorst Valley charter growers, this summer’s  harvest will be their “practice year.” Typically one acre will yield between 7 and 15 pounds of hops in its first year and by year four should yield between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. While not usually profitable in the first year, an acre of hops could, within two years, generate $12,000 to $15,000 in crop revenue. “We’ll have hopefully a couple thousand pounds,” Altwies said of his third-year yield. Gorst Valley provides all its charter growers the technical and farming support in the hop growing process, which includes design work for the irrigation system, trellis system and pest management. After harvest, the hops are taken to a building to be dried and stored. Later, they are milled into powder, pelletized and sold to local breweries.
As detailed in Kittner’s most recent article, Gorst Valley has expanded from growing hops to developing and distributing hop-harvesting equipment.
This month, the company will ship its first 12 small-scale hop harvesters — the only machine of its kind, they say, made to mechanically harvest hops grown on 10 acres or less. Most farmers growing hops on less than 50 acres are forced to harvest by hand, said James Altwies, president of Gorst Valley, headquartered near Mazomanie. While it takes six workers an hour to harvest from two bines (the vines on which hops grow), Gorst Valley’s harvester, operated by three people, can harvest 30 to 60 bines an hour.
In addition, the hops keep rolling in:
The company has grown from seven growers farming 15 acres in 2009 to 32 growers farming 42 acres [in 2012]. That acreage is expected to increase to 60 in 2013. Gorst Valley produced 100 pounds of hops in 2009 and a few thousand in 2011. This fall, the company is expecting 10,000 pounds and it could be 30,000 by 2013. “We’ve kind of outpaced ourselves a little bit,” Altwies said. Now some of the growers farming one or two acres want to expand to up to 10 acres.
For details and photos, check out the articles linked above. Then stop by your local retailer of fine Wisconsin beers to enjoy a Gorst-Valley hopped brew, including the all-Wisconsin Weiss beer from Lakefront Brewery, called (what else?) Wisconsinite.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on July 13, 2012.
(Sorry for the pointless pun above; writing five headlines a week can be tough. I don’t know how the pros do it!)
This past weekend J and I treated ourselves to dinner at Brasserie V. J is a HUGE fan of mushrooms, so when friendly bartender Mike told us about the special morel starter, we had to say yes. They’d recently gotten their first batch of morels of the season and had been featuring them in entrées for a few days, but Saturday night’s special was a quarter pound of the savory delights, simply sautéed in butter with garlic. The price was steep for our pocketbooks ($15) but fair for morels out at a restaurant, so we took the plunge. We did NOT regret it! Thanks to Brasserie V’s Facebook page, I saw that this special reappeared earlier this week. So, keep your eyes peeled for the next few weeks at Wisconsin’s fine restaurants, produce vendors, and farmers’ markets.
For the uninitiated, what exactly are morels? As Samara Kalk Derby detailed in this week’s “In Season” feature in the Wisconsin State Journal,
These wild mushrooms have a sponge-like, honeycombed appearance and a smoky, earthy, nutty flavor. They can vary greatly in color and size. “Typically the early mushrooms are a darker color. Some call them black. And they are typically small in stature,” said Pat McCluskey, who farms with his two brothers as McCluskey Brothers at Shilelagh Glen Farms in Hillpoint….
Typically [morel season around here] lasts about a month, generally from the third week of April until the third week of May. ‘This season seems to be late in developing,’ McCluskey said.
For more, including a couple recipes, check out her full piece. Then watch this episode of Wisconsin Foodie, which features foraging for morels followed by some cookin’ and eatin’. If that doesn’t sate you, check out this 2009 article (still very relevant) by Karen Herzog for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: maybe next spring we’ll head to Muscoda for their Morel Mushroom Festival!
Chris Drosner, Wisonsin State Journal‘s “Beer Baron,” recently wrote a nice profile of Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. As he describes,
Last March [former homebrewer Grant] Pauly’s passion project was realized as 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. shipped its first kegs, and last month it took another big step forward, bottling its beer for the first time….
RateBeer recently named 3 Sheeps the best new brewery in Wisconsin in 2012, based on reviews from its members.
Even more people will have a chance to enjoy the beer now that it’s being sold in bottles. Along with the IPA, 3 Sheeps is packaging three other beers, each of them drinkable twists on regular styles.
During a beer run to Woodman’s this past weekend, I picked up their Really Cool Waterslides IPA and Baaad Boy Black Wheat Ale. Both are quite tasty and very much worth seeking out. Check out Drosner’s full piece for his review of the Baaad Boy (which earns 3½ stars out of 4), along with the inspiring story of how the brewery came to be and their IPA got its whimsical name.
Also be sure to check out Robin Shepard’s review of Baaad Boy for Isthmus; he gives it a full 4 out of 4 bottle openers, with praiseworthy comments like “medium-bodied and drinkable — if not seductive. It’s a beer, and a style, that I’m excited about seeing in six-packs.” Shepard also notes that, although Pauly had previously worked in the family concrete business, there are brewers in his family tree as well:
His great-grandfather, grandfather, and two uncles were owners of Kingsbury Breweries in Sheboygan, and his great uncle Felix was brewmaster at the company’s facility in Manitowoc. Starting out with a soda business, the family purchased the Kingsbury brands during Prohibition in 1926, started brewing in 1933, and remained in production until 1962, when G. Heilmann Brewing of La Crosse bought them out.
For a really wonderful video profile of Pauly and 3 Sheeps, check out this piece (embedded below) from MidwestMicroBrews. It’s got a little something for both general beer lovers and hardcore brew geeks. (If you watch the video, take note that, as Drosner points out, Enkel Biter has since been renamed Rebel Kent the First, since folks had a tendency to misread “biter” as “bitter”.)
I’ve said many times before (most recently here) what a big fan I am of fair-trade, mostly organic, small-batch–roasted Kickapoo Coffee. But you know what, they’re so great, I think I’ll say it again:
Kickapoo Coffee kicks butt!
For some charming photos of the crew and roastery, which is housed in the old train depot in Viroqua, Wisconsin, check out the Kickapoo Coffee “Artist Story” recently posted at the lovely Ray + Kelly blog.
With sub-zero wind chills expected to return to Madison by week’s end, I thought I’d share a post that I recently came across (thanks to Heavy Table) from Greg at the More Than Curds blog. He highlights three classic Wisconsin drinks to warm a winter-weary body: cherry bounce, Tom and Jerry, and Glühwein (or, if you prefer the Nordic version, gløgg, which warmed me up two years ago at the charming Fish Creek Winter Festival in Door County, Wisconsin). Head to More Than Curds for details on all three beverages.
If beer is more your thing, check out Robin Shepard’s review of New Glarus Winter Warmer Scotch Ale. In addition to finding it around town in bottled 4-packs, look for it on tap: J just had a pint at Roast Public House last weekend. (It’s very light compared to the Scotch Ale to which you’re likely accustomed, so focus more on the Winter Warmer part of the name.) As Shepard writes,
The smooth caramel tones and mild spicy-alcoholic warmth give legitimacy to its winter warmer title. It’s not the boldest example of the style, but there’s enough seductive sweetness and strength to appeal to those who enjoy the smooth caramel flavors in a malt-focused beer.
Get the full scoop here.
Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz’s cover story in the November issue of Madison Magazine profiles the publication’s 2012 Person of the Year, the dairy farmer. She focuses on a few area farms in her piece, including Berry Ridge Farms in Waunakee, a family enterprise run by fifth-generation farmers Jeff Endres and his brothers, Steve and Randy.
Like most Wisconsin dairy farmers in the 1950s, Endres’s parents milked a barn full of about sixty cows. Endres, now forty-seven, joined them straight out of high school. When the brothers decided to band together to run the family farm they expanded steadily over the years, first to a hundred cows, then 220, and now 350. Another 350 or so young stock are housed in the old barn waiting their turn, and a sleek new free-stall barn and milking parlor with an upstairs office sit just up the driveway on the hill above it. Between the three men they’ve got nine kids; eight of them girls, all of them “very interested” in farming and two now old enough to study dairy science, one at UW–Madison and one at UW–Platteville. The brothers employ about four people on the farm, splitting the operation in three parts: Randy is in charge of the feeding, a process that takes four hours on a good day. Steve supervises the milking, now three times a day instead of two, just as in many modern dairies, since they built the parlor. Jeff is in charge of the crops.
As Ginsberg-Schutz continues,
The number of dairy farms in Wisconsin has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, from 30,000–40,000 statewide to fewer than 11,000 today. Many smaller farms have closed or consolidated into larger operations but, despite public perception, remain family owned and operated. In fact, almost ninety-nine percent of dairy farms in Dane County are family owned. Some of them have just gotten really, really big.
Luckily—or, more accurately, deliberately—Wisconsin’s agricultural infrastructure, a thick web of independent farmers, agribusiness, governmental agencies, cooperatives, producer groups and a land-grant university system with a farming mandate, is built to withstand change and support a steady evolution. And guys like Endres are at the forefront of innovative practices credited with cleaning up the county for everybody, including restoring Madison’s lakes—most of the time at great personal expense—all the while running complex, locally owned businesses in a multibillion-dollar industry that’s helping keep Wisconsin afloat through an ugly economic time.
It’s quite a nice (and lengthy) piece that touches on everything from the economic strain posed by the weather this past year to (as the quote above suggests) efforts by some farmers to be active stewards of our area waterways . Find the full article on newsstands now or online.