Note: Originally appeared in Issue #51 of BeerAdvocate magazine
Go back, way back to a time when rock stars had long hair and wore spandex. All the way back to when American political rhetoric railed against socialism—and there were actually socialists to rail against. Back when the Soviet Union ruled Eastern Europe with an iron hammer and sickle, American beer was equally dominated by adjunct lagers nearly indistinguishable from one another. But about the time the European communist regime was collapsing, the revolutionary spirit was brewing stateside.
Better beer was born “outside of the box” of the mainstream, and continues to grow and evolve today. The result has been a new industry of rebels and renegades that defy classification and categorization. Some are arrogant and outspoken—brashly claiming ownership of a movement. And then there are those like David Anderson, who is quietly making curious and interesting beers at Dave’s Brewfarm in Wilson, Wisconsin.
Wind Powered – Contract Brewed
Apart from Adjunct-Lager, perhaps no two words have been demonized as much as “contract brewed” during this the burgeoning craft beer revolution. The term carries images of a know-nothing marketer leaving others to do the work while he, or she, focuses on generating enough hype to push the product into the discussion. Anderson does not fit this trope.
The Brewfarm boasts a seven-barrel brewhouse, but most of the work is done at two Wisconsin Breweries–Steven’s Point and San Creek Brewing company brew Dave’s Brewfarm’s flagship beers, about 650 barrels a year of it, leaving Anderson free to focus his energies on creation and new recipes.
“If I’m small I can be nimble,” Anderson explained. “I always say I’m my own worst employee and my own worst boss.
“It’s not really about cranking out numbers and having 25% growth, it’s more about lifestyle.”
The brewery is located on Anderson’s farmstead, which is known as Little Wolf Farmstead—named after every brewer’s favorite green bud, the hop (Humulus lupulin—with lupulin being Latin for “little wolf”). The farmstead brewery as a concept has been present in North America since colonial days, but Anderson’s farm stands out from those rustic establishments with a distinctly modern, and green, improvement—a 120-foot, 20 kilowatt Jacobs Wind Generator that supplies his farm, home, and brewery with power.
The tower was erected in 2008 as gas prices were skyrocketing and environmental concerns were part of the national discussion.
“The writing was on the wall for energy costs and brewers are large consumers of both energy and water,” Anderson said. “The property itself had the wind resource, so I put those pieces together and kind of minimized emissions footprints as much as possible, which is just kind of cool.”
The result is a sustainable farmstead and brewery where Anderson routinely pays power bills of $20 or less. In fact, he has received refunds and credits from the power company on several occasions.
Lest he be confused with a marketing expert masquerading as a brewer, Anderson’s brewing chops read more like a craft beer pioneer than a contract-brewed upstart. Like so many others, Anderson began his brewing career as a homebrewer in 1992, but he formalized his education with a stint at Siebel in 1996. He brewed for a now defunct brewery called Ambleside Brewing in Minnesota, brewed for Paper City Brewing out of Holyoke, Mass. and worked as an exporter as well as a distributor.
His brewing expertise and knowledge of all facets of the industry made him a prime candidate to work as a consultant for those trying to start something new, and his consulting work took him on extended trips to Italy and Vietnam, where he helped establish craft breweries.
“There isn’t an amazing amount of beer [in Vietnam],” Anderson said. “In most places it’s either a pale lager or a black lager. There’s some awareness of the craft thing going on, but otherwise not too much deviation going on from that. It’s got a lot of room to grow.”
Anderson takes that experience and puts it into his brews. At the Brewfarm, he spends his brewdays experimenting with new ingredients and different styles. Even though he has served as a judge at the Great American Beer Festival, Anderson is not a stickler for style, and those who come by the Brewfarm’s taproom for weekend tastings can attest to the unique and curious beers he produces.
“Brewing creates what I call the beer experience,” Anderson said. “Overall I’m not much of a style guy. I like to create and take beer where most people don’t expect it to go… and I like to make tweaks on tradition.”
Beer from Both Worlds
In most families there are common traits shared by the individuals. At Dave’s Brewfarm, the two oldest children—the flagship beers Select and Matacabrus—the family similarities end at the label.
Select is an all-malt, Golden Lager with a mild 35 IBU, while Matacabrus defies categorization.
“The only way I can describe it is to call it a curious ale,” Anderson said. “It’s really hard to pin down. It’s got the Trappist High-Grav yeast, rye malt, brown malt, and American hops.”
Even the packaging looks like it comes from different breweries, as Select is sold in 12-pack cans and Matacabrus fills 12 oz bottles.
For the moment, these are the only two beers that Anderson plans on selling outside of the tap room.
“There’s a huge influx in brewers all over the states piling into this market, and the Milwaukee-Madison markets and it’s getting kind of cluttered, so I’m being real careful with what I come out next,” Anderson said. “I want to have something unique that fits a niche and has room to be successful.”
Although his farm is named in tribute to the almighty hop, Anderson isn’t afraid of going against craft beer conventions and focusing on the other ingredients of the beer first. For instance, Matacabrus’ major flavor profiles come from the spicy rye malt and yeast character. Like many of the Brewfarm experiments, Matacabrus was born out of curiosity and a desire to play with a new strain of yeast.
“When I create a beer I start with the yeast and work my way backwards from there,” Anderson said.
That doesn’t mean that Anderson’s brews are one-note, pseudo-Belgian beers, although they do play a large part in his brewing portfolio. Fittingly, Anderson has dubbed the Brewfarm brewery and tap room the LaBrewatory, as it his space for playing with new recipes that blur the lines of conventional style guidelines.
“Actually, I do quite a bit of lager, especially this time of the year,” Anderson said, “and I do lean toward the Belgian-style yeast strains like Saisons and Strong Ales.”
As craft beer enters its adolescence, it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is room for all types of brewers. Anderson has the brewing chops and experience to be the envy of brash youngsters spouting against the evils of contract brewing, yet he prefers to leave the bulk of the brewing work to contractors. He is evidence that the craft beer revolution is still alive as long as brewers continue to experiment and tweak recipes for the love of beer. Long live the Revolution.
Sean Lewis is a freelance writer and homebrewer. He is currently working on his first book.