Madison’s Craft Beer week runs May 2nd through May 12th. (Okay, that’s actually 11 days, but no one’s counting.) At Willy West every week is craft beer week. Craft beer is all about quality over quantity, and in the words of the Brewers Association, “Craft breweries are small, independent and traditional.” Willy West offers beer from 12 Wisconsin craft breweries. Collectively they produce approximately 377,200 barrels annually. A single barrel of beer is roughly 31 gallons. The one large brewery in Wisconsin produces 8.5 million barrels in Milwaukee alone and 40 million total; that’s 106 times the amount of beer the craft breweries that we offer make. That’s too much math. Let’s talk beer.
Our first brewery, Central Waters, was founded in 1996 and currently produces 10,000 barrels a year with 18 different styles. This technically makes Central Waters a microbrewery since it produces less than 15,000 barrels annually. They are located in Amherst and tout themselves as “one of the greenest breweries around.” This brewery is a member of Wisconsin’s Green Tier Program, an organization that commends companies that are environmental stewards. They are also the only brewery in Wisconsin’s Green Masters’ Program which recognizes sustainability practices. Each beer they produce is brewed using solar-heated water and their barley is from Chilton, Wisconsin. Central Waters even pays more for their bottles because their manufacturer is one of the greenest in the country.
Our next brewery, O’so, is the invention of Marc Buttera, a former mechanical engineer who quit his job to pursue brewing. Together with his wife and a small staff, Marc operates out of Plover and currently produces 14 different beers and 7,200 barrels a year using “hand-me-down” equipment. “Our brewery is very Wisconsin. Our bottles, labels and boxes come from Wisconsin,” Marc says. His goal is to build a new facility in roughly four years with capacity for 30,000 barrels annually. “I want to stay small and have a unique quality,” he says. His two sons will eventually take over the family business.
Ale Asylum is a homegrown brewery that’s located in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility near the Dane County Airport. Ale Asylum has distributed to the Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan markets exclusively, but is now poised for statewide distribution by the end of 2013, turning out 22,000 barrels annually. Four beers are available year-round: Hopalicious, Ambergeddon, Contorter Porter and Madtown Nutbrown. Six beers also rotate in seasonally.
Capital Brewery, located in Middleton, is another Wisconsin staple. Capital has taken numerous steps to become greener, including replacing an aged broiler, reducing packaging and investing $600,000 to help conserve energy and water. Seventeen beers are produced at Capital’s facility a mile from Willy West. Capital also has a bike club. And similar to Central Waters, Capital is a member of Wisconsin’s Green Tier Program because of its efforts with sustainability. 22,000 barrels a year roll out of Capital.
If quaint is more your style, Lake Louie, located 35 minutes west of Middleton near Arena, may be just what you’re looking for in a brewery. With all of 4,000 barrels a year, Lake Louie is truly a niche brewery that exercises discretion in its brewing methods. A pale ale, cream ale, porter, scotch ale and I.P.A. are available year-round, while eight brews rotate seasonally. A former engineer began experimenting with home brewing and started the business in 1999.
With 1,600 barrels annually, this microbrewery that began in Spring Green is the smallest brewer represented at Willy West. Conversely, Furthemore recently began selling three of its beers, Fatty Boombalatty, Knot Stock and Makeweight in the colossal Chicago market. Most of Furthermore’s nine beer offerings are brewed in Black River Falls. If quality over quantity is the hallmark of a great craft brewer, Futhermore may define what it means to be small and successful.
Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills—between Madison and Milwaukee—produces 4,400 barrels annually. Six beers are available year-round and six are available seasonally. Founded in 1998, Tyranena (pronounced Tie-rah-nee-nah) has a staff of less than 10 people, unless you count the two dogs they consider as employees and the 19 or so that help keep their tasting room buzzing. Unlike some Wisconsin breweries, Tyranena is available in Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana as well.
If Cheers wasn’t a fictional show, the pub at the Potosi brewery is probably where Norm would hang out all day. This is a brewery that is loaded with history. Located west of Platteville near the Iowa border, Potosi was founded in 1852 and offers five year-round beers, two seasonal beers and a specialty release. There are many wonderful aspects of this company, but at the top is the fact that Potosi donates all its profits to charity, and it says as much right on their labels. The Potosi foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is, “To channel all profits into its markets served to support historical and educational initiatives, and charitable causes.”
Founded in 1857, Point is the fifth oldest continuously running brewery in the United States. This January they started an expansion of their Stevens Point facility. This will bring them up to 150,000 barrels annually, making them the largest of the breweries featured at Willy West. With availability in 22 states, Point is also the most widely distributed, but is considered a regional brewery because of its output. Eight year-round, four seasonal, and some limited releases are available from this regional brewery. Similar to Sprecher, Point also crafts gourmet sodas, five to be exact.
New Glarus, a craft brewery that distributes exclusively in Wisconsin, has a philosophy that is based on “individuality, cooperation, and the employment of 100% natural ingredients to produce world class, handcrafted beers for their friends in Wisconsin.” With 100,000 barrels annually, they offer six year-round beers, three seasonals, and myriad other brew creations, making it a true Wisconsin staple. Founded in 1993, New Glarus was the first brewery in the county founded and operated by a woman and has enjoyed tremendous success ever since.
At 17,000 barrels of beer annually, Milwaukee’s Sprecher is a regional brewery that is also well known for its 11 gourmet sodas, especially its root beer. Established in 1985, Sprecher offers nine year-round and seven seasonal beers. And if you’re searching for a truly unique beer that’s also gluten-free, Sprecher offers Mbege, a brew that’s made from real bananas—yes, bananas. Mbege is an East African-style beer. Sprecher also offers a gluten-free Shakpro, a West African-style beer made from sorghum and millet. Indeed, Sprecher offers a drink for every palate.
It seems appropriate to conclude with Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee. This regional brewery produces 33,400 barrels annually and created the country’s first government-approved gluten-free beer, New Grist, in 1996. That same year, Lakefront became the first certified organic brewery in the nation, using 100% organic barley and hops to make their Organic ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Lakefront is also Green Tier-certified and the founding entity of Local First Milwaukee, a foundation of independent Milwaukee companies dedicated to sustainability and promoting local businesses.
They have 14 beers available year-round, as well as seasonal and limited releases.
The creative, innovative employees that own and operate these craft breweries are a large reason Wisconsin has retained its tremendous beer heritage and unique style. So come to Willy Street Co-op–West and enjoy craft beer week, 52 times a year.