The Madison beer world is anything but static; some aspects of what our local brewers make may seem unconventional if you seldom look beyond the big brewery products in your local liquor store.
Take Aran Madden, the company co-owner and the person behind the beer recipes at Furthermore Beer of Spring Green. Madden is out with a new beer made with beets. That's correct, beets! And, "furthermore" they are red beets -- of the healthy variety -- known for anti-carcinogens and high carotenoid content.
Madden unveiled his latest brew called Thermo Refur, to the local beer community Saturday night via the taps of the High Noon Saloon amid music from Buffalo Killers, Old Panther and .357 String Band. Yes, all that made for a night that excited the senses and then some. You could even say it brought a warm feeling to those who got a pint of Madden's hazy reddish-brown beer, in part because with a name like Thermo Refur you would expect it to offer warmth from its 8.1 ABV.
Madden along with partner Christ Staples has formulated more than a half-dozen beers over the past couple of years since launching the brewery. Furthermore is based in Spring Green while the actual beer making is done with Sand Creek Brewing of Black River Falls. Madden admits he enjoys being on the brink of eccentric beer making. "I like to play with different flavors, some are taboo to most brewers," he states. As example, Furthermore beers have featured additions of black pepper, free trade coffee, and apples.
Madden's beer concoctions do often break the norm, even for the small craft brewer. His popular Make Weight and Fatty Boombalatty beers are amalgamations of styles and various ingredients that blend centuries of Belgian and English brewing traditions. And as for the Germans and their Reinheitsgebot, Madden admits his latest creation is risky and deviates greatly from formulaic beer making.
"The Belgians like to use candi sugar because it adds alcohol to the beer without adding body," he notes. "Well, Belgian candi sugar is basically beet sugar, so we decided to use the beets and cut the Belgians out of Thermo Refur."
Beets in beer may not be that farfetched. The prestigious World Beer Cup (WBC) that judges beers against strict style definitions has a category for vegetable beers. WBC describes them as, "Beers using vegetables as an adjunct in either the mash, kettle, primary or secondary fermentation, providing obvious (ranging from subtle to intense), yet harmonious, qualities."
Thermo Refur took about 60 pounds of red beets that Madden purchased from the certified organic Shooting Star Farm of Mineral Point. "I wanted to use ingredients that were processed locally, so I found organic beets from a nearby grower then peeled, chopped and boiled them before adding them to the beer near the end of the fermentation period," explains Madden. "My hands were literally beet red before it was done."
At the core of Thermo Refur's beets are also wheat and dark malt that give the beer its cloudy reddish-brown color that ends up almost as a purple haze. Madden also adds some black pepper to the brew, what seems to be becoming a trademark in his beer.
Then a specific wild yeast strain is used, one that is known for producing fruity flavors in beer. The beer's promotional description elaborates: "We took the elegant classic wheat yeast from a good neighborhood and sullied it with questionable characters from the other side of the tracks." Okay, so that's supposed to make this beer attractive? Madden clarifies, "This is a big funky burly beer with some improvisational off-flavors making it a little rough around the edges."
It's that sense of adventure in making something unique that is creating a following for Furthermore's beers.
Matt Keiser of Madison ventured to the High Noon Saloon to sample Thermo Refur. (You may recall that Saturday night was a very icy night when it would have been much easier to stay at home with a beer from one's own refrigerator.) "This is different at first taste," he noted, "and it just gets even better after that first sip reminding me of a Belgian."
Thermo Refur is definitely a conversation starter. It's unfiltered, with a brownish purple tinted color and gritty sharp fruitiness that when coupled with the dryness of the black pepper it might be confused with a full-bodied, highly carbonated but slightly purple Bloody Mary. It's distinctive and did in fact create a buzz, which was not just an observation about how loud it was in the High Noon Saloon Saturday night.
It remains to be seen if this beer will become a regular bottled beer for Furthermore. Madden says he only made one batch, about 14 barrels, of it and he's not sure if he'll make it again. He's waiting to see how well it does in a handful of local draft accounts.
Frank Distribution picked up an order of eight kegs on Wednesday, and there are another 10 sitting in the Furthermore cooler. Staples says that he does not know yet where the beer will offered on tap, but that he expects for it to turn up at the usual beer hot spots around Madison over the next few weeks.
Furthermore is also making Thermo Refur available in single 12 oz. bottles, with 55 cases slated for Madison and another 10 heading to Milwaukee. Staples says that these singles should be for sale, at an accessible price, by mid-February at multiple beer purveyors around town, including Cork & Bottle, Jenifer Street Market, Star Liquor, Steve's on University and Mineral Point, Barriques in Fitchburg, Riley's, and Whole Foods, along with The General Store in Spring Green.
Time will indeed tell if there's a strong market for it. Maybe it will find a niche with those who remember their mom insisting that they eat their beets. At least now as an adult the argument seems more palatable, or at least quaffable with Thermo Refur.