Participating brewers brought bottles and growlers of their creations to share with their compatriots at Common Thread brew day.
Dozens of brewers from around southern Wisconsin gathered Saturday to make a collaborative beer known as Common Thread. It's the third time that breweries around the region are joining together to create a special release for Madison Craft Beer Week, which runs May 2-11.
The 2014 edition of Common Thread is a Bohemian pilsner. Every year, as spring approaches, the participating brewers make a collective decision as to which style to make. Then they gather together at a brewery to celebrate and get started on the special beer. This year, the brew day was held at the new Wisconsin Brewing Company, located on Verona's southern edge.
"It's great to be part of this camaraderie and to have everybody here. It just makes it special," says Ashley Kinart, a brewer at Capital Brewing in Middleton who is taking part in her first Common Thread.
The brewing and release of Common Thread has become a unifying component to Madison Craft Beer Week. All of the brewers who participate get first shot at the limited number of kegs that are produced. For 2014, it's about 80 barrels, or roughly 60 kegs. That's twice the volume brewed last year for Common Thread Bière de Garde.
"I think the collaboration brews are the most interesting ones of Madison Craft Beer Week, and this one puts the emphasis on Madison," says Page Buchanan, who is owner and brewmaster of House of Brews.
The Bohemian pilsner was selected this year because it's a hallmark for that style of lager. "I love the style, I studied in Germany and it's a hard beer to make really well," states Kinart. The style arose in the 1800s, and is generally considered the forerunner to today’s American premium pilsner brands.
The Bohemian pilsner is known for a rich and complex malty profile with crisp and spicy bitterness from the traditional use of Saaz noble hops, a variety that originated in the region of the Czech town now named Žatec.
For this year's Common Thread take on the style, the beer is being made with German malts and Wisconsin-grown Sterling hops. This latter ingredient was donated by Gorst Valley Hops of Mazomanie. Sterling hops are an American variety that is often substituted for Saaz. "Sterling gives it a Wisconsin personality," says Kirby Nelson, brewmaster at Wisconsin Brewing Company.
Dan Carey, brewmaster at New Glarus Brewing, notes that the Bohemian pilsner is among his favorite styles, and he enjoys the challenge of making one. "Brewers are like scientists, they are curious," he says. "And like scientists, there is a tendency to share and collaborate in solving problems."
Scott Manning, brewmaster at Vintage Brewing, says that as all the brewers were helping work out the final details, they discovered a little more specialty malt was needed to make the beer. "At the last minute, the folks from Capital drove down two bags of malt. It was as if two breweries were working together -- borrowing a cup of sugar to finish the recipe," he chuckles.
This year's Common Thread brew day was also an opportunity for area brewers to see inside Wisconsin Brewing Company, which opened last fall. For Nelson, it was a chance to show off his new and highly automated brewhouse. "One thing about all this automation is when you push a button, things happen, and then you can go have a beer," he quips.
Seeing that technology in action is another reason that many Madison-area brewers turned out for the brew day. Manning notes that system is quite different from those many of his colleagues have been around. "There's a lot more engagement than you might think in seeing a brewery like this where the technology is awesome," he says. "There's not really a lot of hands-on work that needs to be done, so we all brought beer to share, chipped in for a lunch, and are having fun," he adds.
There was a lot of good-natured kidding about Nelson's brand spanking new computer-controlled brewery. "The joke when we arrived was, 'When is the button going to be pushed and who gets to push it?'" laughs Manning. He also added that he didn't even bring his brewers boots to brew in, which is a rare occurrence.
Breweries participating in this year's Common Thread include Capital Brewery, the Great Dane, the Grumpy Troll, House of Brews, Karben4 Brewing, Lake Louie Brewing, MobCraft, New Glarus Brewing, Next Door Brewing, One Barrel Brewing, O'so Brewing, Vintage Brewing and Wisconsin Brewing Company. Also taking part in brew day festivities were Gorst Valley Hops and the founders of Hop Head Beer Tours and Madison Craft Beer Week.
Common Thread 2014 is scheduled to be unveiled by participating breweries at the opening of Madison Craft Beer Week. There are over 200 different events planned so far, including the release of several other beers made specifically for the celebration. Profits from sales of Common Thread go to the Wisconsin Brewers Guild.
Participating brewers share more thoughts about Common Thread in a brew day video created by Madison-area filmmaker Roger Bindl.
With the larger amount of Common Thread brewed this year, Manning hopes they'll be able to share some of it with other taprooms around Wisconsin over the following week. That happens to coincide with American Craft Beer Week, which runs May 12-18.
This increasing attention to the entirety of the state was reflected on the brew day too, with Marc Buttera from O'so Brewing in Plover driving two hours to be part of the collaboration. "Making this beer is a show of solidarity, he says, "and I want to support my brothers in brewing."