Better beer was born “outside the box,” and continues to evolve removed from the mainstream today. The result has been an industry of rebels and renegades who defy classification. 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, Wis.
Wind Powered, Contract Brewed
Apart from “adjunct lager,” perhaps no two words have been demonized as much as “contract brewed” during the burgeoning craft beer revolution. The term evokes 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 into this stereotype.
The BrewFarm boasts a seven-barrel brewhouse, but most of the work is done at two Wisconsin breweries—Stevens Point and Sand Creek Brewing Company brew the BrewFarm’s flagship beers, about 650 barrels a year of them, leaving Anderson free to focus his energies on creation and new recipes.
“If I’m small, I can be nimble,” Anderson explains. “I always say I’m my own worst employee and my own worst boss.”
Anderson adds, “It’s not really about cranking out numbers and having 25-percent 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 lupulus is Latin for “little wolf plant”). 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 31-20 Wind Generator that powers his farm, home and brewery.
The tower was erected in February 2009, when gas prices started skyrocketing and environmental concerns became 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 says. “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. He’s even received refunds and credits from the power company.
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-brewing 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, then 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, Israel and Vietnam, where he helped establish craft breweries.
“There isn’t an amazing amount of beer [in Vietnam],” Anderson says. “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 brew days 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 creative beers he produces.
“Brewing creates what I call ‘the beer experience,’” Anderson says. “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
For the BrewFarm’s the two flagship beers—Select and Matacabras—the similarities end at the labels. Select is an all-malt, Golden Lager with a mild IBU count in the 25-30 range, while Matacabras resists categorization.
“The only way I can describe it is to call it a ‘curious’ ale,” Anderson says. “It’s really hard to pin down. It’s got the Trappist high-grav yeast, rye malt, brown sugar and American hops.”
Even the packaging looks like it comes from different breweries, as Select is sold in 12-pack cans and Matacabras fills 12-ounce bottles.
For the moment, these are the only two beers that Anderson plans on selling outside of the taproom.
“There’s a huge influx of 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 with next,” Anderson says. “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 other ingredients of the beer. For instance, Matacabras’ major flavor profiles come from the spicy rye malt and yeast character. Like many of the BrewFarm experiments, Matacabras 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 says.
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 the “LaBrewatory,” as it’s his space for playing with new recipes that blur the lines of conventional styles.
“Actually, I do quite a bit of lager, especially this time of the year,” Anderson says, “and I do lean toward the Belgian-style yeast strains, like Saisons and Strong Ales.”
As craft beer enters its adolescence, it’s becoming clear that there is room for all types of brewers. Anderson has the brewing chops and experience to be the envy of opinionated youngsters railing 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.
7-bbl direct-fire system that was allegedly the first brewhouse used by Avery Brewing Company’s Adam Avery
4 conical, German-made fermenting tanks
5 horizontal conditioning tanks
3 horizontal bright tanks
1 120-foot, 20 kilowatt Jacobs 31-20 Wind Generator
What’s On Tap
Select: All-malt Golden Lager designed to appeal to a wide audience of craft and non-craft drinkers. Sold in cans.
Matacabras: A “curious ale” brewed with rye malt, Trappist yeast, brown sugar and American hops. Sold in bottles.
What He Said
“I never get tired of looking at it. People ask, ‘What does it sound like?’ I say it sounds like a cash register.” —Dave’s BrewFarm owner/brewer David Anderson, on his windmill ■