Peter Fauerbach was a kid when the family brewery closed in 1966 - too young to sample Fauerbach Centennial Brew, a cornerstone of the Madison brewery's product line. So too his cousins Neil and David Fauerbach, co-conspirators in re-launching the brand a couple of years ago.
"All us kids who were around when the brewery closed never got to taste it," Peter says now. "It's cool to think about being able to taste what it might have tasted like."
That opportunity is at hand. This weekend, 17 members of the Madison Homebrewers & Tasters Guild will be competing to reproduce one of the family's vintage CB recipes. The winner will work with Fred Gray, brewer for Janesville's Gray Brewing Co., to bring CB - the acronym will now stand for Challenge Brew - back to market as an American lager for Fauerbach Brewing.
Peter was presenting a program on Fauerbach history to the guild last year when the challenge was conceived. "I flashed up an old recipe," he says, "and everybody's jaws kind of dropped and they said, 'Let's look at this for a few minutes.'" Fauerbach pitched the idea for a contest. "I wanted to know what it would taste like," he explains. "They were pretty excited and agreed to put it on their calendar."
The 17 contestants - including Gray himself - will be working from the recipe Fauerbach displayed on the screen at that meeting: Fauerbach's 1956 CB Bock, a style of dark American lager. "There have been some guidelines that evolved," Fauerbach adds. These de-emphasize the darker aspects of a bock while establishing "an allowable range of raw materials and processing steps. We gave people a little flexibility within the malt and within the hops." The results, he suggests, will resemble what many people think of as "an American lager."
A panel of certified beer judges will rate the best of the entries starting at noon this Saturday, Jan. 26, at Gray's Tied House in Verona. "There are style guidelines for this particular kind of beer," Fauerbach notes. "They have to go through a lagering process, and they have to have a specific gravity or density and mouth fullness." In addition to technical standards, the judges will evaluate each entry's flavor and aroma.
In addition to the formal judging, almost 100 invited guests will vote for a people's choice award-winner. If the event itself is not open to the general public, beer enthusiasts will have the opportunity to taste the winning entry when it is bottled and comes to market this spring. The label will bear the contest winner's name, along with acknowledgement of the guild's participation. Fauerbach also intends to sponsor a scholarship for a guild member to attend Chicago's prestigious Siebel Institute for master brewers.
Contests such as this are not unprecedented among small breweries. Boston's Samuel Adams and Denver's Flying Dog have issued similar challenges. But Fauerbach believes this will be the first time in Wisconsin that members of a home-brewing association will vie for a commercial launch of their craft beer.
Fauerbach is on the phone from Florida, where the 2008 Key West Race Week is getting under way in brutal conditions. The family name is as braided into Madison sailing and iceboating lore as it is woven into local brewing history. He and his wife are part of a 10-person crew aboard Grateful Red, a Stoughton friend's red-hulled 40-foot racer-cruiser from the home port of Lake Kegonsa. It has been a rough day, Fauerbach reports, with 12-foot waves and a north wind gusting to more than 30 miles per hour. The conditions forced regatta organizers to cancel the first day's races - though not, Fauerbach adds, before the heavy winds snapped the boom on Grateful Red.
Fauerbach sounds hopeful that the boom can be mended and the Grateful crew can surmount catastrophe. But even if they can't, he can look forward to the return home for this weekend's challenge - and 17 samples of a beer he never got to taste as a kid.