This year's Common Thread, a collaboratively made beer that's become the centerpiece of Madison Craft Beer Week, was brewed Saturday, March 7. Common Thread's beer style changes every year, and in 2015 it's a Belgian tripel, a bright yellow to golden-colored beer with fruity-estery sweetness, spicy warmth and dryness. Tripels are considered strong beers, ranging in alcohol from 8% to 12% ABV.
Like last year, WBC (Wisconsin Brewing Company) in Verona is brewing host. Proceeds from sales go to the Wisconsin Brewer's Guild; in 2014, about $9,300 were raised. The funds help the guild with education and promotion of industry awareness.
This is the fourth annual brewing of Common Thread. Brew day attracts brewers from all over the state to share in the work and to drink a few beers with brewing colleagues. "Common Thread has taken on its own life. We've got different people who were not connected to the original brew [in 2012] that are now working on it and moving it forward," says Scott Manning, the brewmaster at Madison's Vintage Brewing Company. Manning has been active in Common Thread brewing since the beginning.
This year the initial planning and recipe development was led by several female brewers from across the state, calling attention to their increasing presence in the industry.
The pilot batch of the 2015 Common Thread was brewed several weeks ago. That early beer was used to tweak the final recipe. During a preliminary tasting party on Feb. 27, the recipe brewers got a chance to try it. "It's a fun style, easy to drink, but not a light beer," says Rochelle Francois of WBC. Francois helped coordinate the female brewers who took part in creating the recipe. "The process of getting us all together opened my eyes about how awesome it is to work in the beer industry, and I like how everyone works together with a sense of camaraderie," adds Francois. As evidence of that camaraderie, Allyson Rolph came all the way from the Thirsty Pagan Brewpub in Superior, where she has been the brewer for over two years. "It's great to engage the women in the industry and give us an opportunity to meet some of the people in it," says Rolph. "I'm kind of up there on my own, and this is an opportunity to meet some people and make connections," she says.
The teamwork that goes into making Common Thread goes counter to what many perceive to be a very competitive business. "We're developing some great relationships that I know will last my whole career," says Francois.
Jamie Baertsch, the brewmaster at Wisconsin Dells Brewing took part as a first-timer in making Common Thread. "This is a big deal. I'm happy to be invited. This connects all of us in ways that we might not have gotten connected," says Baertsch. Capital Brewery's Ashley Kinart agrees. "Sharing our experiences, own processes, and joint problem solving is what makes for a great collaborative beer," says Kinart.
Common Thread will be released during Madison Craft Beer Week May 1-10 in area bars, restaurants and in participating brewery taprooms.
[Editor's note: In the original version of this article, brewmaster Jamie Baertsch's name was misspelled. Isthmus regrets the error.]