Like the wind, a new pair of brews have just blown into town. These latest come from an environmentally friendly brewery that operates off wind power. Dave's BrewFarm, based in the St. Croix County community of Wilson, brews a golden lager named Select and a Belgian strong ale it calls Matacabras, or "goat killer" -- a reference to the legendary north wind in Spain that's so strong it is famed for killing goats.
Since last August, owner, brewer and business namesake David Anderson has been making test batches of beer at his farmstead brewery near Wilson, roughly halfway between Eau Claire and St. Paul. His early experimental brews have been the subject of significant online chatter by Madison beer fans, but until now it has been more of a virtual "buzz" than a real one -- with one exception, when Anderson breezed into the inaugural Isthmus Beer & Cheese Festival last January.
Anderson, 45, grew up not far from his rural Wisconsin farmstead brewery, in Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Minn. He chose the small village of Wilson, population about 180, after what he calls "eight months of looking at dirt" until finally finding a place that spoke to him. Anderson says the 35-acre farm appealed to him for its rural beauty and because as soon as he set foot on the property, he knew it would be great for wind-generated power.
Not long after closing on the property in 2008, he built a 2,200-square-foot brewery, and on top of that, 1,500 square feet of living space. That's right, he and wife, Pamela Dixon, actually live above the brewery, which gives special meaning to the term "brew house." On brew days, as the house fills with the aroma of wort, "it smells like victory," says Anderson.
Before they could move in, they needed to obtain a federal exemption from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which oversees regulations (dating from the 1950s) that prohibit a commercial brewery being located in a home or houseboat. The houseboat wasn't the issue for Anderson; however he did have to install specific walls and doors that clearly separate his living space from the brew house. He says the only other brewery that he knows that has such an exemption is the New Belgium Brewery of Fort Collins, Colo., which makes the well-known Fat Tire.
By February 2009, Anderson had installed a 120-foot tower with a 20-kilowatt wind generator to supply electricity to the house and brewery, and any excess power to Xcel Energy. This past February, despite the cold winter in Wilson, the total electric bill for the brewery and home was just 81 cents. At that rate, Anderson expects the windmill to pay for itself in about 10 years.
BrewFarm's Matacabras and Select are the only commercial brews that Anderson has released so far. Both just appeared in Madison, and local stores have had a tough time keeping it on the shelves.
Matacabras is a beer that doesn't fit neatly within the common beer styles, and is best described as a strong ale, due to its 8% ABV. It's made with a strain of Belgian Trappist yeast, rye malt and brown sugar, along with Millennium, Perle and Amarillo hops. All of that combines for distinctive body and spiciness.
Matacabras reflects Anderson's overall approach to brewing. He likes to start with a strain of yeast and then create the environment with different malts so the yeast can actually craft the beer.
Anderson's BrewFarm Select is a golden lager packaged in 12-packs of aluminum cans. Select has a bright golden color, malty body and crisp, light, bitter dryness from Perle and Cluster hops. It offers a hint of warmth from its 5% ABV. "BrewFarm Select may look like an industrial big-brewery lager," Anderson jokes, "but it's a beer that consistently exceeds expectations."
A seven-barrel brewing system allows Anderson to develop recipes before scaling up to full commercial production. Matacabras is bottled by Sand Creek Brewing of Black River Falls and it sells for about $9-$11 a six-pack. Cans of BrewFarm Select are packaged in 12-packs by the Stevens Point Brewery, and they sell for around $13-$14. Such contracting allows Anderson to ramp up production and maintain consistent presence on shelves in Madison, which he describes as "a very good market for specialty beer."
Eventually Anderson plans to produce draught beer and 750 ml bottles of seasonal brews at the BrewFarm.
What else is blowing in the wind for Anderson? The lineup of what he calls his wind series of brews includes a Weizen Doppelbock called Kotura, which is a term for Lord of the Wind. He is also working on a sweet stout called Mocha Diablo, which is made with additions of three different hot peppers. A diablo wind is a hot, dry offshore California wind from the northwest. And Harukaze, which in Japanese means spring wind, is based on the ancient beer style called gruit that, instead of hops, has spices like white pepper, ginger, cardamom, rose hips, and heather tips.
Anderson has the type of brewery license for his BrewFarm that allows for a tasting room. When he's not attending brew festivals, he's open on weekends for visitors and tours. If you travel there, call ahead for hours: 612-432-8130; 2470 Wilson St., Wilson. Dave's BrewFarm is one brewery to watch -- and one that shouldn't be blown off!