December 5th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
Robert ‘Doc’ Wahl was a chemist who immigrated to the United States from Germany sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. He ended up in Chicago, where he put his considerable skill to use developing standards and procedures for beer brewing that remain in use today.
But Dr. Wahl also has a strange, slightly mischievous connection to Door County, one that grew when Prohibition wasn’t enough to make him stop perfecting his craft.
In the late 1890s Wahl partnered with Max Henius, another chemist and the founder of the American Academy of Brewing, to open the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology, where major breweries would send aspiring brewmasters to get schooled in the neglected science of beer making. The school would become recognized as the leading source for all things brewing, and Wahl would author three books on the subject which remain well-referenced guides for home-brewers and experts today.
When Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1918, it had an incredible impact on breweries, distributors, and tavern owners throughout the country. In Sturgeon Bay, it was estimated the law would cost the city $6,500 in taxes and fees charged on taverns in the first year alone. But perhaps nobody was so affected as Wahl, who had devoted himself so completely to the brewing craft.
When Prohibition passed, Wahl closed his institute, packed up his life, and did what so many Chicagoans continue to do – retired to Door County. He bought a large orchard behind what was for years Ray’s Cherry Hut outside Fish Creek, but it’s said he didn’t devote himself solely to cherries and apples.
Bob Armbruster now owns the land where the remnants of Wahl’s orchard now reside, crumbling in decay from almost three decades of neglect. It remains a popular subject for painters and photographers. When Armbruster first looked at the property he found one aspect particularly curious.
“I thought the windows ringing the top of the silo were a bit strange and asked why they were there,” he said. “I was told they were for lookouts in case the feds came to bust up old Doc Wahl’s bootlegging operation.”
Wahl was rumored to have set up shop moon-shining amidst the dirt rows and seclusion of modern-day Juddville. Fascinated by the tales, Armbruster began digging, finding scrapes of information about Wahl in old newspaper archives and numerous references to Wahl and his institute online. He muddled around the property and found dozens of bottles, some dated from 1919. Many fit the mold of the type Wahl would have used to bottle his concoctions three quarters of a century ago.
For 13 years Wahl lived on the orchard, continuing to hone his craft and increase his knowledge base. When the dry era ended in 1933, Wahl wasted no time getting back to legitimate work, re-opening his Chicago institute, where he worked until his death in Chicago in 1937.
Now the Dr. Robert Wahl Homebrewing Championships honors the legacy of the man who turned brewing into a science and honed his skills on a small Door County farm.
November 24th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
Less than a year after releasing their first brew, the Door County Brewery is entrenching itself as a must-have taste of Door County.
With releases like the Polka King Porter (its most popular) and Goat Parade, the brewery is following the footsteps of craft breweries using quirky names to pique the curiosity of drinkers. Its flavor, however, that’s earning them the respect of aficionados.
You can now find the Polka King Porter (named for the late, legendary Freddie Kodanko, Door County’s Polka King and a man known to enjoy the “occasional” alcoholic beverage) on shelves in Milwaukee, Madison, and throughout northeast Wisconsin.
I caught up with head brewer Danny McMahon to talk about the brewery’s growth, flavor profile, and what’s ahead.
Myles Dannhausen (MD): Is the Polka King Porter is your best seller by a longshot?
Danny McMahon (DM): It’s the one we sell the most of, but surprisingly, it’s just a little more than Little Sister. The Goat Parade, our fall seasonal, is doing well too. We’ve been thrilled with the response so far.
MD: With that, your distribution continues to grow every week it seems.
DM: Things are going pretty good. We’re in Milwaukee and Madison. Some of the Liquor Stores are carrying us. Trixie’s rated us 11 out of 12 on their podcast for the Polka King and that gave us a great boost.
We’re also in most of the Woodman’s in Wisconsin now. We’re popping up in a lot of places now. It’s pretty cool.
MD: Part of that popularity is your labeling too, which is done by another Door County native now living in Chicago.
DM: Yeah, Alicia Daubner handles all the labels and designs. Everything she’s done has been really great so far. She does amazing work.
MD: You create the recipes in Door County, but aren’t actually brewing on the peninsula yet. Explain how production works for you guys.
DM: Right, we actually brew out at Sand Creek Brewery’s facility in Black River Falls. We don’t have the ability to produce enough here yet. We get six week’s notice when the distributors think they’ll need more product, then we go out to Black River Falls for a couple days to brew. Sand Creek does something like 10 different beers, but they’re also big into contract brewing. Right now we’re one of their biggest accounts.
MD: Yeah, you guys are taking another track with your flavors. There are a lot of IPAs out there, and they’re selling well, but you’re going a different direction, especially with sour beers.
Is that a decision you made by looking at the market and competition, or just a personal taste preference?
DM: Right now New Glarus is the only brewery consistently doing sour beers, so we do a bunch of beer that isn’t that common in Wisconsin. But it’s not so much about a market opportunity, it’s more that it’s just what we’re interested in.
I like a good IPA, don’t get me wrong, and I could make a pretty decent IPA, but I don’t want to compete with a million other IPAs. I’d rather compete with a few hundred sours or other kinds of beers for shelf space.
It allows for room to do something different. There’s so much competition to get hops contracts because they’re already spoken for. There’s a two or three-year wait list to get citra hops right now. Those are used mostly for IPAs and pale ales. They have a big fruity profile that’s just fantastic and now everyone wants to get on that citrus train. I don’t want to wait or compete for those hops.
MD: You guys have a location in Baileys Harbor. What are the plans for that spot and what’s the plan for the year ahead?
DM: We’ve got a really cool little thing going on right now. We’d love to renovate the Baileys Harbor building by next Memorial day and turn it into a tap room. In the basement we’d like to put a 7-barrel system. Then we’d use it just for the fun stuff, a lot of really cool experimental stuff. Those Baileys Harbor beers are going to take a few months and maybe a year or two. Want to be an actual Door County Brewery, not just a Door County name.
MD: Do you plan to release anything new this winter?
DM: Right now focusing on the flagships – Polka King, Little Sister. Just want to push those core brands. We’re not making anything new in a large quantity that will be bottled until the springtime. Then we’ve got two new beers for American Craft Beer Week in late April or early May.
Then we’ll have at least one new beer to unveil at the Door County Beer Festival in June. We’re working with a wild yeast strain, Brettanomyces, that has a funky, fruity flavor. It’s more approachable than a straight-up, in-your-face sour.
June 18th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
Peninsula Pulse Photographer Len Villano was prowling the grounds of the festival and got some fantastic photos of a rainy, but fantastic day in Baileys Harbor. Look for yourself and relive the day here>>
June 8th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
Don’t forget folks, the Bayview Bridge in Sturgeon Bay is closed, so if you’re coming up Friday or especially Saturday morning, give yourself extra time to get here. Don’t worry, there are still two bridges open, but you’ll have to go through downtown Sturgeon Bay. Expect backups with all the amazing events going on this weekend, including Ephraim’s Fyr Bal festival, the Ride for Nature, and Sturgeon Bay’s Steel Bridge SongFest.
May 18th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
To many, pouring a glass of beer is far from a science. As long as it gets in the glass, we’re happy.
But for others, like Dan Ritchie of Draught Beer Systems, there’s an art to pouring a great beer. He’ll be telling us all about it at the Door County Beer Festival. Ritchie has been cleaning hundreds of beer lines and installing tap systems throughout Northeastern Wisconsin for more than five years.
Dan Ritchie’s Tips for Pouring A Great Beer
1. Never lean the glass against the faucet.
“Almost everybody does this, even most bartenders,” he says. “It’s terrible. You actually don’t want to pour at an angle at all, because you won’t get head on the beer. That head allows the CO2 to get out of the beer and let the malt flavor come through.”
2. Clean your lines
Whether you have a simple home tap or a full-fledged bar, Ritchie says your lines should be cleaned regularly to keep the flavor clean. Most bars will want to have their lines cleaned every two weeks. If they aren’t, a good taster will know it.
3. Know your chemicals
“I’ll be talking about what chemicals you should use, but more importantly, what you should stay away from that will damage your lines,” he says.
Ritchie will have a booth with beer line cleaning products and information on his services on the grounds. He does sales and service and specializes in glycol beer systems.
May 18th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
VIP ticket-holders will experience a rare Wisconsin cheese and beer pairing experience at the 2013 Door County Beer Festival hosted by Door County cheese specialists Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese.
Door County Cheese Specialists Host VIP Event
Door County cheese specialists Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese is hosting this very special event inside the historic Baileys Harbor Town Hall.
Special guest Marieke Penterman of Holland Family Cheese will talk about her award-winning Gouda and her Fenegreek Gouda. Penterman was honored in January with the award for the Grand Champion at the U.S. Champion Cheese Contest.
We’ll also be joined by Chris Roelli of Roelli Cheese, who brings his Red Rock and Dunbarton Blue Cheese, and Sara Hill from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, who will pair those cheeses with beers from Beechwood Brewing Company.
This special event will run for about an hour before VIP guests get a chance to hit the tasting tent to sample more of the 140-plus beers we’ll have on hand for sampling.
More about Marieke Penterman
Rolf and Marieke Penterman are first generation Wisconsin dairy farmers having moved from the Netherlands to Wisconsin in 2002. Because Holland is so small and the population so dense, farmers are limited in how much land they can obtain for dairying.
Having both grown up on small, 60-head dairy farms in the eastern part of Holland, Rolf and Marieke wanted to pursue their passion for dairy farming in an area that would afford them the capabilities of expansion.
Rolf’s brother Sander came to the United States in 1999 to work for a farmer in Baldwin, Wisconsin. During his three years in Baldwin Sander began to look for the best place for him and Rolf to start their own dairy farm. Wisconsin, with its vast dairy base and farm-friendly people seemed ideal and they purchased the property near Thorp. They now own 480 acres, milk 850 head and have approximately 1,300 head of cattle on their farm.
After some time, Rolf and Marieke decided they would like to add more value to their milk and conceived the idea of making some of it into cheese. Marieke began by obtaining her cheesemaker’s license. She then traveled back to Holland where she spent time on a “boerenkaas”, a farmhouse cheese plant. There she learned how to make authentic Dutch Gouda cheese. In November of 2006 Marieke produced her first of many batches of Gouda cheese.
As their farming operation and cheese production grew, so did their family. Twin daughters, Joyce and Luna, now 8 years old and their brother Dean, 5 years old, little sister Fenne 4 and brother Finn 3.
May 13th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
The folks from Door Peninsula Hops will be back at this year’s festival to talk about what it takes to create a small-scale hop-growing operation.
That’s everything from setting up a trellis system, planting, harvesting, drying and packaging. They’ll also have products for sale.
Located in Jacksonport, Door Peninsula Hops uses no pesticides or herbicides in their growing process, and all hops are handpicked and dried in small batches. Begun in 2010, owner Jeanne Majeski sells fresh hops right off the vine for wet hop brewing and dried hops for regular brewing.
“We currently have four varieties of hops: Cascade, Chinook, Magnum and Mt. Hood,” Majeski says. Though this year she’ll add Negget, Perle and Wye Viking.
Door Peninsula Hops will soon be found in Door County Hops Bitters, a limited edition product from Bittercube made exclusively with hops from Majeski’s operation.
March 17th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
Beer lovers rejoice – tickets for the 2013 Door County Beer Festival are now available!
After drawing 1,100 people to the grounds of the Baileys Harbor Town Hall in 2012, the event returns June 15, 2013, offering tastings of more than 140 of the world’s best craft beers, locally sourced food and incredible live music.
“You’re going to have to try really hard not to have a good time at this festival,” said festival producer John McMahon.
This isn’t just any festival, however, it’s a celebration of the beer-brewing craft and the region’s culinary artisans, including seminars from Wisconsin cheese-mongers, Alterra Coffee Roasters, Tapuat Kombucha and more.
The live music slate includes Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, a Michigan bluegrass quartet that stretches the boundaries of the genre. They’ll be joined by Door County favorites Highland Road.
New this year is the hard to find, rare and cellar beer swap, which takes place off the grounds of the festival and will give attendees the chance to trade these beers with fellow aficionados. Meanwhile, home brewers can measure their talent in the second annual Door County Homebrewing Championships.
Oh, and if you want to burn a few calories before your tasting, you’re covered there too. The Ride for Nature, a bicycle ride featuring routes of 15 to 100 miles, starts and finishes on the grounds of the festival.
February 3rd, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
If you’re like us, you love trying new beers, especially those you can’t find every day. We want the Door County Beer Festival to be your chance to try as many new craft beer flavors as possible, and we just didn’t think that more than 140 beers would be enough.
So we’re adding a Rare and Cellar Beer Swap to this year’s event. The swap will take place outside the beer festival grounds and will offer you a chance to try some truly amazing beers not available at your local store or in Wisconsin. Check back here for details as we organize the swap. Complete details will be added to the site June 1, 2013.
January 6th, 2013 by Myles Dannhausen
The first Door County Beer Festival is in the books! Over 1,100 people turned out to sample fantastic beer and food, soak in the music, and learn more about brewing, local agriculture, and Wisconsin cheese from our great vendors and presenters.
Organizers John McMahon and Dave Eliot did a fantastic job putting this event together, and a bevy of tireless volunteers helped us pull it off, but it’s the quality of the people and conversation that made it such a wonderful day at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall Park. As I wandered the grounds I learned a ton about beer from the servers and other beer lovers at an event unlike any Door County has seen before.
Here were some of the highlights of my day wandering the grounds:
• Capital Brewery‘s bourbon barrel aged Imperial Dopplebock. At least I think that’s what it was. If you missed a chance to sample from this pony keg you missed one of the most buzz-worthy beers of the festival. Egg Harbor jewelry maker Angela Lensch described it best when she said it was “like an old fashioned in a beer.”
• Kyle Cherek and the folks from Wisconsin Foodie embracing the event and Door County. Cherek was on board and believed in this event from the very start. The Wisconsin Foodie crew spent three days on the peninsula taking in sights, restaurants, and talking to the people that make this such a great destination. We can’t wait to see the footage they came away with!
• The Creme Brulee Stout from Southern Tier had people talking in the tent. Sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, the New York Brewery made an impact on a partisan Wisconsin crowd. The 2x Stout was tasty as well.
• Rush River. The Uber Alt German ale brought tasters back time and time again. “This is great!” I said to Robbie Stair as he continued to field endless requests. “Well, we didn’t come all the way up here to bring you crap beer,” he deadpanned in response. He wasn’t laughing. Gotta respect that.
• Alterra‘s free pour-over coffee. Great tasting and strong like bull, this hit the spot for me in mid-morning when four hours of Ride for Nature set-up and beer festival running had me dragging.
• Catching up with Carol Skare and her daughters Courtney and Karin from The Cookery.
For over 30 years The Cookery has been supporting local producers, but Carol said it was only after a fire shut the restaurant down for a year in 2007 that they had the time to re-evaluate their supply chain. Today their deliveries come much less often from a semi, and more often from the trucks and cars of local growers and farmers. While it’s still difficult to source as much as they would like on the peninsula, Carol says the local production scene it has come a long way in just the last five years.
• Chatting with home brewers, brewery reps, and folks like Brad from Stillmank Beer Company, just getting his product launched. The crowd at the festival was passionate about their beer, eager to learn, and more eager to share.
There was a lot more to love, and we certainly have a lot that we can improve on, but we couldn’t be happier with the crowd that made year one so great. Please chime in on our Facebook page or email info@doorcountybeer with your own thoughts on the festival. We’d love to hear from you!
See you next year!