August 6, 2020

Jed Portman

  • Share this story
  • Share Editor’s Letter: Beers That Taste Like the Midweston Twitter
  • Share Editor’s Letter: Beers That Taste Like the Midweston Instagram

Editor’s Letter: Beers That Taste Like the Midwest

And how to make one at home

If you define Midwestern beer as beer that most people associate with the Midwest, the region’s most essential brewery might be Anheuser-Busch. If you define it as beer that tastes like the Midwest, my front-runner is Scratch Brewing, located on seventy-five wooded acres outside Ava, Illinois, just an hour and a half from Busch headquarters in St. Louis.

Scratch bottles time and place. They don’t make flagships, but they do repeat seasonal favorites, including the Spring Tonic, flavored with dandelions, carrot tops, clover, and ginger, and a tart, woodsy infusion of hickory leaves, nuts, hulls, and toasted bark that they call Single-Tree Hickory. Their herbs and vegetables come from their garden and their cedar branches and sassafras leaves come from their woods. They order malt from Indiana. Their hops all grow in Illinois. Even the house fermentation culture is a taste of place, as co-founder Marika Josephson shared with us in May.

I first came across Scratch at North Carolina’s State of Origin beer festival in 2015. The brewery was one of just a few from out of state at that celebration of local flavor, but the brewers got my attention with a crisp, clean oak and turmeric gruit that brought back memories I didn’t know I had, of cool fall afternoons in my native southern Ohio. I was living in coastal South Carolina then, and that was one of the experiences that pointed me back toward the Midwest. In the years since, Scratch has continued to shape how I see the region where I grew up and influence my hopes for Midwesterner.

Editor’s Letter: Beers That Taste Like the Midwest - Quote

Where else can you find insight on the ideal time of day to harvest elderflower blossoms, the best tree-bark decoctions, or the subtle differences between beer brewed with water and beer brewed with tree saps?

In 2016, Marika and co-founders Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein put out a book, The Homebrewer’s Almanac. I didn’t brew at the time, but I spent hours with it, learning how they used green tomatoes, wild grapevine, native persimmon, and spicebush to make beers that tasted like home. It’s a book I’d share with anyone interested in local flavor, aspiring brewer or not. Where else can you find insight on the ideal time of day to harvest elderflower blossoms, the best tree-bark decoctions, or the subtle differences between beer brewed with water and beer brewed with tree saps? The landscapes that I’d explored all my life took on new meaning as I read, from forest-floor scrub up to the crowns of our tall oaks and hickories. The book gave me new ways of understanding the overlooked landscapes of the lower Midwest.

That same year, they bottled their first beer, a mushroom-infused farmhouse ale simply named Chanterelle Bière de Garde. Mushroom beer may surprise you, even in a craft beer era defined by funky and fruited rebukes to fizzy-yellow-lager tradition. If so, consider that the chanterelle’s most resonant flavors—apricot, earth, and black pepper—are flavors that you might already associate with a saison. It’s one of my favorite beers. So last summer, my first as a full-time Ohioan since I left a decade and a half ago, I put my entire chanterelle harvest into the recipe in The Homebrewer’s Almanac.

If you’re finding more chanterelles than I did last year (and I hope you are), consider this a use for the tattered and slightly dirty mushrooms in your basket. Looks and texture don’t matter here. This is a recipe for homebrewers, and it might look intimidating, but you should be able to find everything but the mushrooms at your local homebrew shop, and it follows the same basic steps as any other beer recipe. It’s worth some research and a few hours of work. The bottles I filled around this time last year still carry the flavor of a few lucky afternoons in the woods last July and August.

Chanterelle Bière de Garde

Makes 5 gallons

Since they’re not bitter, chanterelles are best as flavor and aroma additions. Add them like you would a whole cone hop, toward the middle and end of your boil in big mesh bags. We often add plants throughout the whole boil in order to create a deeper infusion of flavor, as in this recipe. A handful every twenty minutes from beginning to end, with a big infusion at the flameout, will give a robust apricot flavor, slightly buttery on the finish, which complements the dry, pepper, and fruit aromatics of the yeast strain. About a pound and a half of fresh mushrooms, or half a pound of dried mushrooms, will be good for a five-gallon batch.

O.G.: 1.064
F.G.: 1.014
ABV: 6.5%
Bitterness: 26 IBU

5 lb. 10 oz. Pilsner
4 lb. 10 oz. Vienna
1 lb. 5 oz. Munich
11 oz. crystal 20°L

Mash in with 4 ½ gallons water to hit 147 degrees Fahrenheit
Sparge with 7 gallons water at 168 degrees Fahrenheit

½ oz. Columbus at 60 minutes
¾ oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrüh at 10 minutes

Additional ingredients
26 ounces fresh or frozen chanterelle mushrooms, divided as follows:
3 ½ oz. in first wort
3 ½ oz. at 60 minutes
3 ½ oz. at 30 minutes
15 ½ oz. at 15 minutes

Length of Boil
90 minutes with 15-minute whirlpool at flameout

German Alt

Ferment at 58 degrees Fahrenheit for first two weeks, then allow to rise naturally above 70 degrees until complete.

For extract brewers (a slightly easier method for new homebrewers): Put 11 oz. of crystal 20°L into a grain bag to steep in 7 gallons of water. Raise the temperature to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in about half an hour. (If it comes to 170 more quickly, turn off heat and allow grains to steep for half an hour.) Remove grain bag and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in 7 lb. 9 oz. of Pilsner liquid malt extract and 1 lb. of amber liquid malt extract and boil for 90 minutes. Follow the hop and other ingredient schedules as outlined in the recipe.

Excerpted from The Homebrewer’s Almanac. Copyright 2016 by Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon, and Ryan Tockstein. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved.


Thanks for checking us out!

We are now publishing on Substack—delivering new stories directly to your inbox.

Click here to subscribe to Midwesterner!