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.