A lot of interest brewing in Driftless Brewing Company, Soldiers Grove

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Michael Varnes-Epstein, Scott Noe, Cynthia Olmstead and Christopher Balistreri enjoy a moment at their Driftless Brewing Company in Soldiers Grove.

By Ted Pennekamp

 

Something new and distinguished is brewing in a former grocery store in Soldiers Grove. 

Indeed, with labels such as Kick-Axe Pale Ale, Dirt Brown Ale, Metamorphosis, Solar Town Stout, Rolling Ground IPA and The Local Buzz, the Driftless Brewing Company is making quite a name for itself with its alive, unfiltered and unpasteurized beer.

“We were almost immediately maxed out in terms of accounts,” said brewer Chris Balistreri, who founded the brewery along with Michael Varnes-Epstein, Scott Noe and Cynthia Olmstead. 

“We’re doing it as fast as we can,” said Michael in noting that demand is exceeding supply to the point that there is a waiting list for eager customers such as taverns and stores. “All signs are positive.” 

“We brew really good beer,” said Chris who was a home brewer for many years. Chris got Michael interested in home brewing several years ago and in 2011 they started to seriously look into the possibility of turning their hobby into a business. 

In 2013, all of the necessary licenses were obtained. The vacant former grocery store at 102 W. Sunbeam Boulevard was acquired in March of 2014 and business has been going strong ever since. 

Driftless Brewing Company uses a one-barrel system which brews 31 gallons at a time. Michael explained that there are plans to expand to a 15-barrel system with four, 30-barrel and one 15-barrel fermenter in the near future. The 30-barrel fermenter will allow for double batching. 

Driftless Brewing sells 22-ounce bottles as well as tap beer. Current bottle customers include Kickapoo Exchange of Gays Mills and Viroqua Food Co-op. Tap customers include Dave’s Pizza of Viroqua, Driftless Cafe of Viroqua, Rooted Spoon of Viroqua and Old Oak Inn of Soldiers Grove.

Individuals can also purchase bottles during tours, which can be arranged ahead of time. Driftless Brewing conducts tours for groups large or small about 30-40 times per year. 

Other expansion plans include an educational tap room where knowledge can be gleaned about brewing history, hops, malt, beer and agriculture. The tap room will seat about 75 and will bring people together in a nice, friendly atmosphere about every other week-end. An outside seasonal beer garden is also being considered. 

“Beer is a unifier, not a divider,” said Chris. “That’s what we want to be. We are not highfalutin. We welcome everybody.”

Cynthia said that the four partners of Driftless Brewing are eager to expand the company’s role in contributing to the local economy as well. 

“Everybody wins,” she said in noting that all businesses can help each other. “The village government and the local businesses have been very supportive.” 

In addition to helping the local economy and supporting local tourism events, Driftless Brewing is also aiming to be environmentally friendly. 

“We want to work towards zero waste,” said Chris who noted that spent grain and other by-products will be given to area farms. “We want to make as little of a footprint as possible. We want to compost and recycle as much as we can.”

Michael said Driftless Brewing does not use a municipal water source and eventually will have its own well with good, pure Driftless Region water for its beer. “We will use no more water than a small farm,” he said. 

Driftless Brewing likes to keep things as close to home as possible and hops and malt come from Wisconsin. 

In the future, Driftless Brewing would like to expand local employment opportunities with the company. Hopefully, about two dozen employees may be needed at some point. 

“We are in a stunning location,” said Chris. “We love where we’re from, love the people around us, and hopefully can bring a little excitement to the community.” 

“We would like to get people to know who we are,” said Michael. “Our area produces good people, good food and good business.”

With the addition of the Driftless Brewing Company, the Soldiers Grove area also produces darn good, high quality beer in a variety of styles sure to please the palate.

Michael and Chris said that small whiskey barrel staves are used in the brewing process for their Solar Town Stout, by which many complexities can be brought out such as whiskey notes, caramel notes, char, natural vanilla from good oak, and many other accents as desired.

Dirt Brown Ale, for example, is described as a creamy smooth ale with just enough flowery hop presence to balance the rich caramel and special dark malts. Brewed with organic ingredients.

Kick-Axe Pale Ale is a tribute to the Kickapoo and Bad Axe rivers of the Driftless Region. Driftless water, Wisconsin Hop Exchange hops and Briess malt all flow together in a balanced hop-kissed ale. Pale, creamy, with a beautiful white foam, nicely balancing the six hop additions with a firm malt bill.

The Local Buzz Golden Ale is described as having a brilliant golden color, with a light and refreshing softness of wheat malts and local honey. Delicately hopped with local goldings. Crisp, clean and smooth. Brewed with organic ingredients. Local bees working for beer. 

With these and their many other distinctive styles, it’s no wonder that Driftless Brewing Company is fast becoming quite popular in the region. Driftless Brewing Company can be reached at (608) 624-5577.

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