Dave’s BrewFarm in Wilson, WI
If you don’t keep your eyes peeled, you’ll blow right past Dave’s BrewFarm — it’s on a country road about 30 minutes from Hudson, WI, and its sign is very, very small. Stay focused — turn the car around, slow down, try again, and make your way down to the LaBrewatory entrance. Inside, brewer David Anderson and his wife Pamela Dixon have assembled a rough-hewn but charming rural tasting room where the BrewFarm’s products can be sampled by visitors on weekends when Anderson’s not appearing at beer festivals and trade shows.
All the beer is wind-brewed, which is to say that BrewFarm derives much of its power from an on-site wind generator — last February, its power bill was 82 cents. “When we first visited this land, we noticed that the wind was strong and incessant,” says Anderson. “I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the wind power of Europe, and at the time oil was $140 a barrel and going up and gas was $4 or $5 a gallon. Part of the idea also was leading by example: The idea is to live sustainably and take care of the land.”
The brewery’s two flagship commercial products are a Belgian strong ale called Matacabras (“goat killer,” named for a Spanish wind strong enough that’s said to kill goats) and BrewFarm Select. “It’s an easy drinking golden all-malt lager, and it’s a little more accessible to a broader audience,” says Anderson of Select. “But it’s well balanced and full-flavored, and it also appeals to beer geeks, as well.”
“Select works really well as a Bloody Mary back,” adds Dixon, referring to recent brewer dinner at the nearby (and now sadly closed) Creamery restaurant and B&B.
For its part, the spiced and challenging Matacabras has made a favorable splash in the world of Upper Midwestern craft brewing — it scored an B+ (very good) at Beer Advocate and a 92 / 96 (overall / style) from Rate Beer. At last year’s Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest in Madison, WI, Anderson looked consistently busy as he fought to keep up with the demand for his goat-killing brew.
Anderson is hoping to scale up to 200-300 barrels of beer annually on site; he brews 400-600 barrels on contract with Stevens Point Brewery (the Select) and Sand Creek (the Matacabras). Most of BrewFarm’s beer is sold in Wisconsin, with a focus on the Milwaukee and Madison markets, but it pops up in the Twin Cities and beyond.
“We’re doing very well, particularly considering we’ve got zero marketing,” says Anderson. Good marketing can sell a beer once, but we want to sell it again, and again — and so when I get a call from someone saying, ‘Hey, you’re now my favorite beer,’ that’s very heartening.”
“[The brewery is] still in its infancy,” says Anderson. “I’ve been playing around, trying a bunch of different beers, in order to get a feel for the water and the yeast. I’m just creating things that could be interesting or that I might just be curious about. What happens if I mix two different yeast strains, for example?”
His experiments make it to the taps at the BrewFarm. We tried two: The first was the balanced and charming Dandyclover, brewed with red clover and “estate-grown” dandelions, which is one of a series of botanical saisons that Anderson has brewed. And the second was a surprisingly soulful and funky Breakfast Lager, which was brewed, among other things, with Grape Nuts. As exotic as his ingredients sometimes are (BrewFarm works very much in the Belgian tradition of creatively flavored beers), Anderson stakes most of his product on its essential ingredient: the water.
“The chemistry of the water has a great deal of impact on the finished beer — the hardness of the water will affect how the yeast reacts to it,” he says. “You can take the same yeast to two different breweries with different water, and you’ll get a different end result in both cases. I love the water here, it’s fantastic — I don’t do much to filter it except for an iron filter.”
The BrewFarm got its start in 2008, when Anderson and Dixon bought their land and built the brewery and the home above it — like the cheese plant-dwelling Wisconsin cheesemakers of yore, the couple literally live in the place where they make their product (although doors and walls separate the brewing and living spaces in order to qualify for federal exemption from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The bureau oversees regulations that prevent a commercial brewery being from located in a home.
The advantage of building both home and brewery from scratch was an enviable amount of control over the finished place: “When you start with a blank sheet of paper,” says Anderson, “it’s easy to spec things how you want them. The walls here are a foot thick, and it’s very thermally stable — the whole concept is ‘Minimize energy usage, because it’s easier to save energy than it is to make it.'” Using many recycled materials, the couple built a world of their own in the countryside, with an enviable deck, a brewery, and tasting room plus on-site power.
“Craigslist has been our friend,” says Dixon. “That’s where we got our counters, among other things. And we have geothermal heating and cooling.”
The BrewFarm’s quest for self-sufficiency extends from the building’s power grid to the surrounding land — Anderson and Dixon have started growing hops, herbs, raspberries, blueberries, and apple trees on their 35-acre plot. They also loan land out to their neighbors, a couple of young organic dairy farmers; in return for letting the couple produce hay and corn on BrewFarm territory, the BrewFarm receives a tithe of syrup, honey, and a 1/2 side of beef. Another neighbor is a goose farmer who sells his lutein-rich eggs at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
“We’re really blessed, it’s a great community,” says Dixon. “And we’re lucky to have these visitors who have such rich and interesting stories, and all of us share a love of craft beer. For a couple of introverts, we really enjoy ourselves.”
Farmhouse brewery in Wilson, WI
2470 Wilson St
Wilson, WI 54027
BREWER / OWNERS: David Anderson / David Anderson and Pamela Dixon
HOURS: Some weekends; check the website