Furthermore Beer is headquartered in a Spring Green, WI barn that its two founders regularly describe as “shitty.” “Headquartered” may be a bit generous; the duo actually work from an office across the street and brew their beer in partnership with Sand Creek Brewing Company of Black River Falls, WI. But “shitty” may be a bit harsh; the barn is decked out with street art, old theater seats, and rustic touches that make it a perfect location for a good old fashioned beer-driven hoedown.
Furthermore hit the market in 2006, a product of the brewing talent of Aran Madden (right, above) and the marketing and organizational chops of co-founder Chris Staples (left, above). At the moment, Furthermore beers are available all over Wisconsin and Minnesota, but a distribution connection with Philadelphia (and points intervening) is on the immediate horizon.
That the brewery got its start in the Upper Midwest is no accident, Staples says. “This is a great part of the country to be in if you love to eat and drink,” he says. “Beer, cheese, CSAs, slow food… sausage, honey… it’s kind of a money spot.”
Beer drinkers are often at a loss when asked to described Furthermore’s products — they don’t neatly fit into established styles or categories, and exhibit a quirky sense of taste coupled with a respect for the human palate. With a couple of notable exceptions (Thermo Refur, Three Feet Deep), Furthermore brews are crafted to be delicious and balanced first, mind-blowing second; in this regard, the company stands shoulder-to-shoulder with breweries like Lift Bridge and New Glarus that wrestle with making an accessible, drinkable, consistent product that also has depth and something to say.
When the Heavy Table caught up with Madden and Staples last month, they were looking forward to renovating the barn and making it into a proper visitor center and test brewing location.
JAMES NORTON: What are you guys trying to accomplish by renovating this old barn?
ARAN MADDEN: It’s sort of bridging the gap between the future with a capital “F” and what we’re doing today. We’d like to put in a test batch system and really have a tasting room. When I talked earlier about burning this down, I was serious. It’s not the easiest space to get to a cleanable state, let alone clean, as is.
But Chris keeps hammering home that if we try to do the future with a capital “F,” we’re just going to keep talking about it because we don’t have the resources.
CHRIS STAPLES: Here’s the thought: Let’s put $50,000 into a building worth $30,000 and have a place people can visit. Let’s have a permanent pilot batch system set up that we can use to engage people in the brewing process and have an outdoor courtyard. Spring Green has a respectable seasonal [tourist] economy and we can certainly take advantage of that.
[After running the renovated barn for a while] we could get a big old building and buy a 20- or 30-barrel system and go to town. But we need something to take us from where we are to where we’d like to be.
We’re not all that bright, but we’ve figured out that if we leveraged everything we had in our pocket right now to build the brewery, we wouldn’t have enough sales to sustain it. It’s not that the market isn’t there; but we have to step our way toward sustainable volumes.
Every time we have a party here — and a couple times a year we have a Shitty Barn Party, and the next one will feature Gastro Non Grata — guests don’t see what I see of the building in the light of day, they see what you saw — “this is funky and cool!” So that’s it, let’s take advantage of it and offer people something different from what they already have.
NORTON: How did you guys get started as a company?
MADDEN: Chris and I intersected when I moved to Spring Green to start Furthermore — I’m a brewer by trade, and I spent 10 years brewing in brewpubs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My sister lives in Spring Green and is involved in the theater here [American Players Theatre]… from visiting it became clear that the area had a lot of draw to it.
I thought the Knot Stock — a black pepper pale ale — would be a good way to debut a brewing company. Our name, “Furthermore,” relates to the fact that we’re setting out to do something different. We want to do more with beer, take it further, give the craft beer drinker another option.
NORTON: So when did the two of you meet up?
MADDEN: I walked into a planning commission meeting in Spring Green trying to start a brew pub, and he was sitting on the board, trying to make sure that the downtown of Spring Green didn’t fill up with crap.
It started with Chris inviting me out to his house for a beer to kind of open my eyes: “Hey, city boy, when you come out to rural Wisconsin, get ready for winter. I’m not just talking about an extra pair of gloves, I’m talking about no traffic.”
STAPLES: If you’re going to open up a brewpub, be prepared to make no money seven months a year. If you’re a commercial brewery, that’s another story, but if you’re doing a brewpub, be prepared for a staffing nightmare.
MADDEN: He was looking to do something in town — a bistro, or wine bar, or tapas… the push being, let’s do something these people don’t have. Not just people in town, but people visiting from Chicago. Something that’s analogous to the experience they have in whatever urban environment they’re coming from. That fit for me.
I said, let’s get together, but let’s do my idea. Push it the way you want to push it, let’s make it funky, and let’s have fun with it. There’s so much we can do — we can have the tasting room and the presence in Spring Green, we can push to Chicago and Philadelphia… there’s just a lot of opportunity to be creative and share that with the public.
NORTON: Chris, describe your background a bit.
STAPLES: I actually ran the tour program at Frank Lloyd Wright’s home here in Spring Green, and before that was an editor of legislation. I grew up working in a French restaurant in St. Louis, managed bars to put myself through college, came here… one of the things I did at the visitors center is turn a contract catering deal into an in-house restaurant and bring it into the revenue stream of the space.
My interest evolved from there. I did some contract cooking for a commercial photography studio in Spring Green, doing catalog shoots and honing some skills there… and all the while recognizing that whatever I did, I wanted to put something back into my community.
I love it here — I’m raising my kids here, my wife grew up here… it struck me that there were things that could be done that were not so much about money as much as they were about how to create a sustainable community for all of us.
It’s the difference between our community and some our neighboring communities. It takes saying “no” sometimes to the 800-pound gorillas when they want to build a factory that’s environmentally insensitive, or to the guy who wants to put an internally lit insurance sign on a building downtown. It takes making people unhappy sometimes.
But you can’t always be on the “no” side — you have to contribute something. My interest in doing something in Spring Green was really about social nexus as well as good food and drink.
NORTON: What’s your brewing philosophy — what makes you stand out from the competition?
MADDEN: When we started to work with Hohenstein’s Distributing in the Twin Cities, the response we got was right on the mark. They said: “We’re really not looking for more brands, but what you guys offer has no overlap with the beer that we’ve already got. Everything that you do is a little different and has twists.”
Chris and I had said — let’s not put anything out there that you can already find on the shelf. If someone tries and likes our black pepper pale ale, they need to come back to us to get another one. We’re really trying to set ourselves apart by brewing beer that isn’t true to style — we’re not as concerned about history as we are about the future.
NORTON: Tell me about two or three beers that define you as a company.
MADDEN: We started with the Knot Stock — and that was just bringing in another spice that made as much as sense as hops, or heather, or coriander and it just plays off the hops really well.
And in all of this, the idea is to make respectable beer, not to make novelty stuff. We’re really into the beer, it’s not just art in a glass. The Proper, as well — it presents the least obstacles to enjoyment, and is brewed in honor of the American Players Theatre, to try to capture that moment when you’re out watching theater in the summer under the stars… that’s sort of the one that breaks the mold by not breaking any molds.
STAPLES: It’s interesting, because the Fatty Boombalatty is our best-selling beer — it’s delicious, it’s a great warm-weather big Belgian beer — and there’s the Proper that doesn’t break any molds, and they sell the most… but I don’t know that they make our identity.
I think the Knot Stock was the conceptual starting point for us. And there’s the Fallen Apple, a beer Aran conceived for his wedding, a marriage of two distinctive ingredients — a cider from a local orchard and a cream ale which on its own would almost bore you to tears. The cider is fermented to the point where it’s so malic-acid tarty that you couldn’t consume it on its own.
But you bring these things together and they’re quite lovely… that was sort of the next in the progression that began to create a sustainable identity for our brewery.
NORTON: I was really struck by the Fallen Apple — I’d never tasted anything like it. It made me sit up and wonder… who are these guys?
STAPLES: The six packs people grab most often off the shelves are the Boombalattys and the Propers, but the things that represent what we do that’s interesting are the Knot Stock, the Fallen Apple, the Three Feet Deep with peat-smoked malts.
Makeweight is to me is the most elegant incarnation of our brewing ethos through Aran’s abilities. I can’t even really describe it.. it’s very delicious, and it’s its own thing. Aran has this real gift of an attenuated palate that allows him to do some unusual things with unusual flavors, but do so in a manner that is restrained, that exhibits some compassion for the drinker.
That’s often lost in modern brewing… you know, the typical renegade American brewer is just “bigger, bigger, bigger,” and you know what? Everybody talks about the 120 Minute Dogfish Head IPA, but everybody drinks the 60 Minute or 90 Minute. Because as much as we like to romanticize how much we like this huge, nearly undrinkable thing because it’s nearly undrinkable and it sets a mark, it’s not what we return to.
Aran’s particular gift with the liquid is doing things in a balanced and attenuated way that retains what’s compelling about the flavors without alienating people… unless of course you don’t like peat-smoked malt, in which case you’re sunk. Or cider.
NORTON: What’s your take on the brewing scene in the Midwest right now…?
MADDEN: Even just looking at Wisconsin and the Twin Cities, it’s looking pretty strong. We’ve got a pretty clear idea of what is and what isn’t pushing things forward.
In our own backyard, New Glarus obviously is a powerhouse. A real powerhouse. What’s amazing is that they’re not selling beer in Boston. They’re not selling beer in Chicago. They’re doing it all in Wisconsin. Which is amazing. And they’ve got best of both worlds. They hit the main vein of Spotted Cow and they keep tunneling through that and it keeps providing for them but they keep doing these other beers that are just…
MADDEN: Phenomenal. And they say they’re all to style, but they’re styles that are odd enough and so rarely produced by other breweries, that they seem pretty fresh in terms of what they’re bringing.
Surly is one that is unavoidable — you can’t not talk about… think about… wish you were…
STAPLES: It was the right people, the right stuff, the right time… well done.
MADDEN: We’ve had a few chances to talk to people in the Twin Cities about beer where they just talk about how long they stood in line to buy Darkness, and we kind of went: “Ohhh…” They’re pretty pervasive up in the Twin Cities.
NORTON: What’s your timeline looking like — in terms of fixing up the barn and doing the brewery proper?
STAPLES: The goal is to have you be able to come into the barn by next June, and have me be able to give you a beer, or sell you a beer… We need to move our office over there and spread out a little bit. We’re going to hit it hard in the fall and early spring next year, and we’ll have something in June.
We are always trying to squeeze more beer out of our good friends at Sand Creek where we do our brewing… everything is contingent on how accommodating they’re able to be, and how much beer we need to sell to grow — we like our relationship there, and they’ve been great to us, and they’re very gracious about Aran being in the brewery which is a big deal. We need to have ownership of the liquid.
Our ego tells us to build the brewery tomorrow… but we’re going build demand for the product. I’d like to give you the timeline and say that after we get our pilot batch system set up and we get more volume out of our current relationship that in three years we’ll break ground.
NORTON: Where do you see yourselves 15-20 years out… Wisconsin? The Midwest? National?
MADDEN: Our egos want to put us all over the place… in London, in France, all over. There’s also an interest in… well, we’re not going to do the concentric circle model, but hopscotching to the areas where we’re going to do well early on. And then sort of building the bigger thing incrementally so we have control over production.
STAPLES: We’re on our way to Philly. The hand has been shaken. We’re not tied to that concentric circle model — we’re not making the kind of beer that would be everybody’s daily six-pack choice within a 20-mile radius. So we had to re-imagine how we’re going to get the beer out there. In Milwaukee, we went to 20 accounts, and we did Milwaukee.
That got us a lot of attention in Chicago, but if we go to Chicago it’ll be because we’re very very patient. But we needed to go to the Twin Cities to get some big city marketing experience, to see how we played away from home.
We used it to make some mistakes, but safely. And we made some mistakes. We weren’t with the right wholesaler three times before we were with the right wholesaler. Those are lessons we needed to learn in a place other than Chicago. We’ve taken on Philadelphia because the logistics are possible — they’re building in the cost of shipping into their end of it, which is something where some other cities we’ve talked to don’t do. They’re not asking us for more than we can brew, which is great — and once the truck is headed to Philly, it may as well pass through Pittsburgh. Our customers tell us where we’re going to go.
NORTON: How have you guys done up in the Twin Cities?
MADDEN: We’ve had a really warm reception in the Twin Cities.
STAPLES: We love the Twin Cities.
MADDEN: People spread the word, and come over and seek us out… it’s just so easy. It really isn’t much different from what we see in Manitowoc and Eau Claire or whatever, but the understanding is just a little bit deeper.
NORTON: What’s the story behind your motto, “Ready, Fire, Aim?”
MADDEN: Before Furthermore started, we were doing a tasting among friends. One of our friends had this perception that I had this thing all planned out and it was very clear. I was committed, but I didn’t necessarily have it all planned out.
And she said: “That’s great, you’ve got it all planned out, you’ve got your business plan, and you’re so together. And I really admire that, I’m just so ‘ready, fire, aim,’ I wouldn’t know what I was doing.”
And I thought like… yeah… that term is out there, maybe we should embrace it. We worked backwards from the bottle of beer — it’s been a liberating thing for us. We just said: “Let’s put the beer in the bottle and let people tell us what they think.”