Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brewery Profile – Furthermore Beer, Part I

Furthermore Beer

The dynamic duo of Head Brewer Aran Madden and business partner Chris Staples are, together, more commonly known as Furthermore Beer. While the headquarters of Furthermore Beer is in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the brewing is contracted to Sand Creek Brewing Company up the street in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. We were able to ask Chris and Aran some questions over email since they are so busy expanding their distribution to include Madison, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Eau Claire, Manitowoc, Appleton, Sheboygan, Green Bay and Door County.

Neither Chris nor Aran is a native Spring-Green-ian. Having both come to the area from elsewhere. Aran was born in New Jersey, then lived (briefly) in North Dakota and grew up in South Western Pennsylvania (most of the rest of country would vaguely refer to this area as "Pittsburgh"), some time in Colorado, then brewing school in Davis, and back to Pittsburgh. Chris was a bit more active, making the tour from St. Louis to Chicago, then Texas, Detroit and back to St. Louis, off to college in Iowa and work in Sacramento, then back to St. Louis.

Aran (A): I got from there to here in 2005 with a combination of wanderlust, career floundering, and a starry eyed dreamer of a sister who thought utopia could only be achieved if all the Maddens lived in one place. Oddly enough, the weekend we moved to Spring Green, she and her husband left town for 2 months for an acting gig.

Chris (C): I moved back to St. Louis to be near family in the mid '90s. Around the same time I fell in love with a woman who was born and raised in Spring Green (my wife). I eventually came to my senses and moved to Spring Green to be with her.

Aran Madden

It wasn't until college at the University of Pittsburgh that the brewing bug bit. Aran was in Fort Collins, Colorado with the Student Conservation Association, "a volunteer program that allows college students to avoid earning money", when random chance brought on by a nascent love for beer caused him to be in Coopersmith's Pub & Brewing Company.

A: I fell into the brewing wormhole in Fort Collins, CO. I had only been to one other brewpub before, in Pittsburgh, but there was no wormhole there. The place in Pittsburgh had seemed to me at the time to be a German themed restaurant that simply used beer to up the level of novelty. Coopersmith's was far more approachable as a den for beer lovers. It was Americana, not "the old country". Coopersmith's non-traditional beer names such as the Horsetooth Stout and Punjabi Pale Ale were certainly part of what did it for me. It launched beer into the realm of cultural relevancy. Oddly enough, after falling down the wormhole, I was spit out back at the oom-pa-pa joint in Pittsburgh – could have been seconds later, could have been years, I can't be sure – but I realized it was indeed a beer-first brewpub. The owners just happen to be twenty years older than me and hooked on a German feeling.

The next year, again in Colorado with the SCA but this time at Red Feather, Aran purchased his first homebrewing kit. At the end of the summer he hauled it back to school at Pittsburgh and continued homebrewing for two years ("my eagerness outpaced my skills or knowledge") and got a job "at a place with a really good six-pack selection … yep, for the discount." The owners of this place, The Pittsburgh Deli Company, looked into starting a brewpub and went to Portland, Maine to look into purchasing some brewpub equipment.

A: Their interest in opening a brewpub catapulted me into seriously considering brewing as a profession. I knew that the Pittsburgh Deli fellas were right up there with me, more eager than learned, so I figured that if I wanted to be a key player in their plan I would have to out-learn them. That's when I committed to going to brewing school. … I had the choice of applying to American Brewers Guild, outside of Davis, CA, or The Siebel Institute in Chicago. Siebel seemed a more rigorous course, but ABG had an apprenticeship program with placement in a participating brewery, and I hadn't been to Cali outside of a family vacation.

Based on such fine selection criteria as "I had never been there before" Aran headed off to learn under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Lewis, the same person who some years earlier had taught New Glarus Brewing Company's Head Brewer Dan Carey and scores of the world's premier brew masters.

A: He was probably in his late fifties at the time, maybe older – an Englishman who is a no-bullshit, bad ass. He's got a big old deep voice and he seemed like nobility, but the kind that would lead the charge into battle. Okay, the guy is a chemist, maybe I'm laying it on a bit thick. But it was brewing school – we all felt like studs and he was the Stud-in-Chief.

Brewing school is over and back to Pittsburgh to help Pittsburgh Deli get their brewing operations going. Except, Pittsburgh Deli's brewery never materialized. The plan just kind of fell apart, and during this time Aran had taken a gig brewing at the Foundry Ale Works as an assistant. Like all first jobs, sometimes the first is not the final destination, and Aran soon left Foundry for greener pastures at one of the pre-eminent brewpubs in Pittsburgh the Church Brew Works. One of the most elaborate and beautiful breweries to be housed in a church, Church Brew Works enjoys a great reputation. The fine beer and fine dining are both in the true "American" tradition; which is to say, a melting pot of cultures and traditions that combine to create fare that is uniquely new, yet instantly familiar. A place where pierogies and quesadillas and crab cakes all live happily on one table. A place where the scotch ale and Dortmunder export live happily on the same bar.

After tasting the waters at Church Brew Works, the opportunity came along to become the Head Brewer back at Foundry Ale Works. It was a job just too hard to pass up, so back to the Foundry.

A: The owners of the Foundry fired their brewer, with whom they had a contentious relationship, and I went back to get the head brewing experience. Some of that experience was about brewing, some of it was working relationships—contentious. There was just the oddest mix of incompatible personalities in that place at all times. The beauty of the Foundry was that I was able to do whatever I wanted from a recipe standpoint, and all of the experiments went on tap. There was no such thing as test batching. That's the beauty of a seven barrel pub setting. It was also at the time of the first big boom in craft brewing and any sense of competition was based more out of gamesmanship than business. All the brewers were pretty easy with each other – trading tips and trading yeast. But after three years it all fell apart. I went back to the Church Brew Works, the Foundry gave up on brewing. They had lost steam and closed five months later.

Church Brew Works Brew House

After the Foundry closed, Aran found himself back in the sanctuary of the Church Brew Works where he worked with Head Brewer Bryan Pearson. "Bryan is smart as hell, and as far as I can tell, he got that way from feeding off the lesser brains of creatures like me." Unlike the contentious relationships at the Foundry, the Church offered learned study and a place where the man in charge was "always open to discussion and was willing to change his position when it was the right thing to do, and he ate other peoples' brains." But more than brewing, Aran was able to eat the brains of the brains behind the Church Brew Works, Mr. Sean Casey (not the baseball player). The Church was a family business, and Mr. Casey ran it like a business and a family. From him, Aran learned the business of running a brewery and discovered a principle that would help to steer Furthermore's future decisions:

A: His family business was an equipment company that bought and sold steel mill equipment. That might give people a sense of why Furthermore has yet to buy its own brewing equipment. The guy who sold the equipment to the company that sold the steel to the company that made the brewing vessels told me that I would go out of business pretty quick if I was under capitalized and tried to float a loan for a bunch of pretty equipment. Well, Furthermore is under capitalized, so…

Chris Staples

In the meantime …

Chris Staples, native St. Louis-er, was off in Iowa and Sacramento chasing degrees in literature and philosophy. Which, as many people with philosophy and literature degrees eventually discover, provides "considerable service-sector experience." After moving back to St. Louis to be near family, Chris met and fell in love with the woman who is now his wife. As often happens to young men in love, Chris moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere to be with his girl. The small town was Spring Green, where this girl had been born and raised.

C: Upon arrival, I was employed by both American Players Theatre and Taliesin, and ultimately stayed at Taliesin, where I managed the Tour Program and ran a restaurant. I went on to do project management and administrative work with Renaissance Farm and White School Studio.

Chris discovered the wonders of craft beer while in Sacramento after suffering the handicap of poor local beer choices in the Midwest at the time (Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and Milwaukee's Best in Iowa). Sacramento is a place where the "lawn mower" beer is Sierra Nevada or Henry Weinhardt, and home to the wonderful Rubicon Brewing Company, a brewpub whose flagship IPA is typical of the Northern California style, and Fox and Goose, an old-school English pub. Then "not long after putting down roots in Spring Green, Tom Porter started doing his magic. It was Tom's beer (editor's note: Tom is proprietor of Lake Louie Brewing Company in neighboring Arena) that made me fall in love with the idea of beer as regional and potentially spectacular." Chris had also met Aran's sister, "who has an inimitable way of discerning that people have something in common." Then, while at a village committee meeting where both Chris and Aran had separate, unrelated, agenda items the two met.

C: "[Aran] was proposing to buy a municipal building. … He got his ass handed to him, and I felt so bad for him that I invited him over for a beer. We had a conversation that night that continued long distance (Aran was still in Pittsburg) for almost another 2 years. The initial talking point was that we were both considering starting small businesses in a small town. What Aran had going for him was technical ability and a bomber history. What I had going for me was an intimate knowledge of the local market, a metric boatload of chutzpah and a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor.

In 2005, Aran jumped from Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh to Spring Green for the purpose of starting his brewery. The two combined forces to get the ball rolling and in November of 2005, Furthermore Beer became a full-time endeavor. And, really the best way to describe what each brings to the table at Furthermore is to let Chris tell you:

C: Aran makes the ball, we collectively decide the rules of the game involving the ball and I go find people to play with the ball. We share an 11x8 office, so when we are there together we don't tend to work autonomously at all. More of a left brain/right brain thing. When we first started, every act was a two-person effort. As the business has grown (along with our desire to not kill each other), we've gotten better at recognizing each other's strengths and staying out of each other's ways. Aran is by nature technical, particular, detail-oriented and conservative (not politically) – the downside of which is that he gets stuck in his own head and can't see the forest for the trees. I, on the other hand, am a Luddite with terrible attention to detail but an instinctive understanding of how to get from point A to B and I don't observe limitations well. We call it "Ignorance on Fire." Dare I say, without me, Aran would be sitting on his original batch of Knot Stock in an old village garage, waiting for someone to walk in and buy a keg from him, but getting yelled at by his neighbors instead.

Thus Furthermore Beer was created. We have laid the ground work for the young and skilled brewer and the chutzpah-laden business person to set off on this journey of beer-making together. This profile will continue on Monday when we will look into brewing philosophies and some of the nuts and bolts of brewing Furthermore beer. In the meantime, we'll leave you with some of idea of what beers turn these guys on, the beers that inform the tastes of our intrepid travelers.

C: I don't care for especially malty beers or hop-monkey beers. This isn't to say I don't like a malty backbone or hoppy aroma/finish. I just don't like hops for hops sake or excessively sweet beers – beers lacking balance. With that said, my favorite beers can be categorized this way: Wisconsin, National and International. Locally, Lake Louie's Arena Premium and Tommy's Porter are common 6-pack grabs for me. Ale Asylum's Ambergeddon is a party in a bottle. New Glarus' Enigma (when aged) blows me away [editor's note: New Glarus' Enigma might just be one of the most under-rated beers in recent Wisconsin beer history]. Regionally, the Three Floyds Alpha Claus is pretty incredible. The Surly Cynic Ale and Fest beers were really creative and enjoyable. Hennepin from Ommegang is awfully good. On the International front, I often grab Hitichino (White Ale and classic Japanese Ale – which my wife points out reminds her of Knot Stock). My all time favorite is Houblon Chouffe. Sam at Dog Fish Head sets the benchmark for creativity in brewing and is a perennial favorite. It's hard not to look in my own back yard and admire Tom Porter's ethos. Todd at Surly is also admirable. And I suppose proximity does make the heart grow fonder, so it's fun to watch Aran Madden work.

A: It is the mystique of beer that first drew me to brewing, and although experience takes the magic down a notch, I still allow myself to let the beer take me where it will. It keeps the adventure factor alive. In that regard, I will change my mind and tastes frequently based on what turns me on in the moment. That said, I haven't order a nut brown since I don't know when. I have a really difficult time with malty beers that don't include a counter point. Bison Brewing in Berkley was one of the first breweries that I had a man-crush on. They made freaky beers that were good. Loved Lost Coast in Eureka because they had good beer and the funkiest labels. I used to really like North Coast in Ft Bragg, but they remain on the shelf for me, filed in best beers of the 90's – not a big deal to me now. When I'm in Black River Falls, if I'm having a beer, the beer of choice is Wild Ride. New Glarus' Belgian Quad recently sent me into a tizzy. That's good juice! I need to go buy some more of it! Lake Louie's Coon Rock is probably the beer I order most often at The Shed in Spring Green. I think they must use a chicken stock base for that beer. I keep trying to decode it, but it is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I have a thing for Stone Fly in Milwaukee. I think that it is the oddity factor that draws me to it, brewer Jacob included. I'm sure that a lot of it has to do with Jacob being so damn cool – and welcoming! [editor's note: we drooled over Stone Fly at the Thirsty Troll Brewfest back in September, Jacob was enigmatic and the beer was his equal).

A: My most recent covetous feelings for other peoples beers should shock and disgust most readers. It is the Anheuser-Busch Chelada, which, for those of you who are out of touch with the brewing underground, is a Bud and Clamato blend, a weird colloidal mix of pink tomato plasma suspended in a Budwieser. I leaked info of my new obsession to Nate and Jess at Native Bay in Chippewa Falls, during a post-beer-dinner drink-up. They magically produced a TWENTY-FOUR OUNCE CAN of the remedy for my hangover breakfast. It really is worth trying. That AB would make something so hairy is astounding, but it is worth tasting. Stupid good.

So, there you have it: Aran Madden, Chelada lover. Some things in this world are so bizarre they can only be true.

Monday: Part Two of the Furthermore Brewery Profile.

1 comment:

  1. "Lake Louie's Coon Rock is probably the beer I order most often at The Shed in Spring Green. I think they must use a chicken stock base for that beer."

    That is a really funny line.


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