2017 Scratch Beers in Review
Welcome, 2018! We are about to complete our fifth year in Ava and have had a year of significant growth. In addition to welcoming many new faces (you are probably all familiar now with David, who you see behind the bar on the weekends, as well as Dylan who cranks out pizzas, and Ellen, Liz, and Lucas, who all joined us for weekend service this year), we welcomed many new beers and started sending beer to a handful of new states. With the coming of the new year, we wanted to share some fun reflections on 2017, including all of the 90 unique beers we had on tap this year! As always, thank you so much for supporting our goal of creating beers that taste like the land surrounding the brewery and we can't wait to see what happens in 2018! Brewery Happenings
At the beginning of 2017, we opened up our Serpent Room to the general public during our Bonfire and Botanicals party. This space was painted, sculpted, and installed by local artist Brett Douglas Hunter, who spent more than a year putting it together. Brett has helped define the physical space at Scratch since nearly the beginning, painting one of our bathrooms, creating posters for events, and inspiring some of our label designs. While the room isn't always open for overflow seating, it has been a wonderful addition to the brewery's aesthetic this year.
This year we upgraded our copper kettle and now have a well-insulated 8 bbl direct-fire kettle made by our friend Elliot in the foothills of Virginia. We don't quite have enough fermentation space to be using this kettle for all of our beers, but it has greatly increased our ability to brew larger batches beers, and it doesn't hurt that it's an incredible piece of handmade equipment, a work of art in its own right! Aaron and Marika watched Elliot bend and flex the metal entirely by hand in its final stages on their way back from the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC, in April. In order to use the kettle, we generally mash at least part of our grain bill in an oak puncheon (which has also been a new addition to our regular brewing schedule) and build a fire underneath to generate the heat to boil the wort. It's a labor intensive but rewarding process that has produced beers like our Cedar Oak, Chanterelle Biere de Garde, Sahti, and others. In the summer, Aaron and some of our longtime friends of the brewery were able to get a roof on the 1890s-era log cabin that he had deconstructed last year and reconstructed on our property. The cabin will soon see additions for the porch and floor and we are still working on finalizing what that building will eventually bring forth. Another new building we were able to put to good use this year was our on-site smoker, a turn-of-the-century ice box that we have used for experimental smoke tests on rye bread, grain, green coffee beans for a collaboration with Dark Matter Coffee, even eggplant for our pizzas. We've loved the results and look forward to using it to smoke even more ingredients in 2018.
In addition to happenings around the brewery, Aaron and Marika traveled more than ever to tell people about Scratch, share beer, and give talks and book signings for The Homebrewer's Almanac. They spoke at the Craft Brewer's Conference, the National Homebrewer's Conference, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference, the Farmer, Brewer, Baker Conference, and others. And between conferences and meetings, they found time to brew with friends near and far, collaborating on beers with Short's Brewing in Michigan; White Rooster in Sparta after their grand opening; Right Proper, Fonta Flora, and Jester King at Right Proper's facilities in Washington DC; Dark Matter Coffee Roasting, who collaborated with us on beer and coffee; Plan Bee Farm Brewery in New York; Arizona Wilderness when they were visiting our brewery over the summer; Blackberry Farm in Tennessee; and, to round it all off, Chuck Stuhrenberg at Big Muddy, one of our first and original gurus here in Southern Illinois, who has helped us enormously over the years and couldn't be a better friend in the industry. So much love all around!
Distribution Round-Up We sell the majority of the beer that we produce on-site at the brewery and distribute beer out-of-state on certain occasions, in general lining up with festivals that we participate in. Our friends that distribute our beer to different parts of the country are vital partners in our success. This year, we sent beer to Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky, and, new in 2017, South Carolina, Indiana, New York, Washington DC, and Belgium. In 2018 we are already planning shipments to Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Our distribution partners helped us attend a number of special events and we couldn't have been happier to talk to Scratch friends and fans across the country throughout the year. Nonprofit Donations For all of our bottle releases this past year, we have donated the reservation fees to a variety of local nonprofits, including The Women's Center, LEAF Food Hub, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Arrowmont School for the Arts, the Murphysboro Food Pantry, and the Illinois Native Plant Society. We also donate quite a bit of beer to non-profit fundraising events throughout the year, which raise money for organizations like the Southern Illinois Metalsmiths Society, Friends of Murphysboro, Food Works, and others.