I’m sitting at the Pitchfork Brewery taproom when a man walks in with a growler.
When head brewer Mike Fredricksen steps over to say hello, the man introduces himself as “the guy you gave all of those hops to.” His growler isn’t a traditional shape; it’s curvy and bulgy, slender at the top, very bottom-heavy. If you hooked a few mouthpieces onto a few tubes, and affixed those tubes onto this growler, it’d almost perfectly resemble a hookah.
I’ve seen a hookah twice in my life, okay? I’d know.
Ask a Minnesota native what’s going on, and this might fall somewhere between blasphemy and illegal activity; to Mike Fredricksen, it’s not even weird. He estimates it happens every couple of weeks, and it’s one way he strives to keep his roots watered in the home-brewing community.
“There are a lot of people who helped me out along the way and I am more than happy to help home-brewers any way I can,” he says. “I always knew when I started home-brewing that I’d home-brew forever … and there’s a lot of satisfaction that I get from helping other people develop recipes, figuring out where in the process they’re going wrong, things like that.”
Fredricksen’s tale, in a nutshell: he’s been home-brewing for a good while already when he walks into Northern Brewer one day, and they’re swamped, but he knows the place inside-out so he picks up an impromptu shift that eventually grows into on-the-books gig. He hones his recipes, gathers brewers, and changes Wisconsin home-brewing legislation.
One law he tackled had prohibited home-brewers from taking their beer off of their property. With home-brewing groups in Madison and Milwaukee reaching memberships of 250 or more, change was needed.
“You can’t just meet at someone’s house doing something like that. There are bathroom issues, if anything.” jokes Fredricksen.
Change came in 2012.
Thanks to a team of lawyers and thousands and thousands of pages of emails, home-brewers can now share their goods and enter competitions. The only catch now: they can’t charge.
“If it wasn’t for him, I’d have gotten locked up for bringing my home-brew in to try,” says Todd Oliverius, the man who brought the hookah-growler. “To have a voice like that, to be able to talk to him, is huge.”
The night before, Fredricksen was working the beer truck at Pitchfork’s first Booster Days — before his 9 p.m. bedtime at least, though, he joked. Pitchfork Pale Ale was the only tap beer at the festival.
“You’re always going to have your light beer drinkers, but a lot of people tried it and liked it,” says Fredricksen. “We do so little advertisement, aside from donating to events, things like that. Hopefully, a lot of people who didn’t know we were here know now.”
Thanks to Lucid’s buyout of American Sky Brewing, Pitchfork is now it in Hudson — though Fredricksen is quick to point out the proximity of Rush River in River Falls, and Oliphant Brewing in Somerset. They’re not exactly talking to volleyballs over at Pitchfork.
Back at the taproom, Oliveruis has (and is happily passing out) a smoked IPA he said was inspired by a similar beer Hammerheart Brewing makes out in Lino Lakes. His goal, however, was to bring the smoke flavor into the forefront and produce an almost brisket-like aroma and flavor.
Oliverius, a Minneapolis man, consulted Fredricksen about his idea. Not only did Fredricksen offer advice, he offered hops.
“I asked if I could smoke some hops,” says Oliverius. “He left, then came with some hops and said ‘Here, try these.'”
Moistening whole-leaf hops down ahead of time allowed them to absorb extra smoke. The front end was filled with it, but not so much as to completely drown out the hops. I wouldn’t walk into an evening with this as my only weapon, but I wouldn’t with any smoky beer. I enjoyed my sample. It was pretty good work.
Oliverius has been home-brewing for four years, and insists “work” is not in the cards.
“I am very happy with having it as a hobby,” he says. “I make about half a dozen brews a year, and I’m happy with that.”
For more information about Pitchfork, including their upcoming anniversary party and barbecue, you can check their website or Facebook page.