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Jeremy Beach, founder of Cheese City Beer Co., grew up on his family's fifth generation farm in Monroe, located about 50 miles south of Madison, which is where he is now "farming beer."
"I was working for the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] in Washington D.C. when I got this idea and started to put the pieces together about trying to apply the local food movement to beer," Beach says. "Seeing some of the trends on the east coast paired with a desire to get back to Wisconsin and involved with the farm in some capacity allowed for this idea to take place. I could grow all of my own ingredients on our family farm to produce a beer, and start a company to sell that beer, in order to highlight the transparency of where the ingredients were grown, how they were grown and who was growing them — all the things of the local food movement that people want to understand."
Beach moved back to Wisconsin in 2016 and began to plant hops and barley that he would use to make beer while his younger brother had taken over the more traditional parts of the farm including the beef cow herd and cash crops like soybeans and corn. Beach, a faculty associate in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says "maintaining all of the beer ingredients is my very time consuming part-time job."
In addition to putting in a hop yard that is just under two acres, where hops essentially grow "on a very large grape trellis," Beach also planted barley seed in order to have enough barley to get malted. The challenge was then finding a small batch malthouse where he could convert his barley into malt.
"The thing I have experienced first hand is that the beer industry is diverse and growing — with microbreweries popping up all over the place — but the ingredients still being used are from a very concentrated and centralized supply chain," Beach says. "There are only a few large hop companies and a few large malt companies which still supply the vast majority of ingredients used by the vast majority of microbreweries, large and small, in the country."
After doing some research Beach is now working with a small batch malthouse outside of Indianapolis. "So I haul all of my raw barley — 1,500 pounds of it — in a trailer down there to get malted," Beach says. Beach says that while there is a huge malt company in Wisconsin, Briess, whose headquarters are located in Chilton, "the smallest batch size they can do is 60,000 pounds ... Unfortunately there isn't anyone in Wisconsin doing small batch malt."
Barley isn't the only thing Beach is hauling, he also brings along 275 gallons from the well at his farm ("water is the largest ingredient in beer and we've got good drinking water from our well so why not use that, too?" Beach says) when he travels with the ingredients to the brewery, Brewfinity Brewing Co. in Oconomowoc, where he brews his beer. "That has also been a challenge trying to find a brewery willing and capable to handle smaller, experimental batches using ingredients I have grown and not ingredients that they can buy," Beach says. "I go to Brewfinity on brew days and we work together. I want it to be a beer that comes exclusively from the farm."
Beach produced his first beer a couple of years ago but coined his Watermelon Blonde Ale — now sold out — which he released this past summer as one of his "estate ales" where 100 percent of the ingredients come from his farm.
"Absolutely everything, the water, malt, hops and watermelons, came from the farm," Beach says. For future batches of beer Beach has been growing grapes, berries, pears, hazelnuts and other small grains including oats and rye, which he will experiment with over the winter.
Beach recently released another estate ale, Agriculture Ale, which was available at Farm Aid, the all-day celebration of music and family farmers, which took place at Alpine Valley in September. Agriculture Ale is currently for sale at Monroe Beverage Mart and Brix Cider in Mt. Horeb (check Cheese City Beer Co.'s website for up to date information on where beer is available.)
While Beach has worked hard to brew the beer that he has dreamed of making, he is hopeful that he can raise awareness about the ingredients being used in beer. "The trend is starting to take hold a bit more now," Beach says. "People are starting to understand that beer is just like any other product, and having the ability to source ingredients, whether it is hops grown in Wisconsin or other ingredients like Door County cherries, is important."
Growing up in a family of farmers, Beach would also like to raise awareness about the people who are growing the ingredients for beer. "Maybe we could start an initiative where other barley farmers start growing barley for all the beer made in this state," Beach says. "Brewers are getting more open to using different ingredients — maybe we'll start a conversation about helping more farmers."