Madison Craft Beer Week is approaching, and local breweries are getting ready to toast its arrival. Over the weekend, 10 brewmasters, along with a few assistants and ingredient suppliers, joined together at Capital Brewery to create Common Thread -- a beer made collaboratively for release during the May festivities.
The "week" actually spans 10 days, running from May 3-12. So far, about 75 different venues -- restaurants, bars, breweries and brewpubs -- are hosting more than 300 events. These include special tastings, releases of one-time-only brews, dinners pairing local brewers with some of the city's finest chefs, and educational programs.
Common Thread is at the center of Madison Craft Beer Week. It was first brewed last year, with the inaugural style a "Wisconsin Common," inspired by the California Common (Steam) beer made popular by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco. The 2012 Common Thread was a balanced session beer that was versatile with food.
This year's Common Thread is a Bière de Garde, a style originating in northern France, where it has been traditionally brewed as a farmhouse ale over winter and early spring, then served over the hotter summer months to farmers and field hands. Its name means "beer for keeping." The beer is generally golden- to copper-amber in color, light- to medium-bodied, and very effervescent.
The group brewed two batches, totaling about 50 barrels of beer, over a 12-hour day that began at 6 a.m. on Saturday, March 16. It was a chance for local brewers to work together, placing aside any feelings of competition over beer recipes and distribution.
Collaborating on a recipe can be challenging for 10 opinionated brewers. "We got the crazy notion that a group of competing craft brewers could get together and invent a tasty new brew and have a blast brewing it," says Scott Manning of Vintage Brewing. And indeed, there's more joint creativity than rivalry.
Much of the malt and all of the hops in this year's Common Thread were grown in Wisconsin. The barley came from the Ashland area, grown on land managed by brewmaster Bo Belanger of South Shore Brewery. The hops, a variety called Brewer's Gold, were donated by Gorst Valley Hops of Mazomanie. Many of the specialty malts in the beer were provided by Briess Malting of Chilton. The beer even has a touch of Wisconsin clover honey from the Mazomanie farm of Frank Holzman. (The ingredients and brewing process are further detailed in a video shot on Saturday.)
"We do this to toast our town and its beer culture, to support local agriculture and industry, and as a tribute to our common bond as scientists and artists in the cause for good beer," says Manning.
Over the course of Madison Craft Beer Week, Common Thread will once again be offered in brewpubs and brewery tasting rooms of the participating brewers. These include Capital Brewery, the Great Dane, the Grumpy Troll, House of Brews, Karben4, Lake Louie, One Barrel Brewing, Potosi Brewing, Vintage Brewing and Wisconsin Brewing. It will also be on tap at several of the city's beer bars and restaurants, and a special commemorative stemmed tasting glass will be sold in many of those venues.
Profits from Common Thread are given to the Wisconsin Brewers Guild to use statewide in promotion of craft brewing. Last year, the collaborative beer raised over $4,000.