Sorry for the delay in getting this story posted before today. Opening Day through me off, but this information on how to enjoy Scratch Brewing’s 10th-anniversary celebration throughout the weekends of April will still be helpful, I hope. I recently got to chat with Marika Josephson one of the founders of Scratch Brewing Company, a farmhouse brewery in Ava, Illinois.
Scratch Brewing actually opened its doors for the first time in March of 2013 after an early March ice storm
“Scratch opened the doors to its tiny tasting room in the woods outside of Ava. We had yet to build out our extensive outdoor seating area, so on that first day, customers stepped along 2x4s over muddy soil, to sit in one of the 35 seats of our tasting room,” remembered Josephson in a recent blog post.
Over the decade, Scratch developed a reputation as one of the most unique brewing operations in the nation. Known for their forage brewing techniques, their beer menu changed often, and with beers that many had never heard of nor tried before.
“We harvest ingredients for our beer both from our garden and wild from the woods around our brewery. We are surrounded by the woods and that is as much an inspiration as anything else,” said Josephson. “Someone recently asked if we had any beers made with trees that we could send to a beer festival that focused on trees. I looked at our menu and at least 50% of our beer was made with trees.
It’s fair to say that unique ingredients are fairly typical of Scratch’s brewing style as their natural surroundings are the driving force behind their beer and flavors, but like anything in life, it was a journey.
Josephson and her team spent the first three years doing heavy experimentation with plants of all kinds, even different parts of the same plant.
“We probably brewed over 300 beers in the first three years, almost all of which were different in one way or another. These days our recipes have kind of streamlined to our favorite plants or favorite ways of using certain plants,” said Josephson.
Scratch Brewing’s Loyal customer base
During that decade the St. Louis regional beer community has embraced Scratch in a unique way. Because Scratch did not distribute into Missouri until 2022, the beer developed an almost mythical quality as getting some indeed took effort. Posts on social media created, at least for this beer writer, a FOMO effect, as venturing to Ava, Illinois was not so easy a trip to make on a whim.
“Our goal has always been to make beer with a sense of place and to support our community, to stay small and keep quality high,” said Josephson. “We have stayed true to our vision and I think people who care about that vision are glad to see that we are as loyal to it as they are. People don’t want you to fix what isn’t broken and that’s how we feel too. Scratch is going to stay just the way it is for as long as we can foresee. That really matters.”
Know before you go
With April marked as a month of celebration for a decade of beer at Scratch, you might want to consider this a gateway chance to experience Scratch beers for the first time.
Make note that you may be drinking beer with an ingredient you’ve never had before, but the brewery’s goal is to make everything drinkable, so be ready to open your beer-loving mind. While some of those plants sound unusual it’s likely that you will enjoy and appreciate the beer. Don’t expect to love every beer–everybody’s palates are different. But you will be surprised at the flavors you encounter if your mind is open to the experience.
Saturday In April
Owing to the success of their month-long Oktoberfest celebrations of the last few years, Scratch is configuring their 10th-anniversary celebration the same way. Every Saturday in April they will have special beers available in casks, special pizzas to go along with them, forage walks, and a guided tasting of the beers they will have available each weekend. Tickets for the forage walk and tasting will be available on a first-come first-served basis and limited to just 15 people per Saturday to make for an intimate group. More details are available on the ticket page and tickets are available now.)
The themes of the beers each weekend could change and below is a tentative schedule along with Josephson’s descriptions of what to expect.
April 1: Tree Beers — Beers made with tree parts, mostly bark or nuts… We have sassafras leaves, wild cherry bark, black walnuts, and maple bark in the beers we are featuring this weekend.
April 8: Stein Beers — Beers made by boiling with hot granite rocks as the only heat source. These unusual beers get a little extra kettle caramelization and sometimes a wisp of smoke and char.
April 15: Baked Beers — This is a term we invented for beers that feature our oven in some way. In the beers this week we made a traditional kvass with toasted hearth bread from our oven, one version is sour and the other is not; a beer where we baked the mash as in a traditional keptinis; and a beer where we dropped granite rocks into the mash to heat it, similar to the keptinis but to show the different flavor profiles between the two.
April 22: Mushroom Beers — Mushrooms beers are some of our favorites and some of our customer’s favorites as well. This week we’ll have our GABF bronze medal-winning Oyster Weiss, as well as a beer brewed with Chaga mushrooms, our Chanterelle Biere de Garde, and our Black Trumpet Biere de Garde.
April 29: Wild Fruit Beers — We used only wild-harvested fruits for this series. This week features elderberries, passion fruit, paw paw, and rose hips