What’s brewing in Waupaca
By James Card
Chris Johnson and his wife Stacia are renovating the Weller Store in Rural and they plan to have a soft opening later this year.
Meanwhile, Johnson invited his fellow members of the Badger’s Den Brewing Club for a Brew Day.
On Saturday, May 6, the sweet stink of boiling hops and grains wafted over the nearby Crystal River. On multiple propane burners, batches of pale ales, a St. Pauli Girl clone and a shwartz beer slow-cooked into an oatmeal-like mash in large stainless steel cook pots.
They hold a formal Brew Day once a year but there are many impromptu get-togethers.
“Sometimes if somebody is going to brew, they will tell somebody and they’ll say I’ll brew with you. So we might have two or three people brewing together. It’s a social gathering,” said Johnson who has been in the club for 10 years.
Ross Borgwardt finished his brew early. He is the club’s mead maker.
Mead is a honey-based beverage that doesn’t require heat to ferment, just a lot of patience.
For his mead concoction, all Borgwardt had to do was to carefully measure out locally made Dancing Bear honey, some vanilla and other ingredients, load them up and slush around the mix.
He had the rest of the afternoon to trade home-brewing notes with the other members.
Making their own equipment
“I got these from the recycling center in Waupaca,” said Borgwardt as he hefted a large Carlos Rossi wine jug filled with his basswood honey mead mixture. “I brought them home, cleaned them up, sanitized them and they’re good.”
“It be quite honest, I think we’re more of a do-it-yourself club. Look what everyone does. No one is averse to making their own equipment,” said member Robert Forseth.
Forseth and Eric Melum are the club’s longest standing members, joining when the club was started in 2012. One of the first decisions was to define what kind of club they would be: a beer-only club or any kind of beverage made through the art of fermentation.
“If we were making wine or mead, that’s not beer. We decided to be a fermentation club,” said Melum, but they decided to keep the Badger’s Den Brewing Club name even though they welcome all makers of fermented drinks.
There was a legal hurdle to figure out for their first meeting. They got permission to host the meeting at T.W. Martins Irish Pub (also known as T-Dubs) but at the time it was illegal to transport home-brewed beer. Members showed up with samples of their creations and the owners of T.W. Martins were concerned about getting in trouble with their liquor license. The club was asked to take their meetings elsewhere and they packed a member’s basement in the meanwhile.
Now the club meets at 7 p.m. every second Wednesday at the Holly History Center. The state law also changed and they are free to transport their home brews without any trouble. Some regular meetings are substituted with other events such as a St. Patrick’s potluck and a Christmas party.
They provide homebrews for the Waupaca Curling Club’s annual bonspiel tournament and they participate in the Waupaca County Fair. They have a tasting event and educational presentation in October at the Waupaca Historical Society’s Railroad Depot and pass-the-hat donations from that event goes to preserving the train depot. At the Wisconsin Veterans Home, they held a how-to demonstration and donated all the beer made to the vets.
There are 20 regular members and sometimes they crash the meetings of other regional clubs unannounced, showing up with more beer by volume than the local members.
“We talk to other clubs and they might have five people at their meetings and don’t really do anything. As far as being a smaller, younger club we’re pretty active,” said Melum.