Scratch Co. to stir up strange brews in Ava

By Gus Bode

Brewing company hopes to open doors next fall

Some local beer enthusiasts are bringing a new brew to southern Illinois with Scratch Brewing Co.

“I want it to be different,” said co-founder Aaron Kleidon.

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Kleidon, along with Ryan Tockstein and Marika Josephson, founded Scratch Brewing near Ava after a two-year preparation process. When completed, the farmhouse brewery and restaurant will offer its own beer, made with local ingredients including hops grown on-site and homemade food cooked in an earth oven.

What sets it apart, Kleidon said, is that they will offer a product that people will have to come to southern Illinois to get. There will be a wide variety of beers with ingredients foraged in the local forests, including mushrooms, wild ginger, elderberry and juniper, he said.

“Kind of eclectic, a little different,” Josephson said.

Josephson said she hopes to break ground on the main building in the next few weeks and lay the foundation as soon as the ground is dry enough. She said they hope to be open by next fall.

All three founders came together with a common interest in craft beer, and all said it was important to make something that people wouldn’t be able to drink anywhere else.

Such unique beers may include a Bière de Garde, a traditional beer from France, infused with hen-of-the-woods mushroom.

Josephson said the idea came up when Kleidon, who’s been foraging in the region’s woods since childhood, found the mushroom. They decided to try making a tea with it, and to their surprise, it released a rich, chocolaty coconut aroma when they boiled it, she said.

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From there, the next step was to make a beer with it.

Josephson said she hasn’t tried the finished product yet, as it has to sit for a few months, but it’s an example of the direction they want to take their beer.

Kleidon said he has several logs at the brewery where he will cultivate a variety of mushrooms for the beer and restaurant.

He said he’s also planning to use tree sap in place of water for some of the beers.

They’ve also experimented with the brewing process itself.

A beer they’re trying out is brewed with an Iron Age style, or when white-hot granite stones are thrown into the unfermented beer to get it boiling, which caramelizes the sugar and imparts a smoky flavor, Kleidon said.

“I haven’t tasted one yet, so we’ll see,” he said.

As far as the location itself, Tockstein said it is laid-back and relaxed. The site is in a forested area, a couple acres of which they cleared off to make way for their hops and garden and the building, he said.

Kleidon said he wants the brewery and garden to be a learning center for visitors to see the how the beer they drink comes together.

Josephson said they deliberated at first as to whether to do a brew pub or a production brewery, but they finally settled on a place where they could build a connection with customers.

“Maybe it’s kind of a romantic idea … but we wanted more face-to-face interaction with the people who come to taste our beer,” she said.

Tockstein said they will probably depend partly on the winery-going crowd and those interested in local food for business, but there are also more and more beer aficionados out there.

Tockstein founded the Southern Illinois Home Brew Club in February as a group for craft beer and brewing enthusiasts to come together, discuss local events and developments and, most importantly, try one another’s homebrews.

Josephson said they plan to distribute a few kegs to places such as Hangar 9 and have their beer on the shelves of local liquor stores.

Their local liquor license was approved after Thanksgiving, which was a major step forward in the long process of getting the venture off the ground, she said, and they will now move forward with state and federal licensing.

The licensing process is time-consuming and could discourage some people from starting a similar venture, she said. Several people in the brewing club have expressed interest in starting up a brewery, but Josephson thinks they may have shied away because of the difficulty.

“It’s crazy the kinds of things you have to deal with,” she said.

However, after getting the first phase of licensing done, they’re looking forward to getting things rolling and offering a product that’s uniquely southern Illinoisan.

“Growing up around here … will put us light years ahead of anyone else around here doing a similar thing,” Kleidon said.

 

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