Specialty craft beer has been brewed in Amherst for the past 14 years.
Founded in 1998, Central Waters Brewery Company has grown from producing 300 barrels per year to over 10,000 barrels per year.
"Craft beer has definitely taken off," said Paul Graham, vice president of the company.
Central Waters was host to an agriculture tour on Wednesday, Sept. 19. The tour was sponsored by the Agri-Business Committee of the Portage County Business Council to celebrate ag industry in Central Wisconsin.
One question asked during the tour was how the brewery develops recipes.
"A good brewery has a full grasp of how things are going to interact," Graham said. A lot of the flavor is determined in the barrel aging stage, he explained.
Graham said the hard part is not in developing different flavors, the hardest task is in trying to come up with a new name. "With 50,000 beers in the market these days, it's hard to name beers," he said.
Barley and hops
The visitors also wanted to know the most expensive ingredient in beer.
By pound, it is hops; by the amount used, it is barley, Graham answered. He said the amount of barley used is what determines the alcohol level of a certain beer.
"Alcohol percentage directly correlates to how much food you give the yeast," he said.
"One barley seed gives us hundreds of different combinations of malt," Graham said.
He explained how the malted barley seed is the first ingredient in beer processing.
Water is also a crucial ingredient. According to Graham, the local brewery uses village of Amherst water, which is excellent for their beer.
To begin the brewing process, malt is introduced to heated water in a grist tank, where starches are extracted and converted into sugar.
Next, the lautering process separates the grain from the liquid and heat is used to kill bacteria and anything that can compete with the sugars.
Hops are added after the sugar is fermented. The hop plant is an herbaceous perennial used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor.
Graham explained that 99.9 percent of breweries use processed hops for making beer. He said a beer's flavor is determined by which hop variety is used and when it is added during the brewing process.
After fermentation, the brew is brought down to a freezing temperature. Next is the aging process, which gives the ingredients time to merge together prior to packaging.
The new trend in brewing is aging, Graham said. In the past, the entire process took four weeks from the field to the bottle.
Currently, 10 different varieties of beer are in the barrel aging warehouse. Each is aged a minimum of one year in bourbon oak barrels.
"Oak affects a beer's flavor 100 percent," Graham said.
The barrels are purchased used and replaced regularly.
"We may re-use some of them, but not for the same style of beer," he said.
The brewers have found that seasonal temperature changes also enhance the flavor of the beer, so the barrel aging warehouse is not temperature controlled.
One of Central Water's barley wines, Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale, captured a bronze medal at the 2000 World Beer Cup. In 2009, Bourbon Cherry Stout won a gold medal in the Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival.
Central Waters Brewing Company prides itself on "making the world a better place, one beer at a time."
"We're in this for the love of beer," Graham said.
Central Waters Brewery Company was started in an old brick building in Junction City by Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel. Using home brewing recipes, the initial brews were offered in growlers, 12- and 24-ounce bottles, and kegs.
The start up of this small town brewery was part of a national trend toward producing bigger and better beers at the local level. In exact opposite to the big, national brands, these microbreweries revisited and further developed pre-prohibition.
In 2007, Central Waters moved to a new facility in Amherst to better support the growing demand for its products.
With its new facility, the brewers can fill 150 bottles per minute and 400 cases per hour. This is a big improvement from when the company began in 1998 with the capability of filling 40 bottles per hour.
Within the next few weeks, Central Waters will have a new automatic labeler, which will save on production time. Built in 1955, the old mechanical labeler came from the Point Brewery in Stevens Point.
Currently, "the most finicky part is the labeling," Graham said. "Everything is extremely high maintenance."
The used labeler was purchased from a horse radish producer for about $150,000. A new model would cost about $8 million.
Under the ownership of Paul Graham and Anello Mollica, the brewery continues to build on the solid reputation of producing the finest quality beers in Central Wisconsin.
Currently, Central Waters Brewing Company services over 200 retail locations in Central Wisconsin, and has expanded its product line to include 18 beer styles.
In 2009, about 1,000 square feet of solar collectors and 24 panels was added to the new facility. These solar collectors produce about 2,500 therms per year. With an estimated savings of $1.4-$1.5 million over the life of the system, Central Waters will see a paypack on their investment in about seven years.
The brewery also uses a radiant floor heating system and energy efficient lighting and electrical systems in its brewhouse.
"It doesn't cost me a cent to heat this building," Graham said.
He noted that solar energy also is used to heat the water, which is an important step in the brewing process.
All of the materials used in the newly remodeled tap room are from recycled resources.
In addition to using sustainability practices, Central Waters works with local farmers to recycle the grain used in the brewing process. The spent grain is used as feed for livestock and also used as compost.