Most people who live in or visit Southern Illinois are well aware of the rich agricultural offerings and activities our region provides. Whether it’s fresh, locally-grown produce at a farmers’ market, a trip to one of our numerous fruit orchards or a lazy afternoon sipping wine at a vineyard and winery, local producers are not only making high quality products, they’re building a sustainable industry, literally, from the ground up.
The evolution of American craft beer is not unlike our own agricultural growth. Beginning with a passion for fresh, high-quality ingredients and superior taste, craft brewers meld hard work and determination with a hyper-local sensibility and skill to create beer with more character and quality than what is typical.
Scratch Brewing Company in Ava is anything but typical. Owners and brewers Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein — all accomplished homebrewers — are looking to combine their passion for better beer with their love of Southern Illinois’ abundant beauty and natural resources to create a truly novel approach to the sometimes tired brewpub concept. No stale pretzels or microwave pizzas here. Scratch Brewing Company, five miles from Shawnee National Forest, might be more accurately described as a brewfarm.
The idea is both simple and brilliant: Combine the best of small batch artisan beer with the best our local soil has to offer.
“We wanted to create something that is focused on regional ingredients and offers an experience you can only get here,” says Josephson, a professional editor by trade.
In keeping with the seasonal nature of locally sourced ingredients, Scratch beers will also rotate and change constantly.
“No year ’round beers are planned; we want to remain very seasonal and keep everything fresh and new. We plan to utilize several yeast strains and play with the variations we can create using different brewing techniques, temperatures and ingredients,” Josephson says.
Scratch Brewing Company’s brew house itself is intentionally small, even by craft or microbrew standards at 1 1/2 barrels, which produces roughly 50 gallons per batch. This “nano-brewery” allows the partners to remain nimble and keep a keen emphasis on quality over quantity. This small scale is also conducive to experimentation, one of the hallmarks of the company.
“We grow our own hops, have a garden on site and forage for a lot of the fresh ingredients we use in the brewing process and in our kitchen,” Josephson says.
In fact, don’t be surprised to find ingredients — those you wouldn’t immediately associate with beer — make their way into the offerings at Scratch. Basil, dandelion, elderberries and even a beer brewed with maple sap, instead of water, are in the portfolio. Despite the exotic ingredients, the three owners emphasize sessionable (meaning you can have more than one because of the relatively low alcohol content) beers in an exceedingly approachable and unpretentious style.
The brewery sits on two acres in rural Ava, and even the building has an incredible indigenous flare with hand-hewn beams and local art throughout. The beer is available only on draft for now, and exclusively at the brewery, but plans are in the works to offer draft beer at select locations throughout the region soon and, eventually, in bottles, as well. The food, like the beer, is handmade, local and fresh, and includes pizzas, soups and other specialty items, many prepared in Scratch Brewing Company’s one-of-a-kind wood-fire brick oven.