AVA — Just before bottling a fermented acorn beer Wednesday at Scratch Brewing Co., Marika Josephson got an unexpected phone call — a very unexpected phone call.
Josephson said the caller was from Sauce Magazine and wanted to know her feelings about Scratch Brewing Co. being a semifinalist for outstanding wine, beer or spirits producer from the James Beard Foundation.
In a conversation with The Southern, Josephson summed up her response to the question this way: “I don’t believe you.”
She said she had to see the list for herself to believe that the brewery she and two friends founded in the middle of nowhere seven years ago was in the running to win one of the most prestigious awards in the American food world. She said she and co-founder Aaron Kleidon were in a bit of shock until the news finally settled in. On Thursday, Josephson said there was still a “glow” from the honor.
The James Beard Foundation was started in the late 1980s in an effort to continue the legacy of inspiration and leadership started by its namesake food luminary. In 1990, it started the awards for excellence, which have since become a benchmark of quality for chefs, restaurants and books, as well as wine, beer and spirits producers. According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to “celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.”
The word that came up again and again throughout The Southern’s talk with Josephson was “validating.”
“These are people who are doing really cool things in the realm,” Josephson said of the other semifinalists.
So, in that, she said she felt like it was already a win, even if they don’t make it to the next round. This win isn’t just for Josephson and Kleidon, either, she said — it is also for their supporters and others doing great work in food and culture throughout the region.
Kleidon and Josephson said they started the brewery to make beer that tasted of where it was made, which in a way means the nod from the James Beard Foundation is validation of Southern Illinois itself. Kleidon said he thinks this has been a long time coming.
“It’s my favorite place I’ve ever been so I don’t think there’s any reason why the area isn’t recognized more,” he said.
Scratch follows another Southern Illinois institution in catching the eye of the James Beard Foundation — in 2006, Mike and Amy Mills of Murphysboro, owners of 17th Street Barbecue, were nominated for their book, “Peace, Love and BBQ.”
According to the James Beard Foundation website, a select academy votes on semifinalists, and the list is reduced to finalists, which are announced in April. The awards are presented at the annual James Beard Awards Gala on May 4 in Chicago.
On Twitter: @ismithreports
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