AVA — Five years ago, the founders of Scratch Brewing Company took a gamble and set out to make beer that tastes like Southern Illinois.
“I think that we probably had the right mindset going into it, where we just ignored any kind of naysayers or just considering the possibility that we could go under, which was entirely possible — I mean, we’re way out in the middle of nowhere, and we’re making beer in a more difficult way that’s a lot more costly, too,” co-founder and brewer Marika Josephson said.
Since then, Scratch has attracted international attention for its unique beers, which incorporate ingredients foraged from the brewery’s wooded property in Ava.
The brewery kicked off a 5th anniversary celebration on Saturday.
In 2016, Scratch brought on two full-time farmers, Kris Pirmann and Adriane Koontz of River to River Farms. That same year, the brewery published “The Homebrewer’s Almanac” and took home a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
Josephson said she never would have expected the brewery to get to where it is today.
“To be able to have more staff here, to be able to hire farmers, to be able to see our beer going farther away from the brewery and encounter people who really appreciate it in Europe, or other parts of the country where there’s a big craft beer market, that’s really gratifying,” Josephson said.
The menu at the anniversary party, which continues Sunday, features 20 beers, including some old favorites.
“We’ve brought back some classics that people have loved over the years that we haven’t really brewed again — like the Chili Coffee Amber is a number of people’s favorite beers, and the Lavender Tripel. One of the most interesting beers that we have on the menu is a beer that we brewed with fermented acorns, which is a whole process where we ferment the acorns for a year,” Josephson said.
Chris Quinn, who owns a beer shop and taproom in Chicago called The Beer Temple, drove down to celebrate the five-year milestone. He met Scratch's owners during a beer festival in Chicago. When they told him about some of their beers, he wasn’t initially impressed.
“I kind of was rolling my eyes a little bit — I was like, ‘Oh boy, these people are putting bark in their beer?’” he said.
Later, Quinn stopped by the Scratch booth and was “absolutely dumbstruck” by their beers.
“I get to try a lot of different beers as part of my job, and there are few times where I’m kind of stopped in my tracks, and that was definitely one of them. And I realized very quickly that they were doing something very special,” Quinn said.
Chicago’s Dark Matter Coffee provided hot- and cold-brew coffee; the company also collaborated with Scratch for two coffee beers on tap at the celebration. Aaron Campos, director of coffee and roasting operations, said working with Scratch was “inspiring.”
“It’s kind of funny — when you think about a really powerful concept, especially in Chicago, it’s kind of contained in four walls. And you go in, you enjoy yourself, you leave and then it’s gone. But here, it’s one of those things you get immersed in 20 minutes before you get here. And the context of having this beer here — it tastes like this area,” Campos said.
Ben Rathert, of Du Quoin, said he visits the brewery regularly and attends every anniversary celebration.
“I’ve got a lot of friends up north. Every time they come down to visit, we come to Scratch — like, ‘You’ve got to taste the stuff they have, you’ve never had beer like this, it’s flavors like you wouldn’t believe.’ Everyone always walks away really impressed,” Rathert said.
The event continues 12-6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30 and include a glass, eight tasting tickets, and unlimited homemade soda, chai tea, and Dark Matter coffee. Farmed and foraged food by North Carolina chef Obie Ferguson will be available. For more information, visit www.scratchbeer.com.