Just when you thought you knew MobCraft Beer, it’s beginning its next chapter.
The 2-year-old Madison-based brewer of crowdsourced, usually weird beers announced in April that it’s moving to Milwaukee to open its own shop and taproom, just as it introduced the first of two new packages for its beer.
MobCraft’s Milwaukee brewery will be in the hopping Walker’s Point neighborhood just south of downtown, near Great Lakes Distillery, Milwaukee Brewing’s production brewery, Brenner Brewing and not far from the craft beer hotspots in Bay View. The MobCraft team scouted locations in Madison’s similarly happening neighborhoods but quickly found they were priced out, said MobCraft co-founder Henry Schwartz.
A brewery of its own was always part of the plan, but it’s become increasingly necessary in recent months as both MobCraft and Page Buchanan’s House of Brews, where MobCraft has brewed since its outset, have increased production. It’s convinced Schwartz, co-founder Giotto Troia and brewer Andrew Gierczak that it’s time to move on.
“We’ve decided that since Page is growing and we’re growing, we’re getting close to stepping on each other’s toes,” Schwartz said Saturday. “Between the two of us we’ll be doing 15 brew days in the next 2½ weeks.”
MobCraft can begin work on its new space on Aug. 1 and plans to open around the end of this year or early 2016. The brewery will be able to kick out 30-barrel batches with a maximum output of about 4,600 barrels a year. That’s a far cry from the 220 barrels MobCraft made last year and even the 1,200 barrels Schwartz said it’s on track for this year.
The monthly online crowdsourcing contests — in which a vote for a beer recipe is an order for it — have steadily grown in participation, Schwartz said, and MobCraft can now ship orders to 42 states. But a key driver in MobCraft’s growth has been its presence in bottle shops and even grocery stores around Madison, Milwaukee and beyond. Where MobCraft bomber bottles were once an occasional curiosity, they’re now a constantly rotating presence, and many shops stock multiple MobCraft beers concurrently.
That growth this year has come as MobCraft has tapped new markets and some new higher-volume packaging options, including the first run using Midwest Mobile Canning to put two of the company’s beers into tallboy cans sold in four-packs. (House of Brews also took advantage of the stop by the mobile canning line to put out four-packs of the very nice Observatory Pale Ale.)
Those MobCraft cans are a preview of what’s to come from the new brewery, which will have a canning line. Beer in cans is purchased and consumed much faster than bombers, Schwartz noted, and MobCraft was caught somewhat off guard by how quickly the beer from the first canning run has sold. They’re now planning a second run in late June to keep the supply up through the summer.
The package is all right, but I’d suggest that the beers in that package might have something to do with it as well.
One of the de facto flagships is Bat(Expletive) Crazy, a coffee cream nut brown that was one of MobCraft’s earliest offerings and won the silver medal in the competitive coffee beer category at last fall’s Great American Beer Festival. The other is Hop Gose the Grapefruit, a mashup of an India pale ale and a gose, an old German sour wheat ale that’s distinctive for its use of coriander and salt. (The style is pronounced “GOZE-uh”, but Schwartz said Hop Gose sounds simply like “Hop Goes.”)
Despite Crazy’s name and Hop Gose’s obscure hybrid style, these are two of the most approachable styles in the MobCraft portfolio — which this winter added Don Durio’s Filthy Mustachio, a pilsner with cashews and durian, known as the world’s stinkiest fruit.
Hop Gose is not that. This modern take on a very old style — one that’s been getting a lot more attention from American brewers of late — was the winner of the April 2014 crowd vote. It was on shelves in bombers and draft last summer and is going to be with us again all this summer, so let’s take a closer look.
Hop Gose the Grapefruit
Style: Gose-IPA hybrid
Brewed by: MobCraft Beer
What it’s like: Hop Gose lives much closer to the gose style than the IPA. Leipziger Gose is the style’s global standard, but American brewers’ interest in the style has made far more of those available on local shelves. Minnesota’s August Schell Brewing has released a seasonal gose called Goosetown since 2013, and California’s Anderson Valley Brewing has a series of goses including the excellent and excellently named The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose.
Where, how much: Supplies from the initial canning run of Hop Gose and Crazy are already running low. I got my four-pack of 16-ounce cans at Trixie’s Liquor for $10. That 15.5 cents per ounce cost is a far greater value than 36 cents per ounce you get from an $8 bomber, which is where MobCraft’s usually fall.
The beer: A pour of the turbid, deep gold Hop Gose releases an ample aroma that captures all that this beer is about. Foremost is the sweet, earthy wheat, accentuated by the hint of salt; a puckery grapefruit citrus note and a more conventional hop character play supporting roles.
All of that plays out nicely on the palate, with the salt adding a kind of savory dimension to the malt and wheat sweetness. Goses vary in their degree of sourness, and Hop Gose’s lactic tartness barely registers, blending in with the modest grapefruit character (both juice and zest are added) that’s most prominent on the back end. And for all the IPA comparisons, the effect of the Sorachi Ace and Amarillo hops are quite modest here among so much else going on. Hop Gose is almost velvety soft on the front before drying out significantly later in the quaff.
Booze factor: Goses are low in alcohol, and Hop Gose complies at a highly sessionable 4.5 percent ABV.
The buzz: While it’s always sad to see a brewery go, MobCraft is leaving the Madison area a parting gift: Plans for some kind of MobCraft outpost. It’s early, but the idea is a taproom setup that might include a small-scale brewery that would supply the taproom, do test batches of new recipes and even be made available to homebrewers.
But really, MobCraft will be going away only in spirit. Madison will always be a key market, Schwartz said, and the new facility will allow all sorts of new capabilities of which local fans will reap benefits.
The MobCraft team hopes to set aside 2,000 square feet in the brewery for barrel-aging beers, especially sours. That’s an area they’ve just begun to ramp up with this spring’s release of four-packs of 12-ounce bottles of Sour Safari, a sour red ale; and the Votre Echangeur De Chaleur variant of last fall’s Dubbel Czech Belgian dubbel. They want to add 30-barrel foeders, or big wooden vats in which beer is spontaneously fermented.
This area could be kept separate from the main production area to keep those bugs from contaminating the “clean” beers. The idea is to have a sour or barrel-aged variant of nearly every crowdsourced beer.
Schwartz said Gierczak also wants to add a second crowdsourced beer a month to the production schedule — his pick of the runners-up — and bring back crowdsourced beers that did well in their first runs.
All of this variety plugs into the planned tap room, which Schwartz called the linchpin of the plan for the new facility.
“The biggest excitement moving forward is having our own space and a tasting room, being able to hold events,” Schwartz said.
Bottom line: 3½ stars (out of five)
Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the medal MobCraft's Bat(Expletive) Crazy won at the Great American Beer Festival.