You could say the new six-packs from Next Door Brewing are a win-win, but you would be selling it a few wins short.
Next Door’s foray into large-scale bottling — the first six-packs dropped last week — comes two-plus years after the brewpub opened on Atwood Avenue with an emphasis on being a neighbor to the eclectic East Side neighborhood it primarily served. That spirit carried over to a string of collaborations with area businesses and nonprofits.
Now this small, young, community-focused Madison brewery is using a contract brewing arrangement to significantly increase its production. That might sound familiar because it’s essentially the same story told on more or less the same timeline by One Barrel Brewing, which began contract brewing this year and released its first six-packs last month.
Producing beer outside Next Door’s cramped brewhouse in the converted appliance repair shop on Atwood Avenue is the first win, and an obvious one for the business.
Next Door — really, just Bryan Kreiter, who’s been head brewer since mid-2014 — is brewing the beer within those bottles at Potosi Brewing. The first group of brews on Potosi’s brand new 40-barrel system yielded 300 barrels of three different beers, split between six-packs and kegs for the pub and distribution to bars and restaurants.
That’s an enormous amount of beer relative to the 430 barrels, just three barrels at a time, Next Door will make this year on the maxed-out brewing facility at pub.
“There are several bottlenecks here, but a three-barrel brewhouse is its own bottleneck,” Kreiter said.
Having six-packs in bottle shops and tap handles in bars across south-central Wisconsin elevates a brewery’s profile significantly, leading us to the second win. Next Door is expecting that visibility to translate to a sizable bump in business at the pub, where markup is higher and beer sales come along with sales of salads and burgers and, for my money, the best cheese curds in town.
If those new pub customers become repeat customers, there’s a better chance they’re going to find new beers on their return trips to the pub.
The beers shifting production to Potosi accounted for about half of Next Door’s production this year, including Kaleidospoke, the former East Side APA that has been Next Door’s bestseller for most of this year. Kreiter said ‘Spoke accounted for 30 percent of Next Door’s volume this year, and freeing up those brew days and fermentation space is already allowing more of the tinkering that makes brewpubs so interesting. (Win.)
Kreiter said he’s brewed three or four new beers since his first Potosi brew day in November, including a black saison brewed a few hours before we spoke this month and a big, malty brown ale called Brewbacca that arrived just in time for the every-decade revival of “Star Wars” fever.
Another win that is perhaps not so apparent is the boost to Potosi. I have a soft spot for this brewery, an arm of a nonprofit community foundation dedicated to the betterment of a really interesting small town in southwestern Wisconsin. This spring Potosi opened a new brewery built for a future bigger than its present, and getting a little bonus revenue by opening its production floor to Next Door, another community-oriented brewery, seems like a natural fit.
Next Door is the only contract client for Potosi, which learned all about contract brewing from the client side for five years while producing beer at Stevens Point Brewery. Furthermore, Potosi brewmaster Steve McCoy spent five years at City Brewery, a major contract brewer in La Crosse.
“Potosi was on the other side of contract brewing with Point, so he knows the trials and tribulations of it,” Kreiter said. “That’s one of the reasons we feel confident that they’re going to treat us right and it’ll be a great relationship.”
Kreiter and Next Door partner Pepper Stebbins said the arrangement with Potosi allows batch-by-batch flexibility, so there’s little risk if these first batches fall flat on the market — an outcome I consider highly unlikely. Kreiter said it’s “reasonable to expect” Next Door to make 2,000 barrels next year. For now that will mean six-packs and kegs in the area served by Fitchburg distributor General Beverage — Dane and surrounding counties — but Next Door has its eye on other markets around and outside Wisconsin.
In another parallel to One Barrel, Stebbins and Kreiter see contract brewing as a “stepping stone” to, eventually, a stand-alone Next Door production facility.
But for the average beer drinker, the biggest win in all of this is the ability to take Next Door beer home without a trip across town and without a growler’s freshness clock ticking down. And the three beers Next Door is offering at the outset are all really good.
Kaleidospoke — a brawny, hop-forward American pale ale that was one of Kreiter’s first recipes — is a worthy flagship.
Luminous, a light-bodied, 6.8 percent ABV India pale ale that’s also planned as year-round, is Next Door’s No. 2 seller and will debut in six-packs next week. The bottled version wasn’t ready as of this writing, but I’ve enjoyed it on multiple occasions at the pub.
But the gem of Next Door’s opening salvo is Plumptuous, a huge Scotch ale based on the brewery’s former Way Heavy. In an unusual flourish for the style, it features a hop — the relatively obscure English variety Bramling Cross, one of Kreiter’s favorites. (It also graces a Next Door ESB and a double IPA.) Bramling Cross is mild in bitterness and known for a profile rich in what beer geeks call stonefruit, including the plum alluded to in this beer’s name.
Style: Scotch ale
Brewed by: Next Door Brewing, 2439 Atwood Ave.
What it’s like: The Scotch ale to beat in this market is unquestionably Lake Louie’s Warped Speed, but Plumptuous is so plump that a better comparison is Louie’s Reserve, the bigger version of Warped Speed released each fall.
Where, how much: Six-packs of Plumptuous run about $11, while Luminous and Kaleidospoke will be about $9. Stebbins, who handles sales for Next Door, said interest has been strong in and around Madison, with dozens of outlets carrying the beer.
The beer: Plumptuous is pretty much exactly what you’d want a Scotch ale to be: A deep ruby-amber with a toasty, chocolatey aroma. A sip reveals a little bit of earthy hop character and a hint of that plum but a whole lot of toasty caramel malt notes. It’s full-bodied and sweet but by no means cloying, and deftly hides its ample alcohol content.
Booze factor: At 9.5 percent ABV, Plumptuous demands that you check yourself.
The buzz: For now, Plumptuous is planned as a four-month seasonal, but Stebbins said the beer has been “killer” in its first days in the pub. While he and Kreiter acknowledge that sales patterns inside Next Door don’t necessarily translate outside, Kreiter is already cautioning that he’s not sure he’ll be able to make it year-round, due to the scarcity of Bramling Cross.
As that puzzle plays out, so will the fate of Next Door’s beer in the marketplace at large. If all goes well, there could be one or two more beers — it’s unclear which — that could be added to the on-the-shelf mix by late spring. Potosi’s packaging options include cans, Kreiter mentions.
Here’s one vote to keep Plumptuous around year round.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)