At Next Door Brewing, being a good neighbor means more than just offering East Siders a nice place to have a nice beer.
The brewpub’s mantra extends to beer collaborations — not just with other breweries, as many do — but with other businesses and, especially, nonprofit community groups.
There was Secret Transmission Alt, made (twice) with WORT-FM. Compliant Client Red Ale with law firm Stephan & Brady. Crick Bottom Wit with Friends of Starkweather Creek. The Shack Farmhouse Ale with Madison Magazine. Porter Bras with Madison Ballet.
“It was written into our business and our unspoken mantra: collaborative brewing for the community,” said Pepper Stebbins, a Next Door partner.
Those collaborations — 17 different beers since Next Door opened in August 2013 — usually begin with a business or organization approaching Next Door, sometimes just about hosting an event before the option of creating a beer is revealed.
Representatives meet with Next Door head brewer Bryan Kreiter to shape the style of beer. It’s not quite anything goes — Next Door has to make the beer, so no wild yeasts or souring microbes — and actually sell it, so the beer can neither be too niche nor redundant with Next Door’s regular beer lineup. The name is up to the collaborator, again with Next Door approval.
Then Kreiter acquires necessary ingredients and schedules the brew day. That morning, reps from the organization crowd in among the brewing vessels and hoses to snap photos and take in the amazing smells of beer being born. Those pictures, posted to social media, provide the first publicity bump for collaborators, Stebbins said.
Kreiter will walk curious collaborators through the basic process.
After a couple of weeks, the six kegs are ready for the beer’s launch party, at which nonprofits often feature raffles or other fundraisers. A single batch usually yields enough supply to keep the collaboration on tap for at least a couple of weeks.
For collaboration with nonprofits, Next Door shares proceeds, with the organization choosing the option of $1 a pint the day of the release or 50 cents a pint over the entire run of the beer. That can add up: Stebbins said the Squirrel Chaser Ale collaboration late last year raised $300 for the Dane County Humane Society.
The cause that brought me into the world of Next Door’s collaborations is one I work with every single day in my day job as a State Journal news editor: Sunshine Week, dedicated to ensuring that government operate openly and transparently.
This cause doesn’t have adorable ears like the humane society’s, or beautiful flowers like Friends of Starkweather Creek’s, but its essence is immensely important: That those in power do not abuse it. Still, open government more often plays out in bureaucratic bores like records requests and meeting agendas, so anything that spices things up — like beer! — is welcome.
And so we have this week’s beer, a collaboration between Next Door and the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists that’s helping shine a light on a open government.
Style: American pale wheat ale
Brewed by: Next Door Brewing, 2439 Atwood Ave.
What it’s like: A much, much lighter hybrid of, say, Three Floyds Gumballhead and Green Flash’s Green Bullet imperial India pale ale.
Where, how much: Imperial pints are $5 at Next Door, and you can walk out the door with a growler for $13.50. Tapped at the beginning of this week, it should be available for at least a week, unless all those thirsty journalists drank it up on Monday.
The beer: Sunshine Wheat pours the bright gold of a spring evening and unloads a rich bouquet of its signature, distinctive featured hop: Green Bullet. This New Zealand-grown variety is a dynamo of somewhat dank, wet grass clippings, lemony citrus and big, spicy bitterness. It’s infused into Sunshine using a hop rocket, a canister-like device that runs the otherwise finished beer through hops (or other ingredients) en route to serving or, in this case, kegging. The result here is an intense Green Bullet profile that nearly outshines the light wheat malts that just briefly poke through in the middle. Sunshine finishes very dry, and that Green Bullet bitterness lingers long. It won’t last long enough, but a growler of Sunshine Wheat would quench nicely after you wrestle your push-reel lawnmower over your East Side lawn.
Booze factor: Its 4.8 percent ABV makes it squarely sessionable.
The buzz: If you haven’t been to Next Door since shortly after it opened, it’s time to revisit, and not only for the to-die-for cheese curds.
Kreiter, who replaced founding head brewer and still-partner Keith Symonds last summer, has revamped Next Door’s beers. The six always-on offerings have a more contemporary, hop-forward bent, including bestsellers Eastside American pale ale, Luminous India pale ale and Hammerhead Belgian IPA. Next Door’s five other taps are where the seasonals and collaboration beers live, squeezing out the “guest tap” line in a sign of healthy sales of the house beers.
Next Door made about 400 barrels of beer last year, and Stebbins and Kreiter hope to boost its monthly output from about 35 barrels a month to about 45, which they believe is the capacity for the tiny brewery. If and when they get there, it’ll likely be with some help from their collaborating friends.
Bottom line: 3½ stars (out of five)