In the Driftless region, we are blessed with ample numbers of local farmers growing and producing everything from vegetables and fruits to dairy, hops, wheat, and more. It is only fitting that VFC’s most local brewery – Driftless Brewing Company – is focused on creating tasty sustainable ales and lagers that are rooted in local agriculture.
Driftless Brewing Company is a relatively new craft brewery, but its origins go quite a way back. The brewery was created out of Chris Balistreri’s passion for homebrewing. Chris made his first batch of homebrew in 1987 with friends in Madison. Between that time and starting the brewery in 2011, Chris brewed hundreds of batches of beer at home and shared them generously with people at gatherings. After years of people being blown away by his beers and telling him he should start a brewery, he finally gave in.
The beginnings of Driftless Brewing Company were humble. Chris and two of his good friends made big batches of beer (from a homebrewers perspective), bottled and self-distributed them in Vernon and Crawford counties. In 2014, they took the leap and moved into their current location in Soldiers Grove’s Solar Village (only 15 miles from VFC), which was a former grocery store. In 2018-2019 they expanded to a 15 BBL brew system and added a taproom.
The brewery today is run by three core staff – Chris Balistreri, Lead Brewer; Cynthia Olmstead, Business OperationsDirector; and Scott Noe, Production Manager. “We’ve all brought our backgrounds in organic food sales, sustainable farming and the environment to help form the vision of DBC,” said Chris.
Their beer lineup includes Local Buzz Honey Blonde Ale, DIRT Brown Ale, Kick-Axe Pale Ale, Rolling Ground IPA, Saison de Jardin, and Cow Cult Milk Stout. All of their beers are focused on supporting local producers. For example, their Local Buzz Honey Blonde Ale features local Kickapoo Honey and Wisconsin grown Willamette Hops and their Cow Cult Milk Stout features local organic malt and lactose powder as an ode to the community of family-owned dairy farms that dot the countryside. “Chris is our creative brain: developing beers, working with farmers, co-ops and businesses on ingredient procurement, and overseeing our brewing operations with Scott,” shared Cynthia.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted DBC greatly. “With the shutdown of restaurants and bars, we lost a huge percentage of our distribution accounts, had to lay off all part-time staff and the remaining team of three worked without pay for a period to fund our brewery operations,” shared Cynthia. “Scott and I had to figure out how to safely have a retail operation (taproom) without endangering our staff or customers.” The idea they landed on was having a Curbside Pickup Only program for their taproom that started in April 2020 and has continued to prosper since then. Folks can call the taproom ahead and order beer on Friday afternoons 3-6pm and Saturday 11am-3pm. Customers pickup and pay from their car outside the brewery.
A silver lining with the pandemic is that Chris and his brew team, including Brewery Tech Alex Goble, also a homebrewer, have been super creative during this time brewing new and innovative specialty beers that are offered through their Curbside program. This past fall they included unique and fun beers like Supreme Folie Saison, which is brewed with local honey, aronia berries from Scott Noe’s farm, and Tree Hugger English Amber Ale, which is a tribute to the forests of the Driftless! It featured Maple Valley Co-op Maple Syrup and local wild-crafted spruce tips. To see what specialty beers they currently offer, check out Driftless Brewing Company’s Facebook page.
Viroqua Food Co+op and our owners and shoppers have been supporting Driftless Brewing Company at every twist and turn on their journey to where they are today! The biggest thing we can do today to help support Driftless Brewing Company through this turbulent time is to buy and enjoy their beer. Pick up a six-pack or two (or three) next time you shop at VFC. We also hear that they make great gifts for those over 21 years of age. If you have a free Friday or Saturday, participate in their Curbside Program and pickup beer directly from the brewery. Know that when you support them you also support their great staff and local farmers that provide them with amazing ingredients.