Working with the canning line, rolling out a bunch of new products in cans, transitioning a lot our existing beers from bottles…lots of things happening over here at the Brewery…(on new projects).
We sat down with Joe Katchever of Pearl Street Brewery. We discussed the origins of brewing, the process of creating new beverages, what’s coming up for the brewery, as well as new projects and drinkables from ciders, hard seltzers, to wine. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website, lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy. And I’m Brent. And this is La Crosse Local.
Joe Katchever 00:32
My name is Joe Katchever. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I’ve always been into beer. I came from a blue collar town in Lake Michigan, on Lake Michigan, where men drank beer and women drank beer too, actually. So, that’s where I grew up. So, I’ve always been into beer. Now, as far as craft beer goes, I got into craft beer, or micro brews as they were called back then, when I was in college in Milwaukee. So, back in those days there was Sprecher Brewery and Lakefront Brewery. And I met Randy Sprecher, who is, you know, a legend in Milwaukee even to this day. And he poured me a bunch of Black Bavarians one day, and I was hooked on craft beer. I met Russ and Jim Klisch from Lakefront Brewery when they were out, you know, in their 20s hand selling their Riverwest Stein and their Pumpkin Ale to bars in the river west, in Milwaukee, and over on the east side. And they really got me hooked. I’ve been friends with Russ Klisch ever since. I always have a Riverwest Stein when I go to Milwaukee. So, I’ve just kind of been into beer ever since then.
Brent Hanifl 01:43
The last couple years, you know, even with the pandemic, it seems like Pearl Street Brewery is announcing one thing after another related to new beer, projects, canning lines, what’s going on at Pearl Street Brewery?
Joe Katchever 01:56
Ah, what isn’t going on over here? We’re having fun. Well, you know, I wear a lot of hats around here, Brent, and one thing I really enjoy is creating new beers. And every year we create five new beers for the winter ball, which is our anniversary party every February. And you know, these beers can be found on tap here, or at some bars and restaurants around La Crosse, but they’re very limited release. Sometimes they’re one and done, some go on to be brewed again. And of those some actually make it into bottles or cans, and into stores and on shelves in stores. And then throughout the year, we also create, when we have time in our release schedule, we create new beers and we have fun with that, too. So we’re always doing that. That’s one of my funner jobs, been doing that forever. As far as other stuff going on here. Let’s see the canning line we installed in January of 2020. We actually had an open house for the very first run. It was a great day. Beer lovers from all over came in to help us can our first ever batch of beer. It was a blast. It was a little bit of a mess, but we had a good time doing it. And that’s been a big part of the last year or so is working with the canning line, rolling out a bunch of new products and cans, and transitioning a lot of our existing beers from bottles over into cans. Which is like a more popular format these days for beer lovers to enjoy. So, lots of things are always happening here at the brewery.
Brent Hanifl 03:24
So, also you’ve moved into everything from cider to hard seltzers and even wine. Can you tell us about this project?
Joe Katchever 03:31
Yeah, so I started a company called Turisimo Winery and Fermentations, which essentially does non beer collaborations with other people and other businesses. Polk Orchards, Branches Winery, and we have some others in the works, so far. And basically Turisimo uses Pearl Street’s equipment for production, and packaging, and distribution. But the concepts for the products don’t come from PSB or from beer at all. Turisimo gets its motivation from other people and from other companies. You know, like working with a winery to produce wine based beverages, or a distillery to produce canned cocktails, or an orchard to produce fruit based ciders. And now that’s where a lot of that comes from. Turisimo is a fun collaboration project with other companies, other people. You know, they might be a winery, or a distillery, or another brewery even, or they might not be a beverage maker at all. They might just be an orchard. And so we collaborate with them. It’s fun. It’s basically non beer things that we can use our facility here at Pearl Street to produce.
Brent Hanifl 04:36
When you’re creating you know, some of those are beverages that are already created and you’re kind of putting into the packaging and kind of giving it a look. What goes into creating a new beverage? You know, you talked about the new beers every year. You know, is it something that you planned? Or do you just jump into it, think about what you have around, do you want to create something that’s kind of exciting?
Joe Katchever 04:54
Well, creating new beverages you basically start with a concept. Like, okay, what do I envision? What do I want to create here? What do I want to drink? And you kind of imagine what it’s going to taste like, and what it’s going to be. And as far as beer goes, you go backwards. You start at that endpoint, and then you go, how much? How many hops? What kind of hops do I put in this beer to create this, these aeromax the flavor that I’m looking for? Thanks to the Germans, you know, we have mathematical formulations that can calculate everything from the color of a beer, to the alcohol percentage, flavors, the body of the beer, or what we call the mouthfeel, in the beer world. Even the aromatics can be calculated out, there is a numerical data on that. However, so that’s kind of a baseline sort of knowledge. But brewing beer is an art form. And like any creative process, creating beer can be daring, it can be complicated. I often come up with ideas for beers when I’m not thinking about beer, I’m not trying. Like the pairing of two flavors or aromas. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I think the pairing of, for example, hibiscus lavender with cucumber works really well. And that’s how we came up with the idea for the Pop Gose. It’s a, you know, cucumber with hibiscus lavender. And the Pop Goes, it comes out at the end of the month, it became our spring seasonal. And it’s a popular spring beer. So, sometimes they’re a hit, sometimes they’re a miss. It’s just a lot of trial and error, like any creative process, you just keep doing it, keep doing it. And then when you’re not thinking about it, ideas pop into your head, and you’re oh, I’m gonna write that one down. You know, so.
Brent Hanifl 06:29
So, how is COVID affected the craft brewing craft drink industry for you? How was 2020 for you?
Joe Katchever 06:36
COVID? Hmm. Well, for PSP, we sell the majority of our beers to bars and restaurants, whether in La Crosse, in the La Crosse area where we self distribute our products, but also to distributors. And the distributors then in turn, sell our beer to bars and restaurants in Milwaukee or Madison, or up north, or pretty much anywhere in Wisconsin, or around Minnesota. And so having said that, when they closed down bars and restaurants that pulled the rug out from under us. So, we were sitting here on this time last year, actually. So, it’s April with we had eight fermenters full of beer, and we had a whole cooler full of beer, which is kind of our normal state, where we’re always rotating beer. I was making new beer, and then packaging it and moving it out, and then moving the next batch through. So, we always have a lot of beer in house. Well, we couldn’t do a lot with that beer. We ended up pivoting, I guess is the word, we put more beer on the shelves at Festy and Woodmans, and People’s Food Co Op, and Kwik Trips, as far as we could. Those retail shelves really became a battleground for beer sales, obviously. You know, millions and millions of barrels of beer are sold at bars and restaurants throughout the country. And well guess what? That same thing happened to every brewery in the country at one time. So, there’s this battle to get beer on shelves. And we were able to do a great job and we picked up some more shelf space, actually. And we were able to maintain sales and even do a little bit better than that out in the retail market. So we pivoted, we focused on our retail partners, we look at everyone that sells our beers as a partner in this. And definitely all of the local stores really stepped up and they were great. Woodmans, every manager of every Festival Foods in the area, even Kwik Trip and the People’s Food Co Op, they said yep, we’re gonna put you front and center and help make sure that you guys stay in business this year. And we did and it was a group effort. And I really appreciate all those guys. So, as far as COVID and the craft beer industry or drink industry, that was our our biggest thing right there, was maintaining sales. And sales means money and paychecks for people and keeping the lights on. A lot of breweries weren’t as fortunate as us, and a lot of other breweries made the similar changes and were able to keep alive the process. Now, as far as how else we pivoted, we created Turisimo. You know, we decided to expand products that we’re a part of through hard seltzers, hard ciders, wine based products. You know, we weren’t a winery before now. We became a winery as well as a brewery. So, we had to think out of the box and we had to make moves. And we did. I think we did a great job. We put a lot of new products out. We definitely didn’t sit around in 2020. We were active and we really launched a bunch of new things. It’s exciting. So, I mean, it kind of forced our hand. Those were things that we were sort of planning or thinking about doing maybe at some point. Twenty twenty happened, it forced our hand and really kind of got us to do those things, which is cool. There’s always a silver lining, I guess and the challenge is always finding it, sometimes.
Brent Hanifl 09:53
Coming out of 2020, now we’re in 2021, things do seem to be opening up. What’s coming up for the brewery, and maybe any other projects that you’re really excited for 2021 or even 2022?
Joe Katchever 10:05
Oh, all kinds of stuff, some of which I mentioned. So, we’ve grown organically for 22 years now, and we will carry on. We downsized our staff a year ago, and we’re building it back up right now. So you know, if there’s any people listening, who are passionate about Pearl Street, tell them to get a hold of me. I’m looking for leaders to come to our team and really self motivated people that are passionate about beer and brewing, and really want to be a part of a small company. We are going to continue to expand what we do at Turisimo and our collaborations and our partnerships, that’s a big thing. In 2020, we brought some products to market, but the market hasn’t exactly opened up yet. So, we’ll be putting those out there. Like the canned V/O Haze and the Supreme Fatty in cans. We’ll also be offering a couple, Turisimo, will be creating a couple of new hard seltzers. And that’s exciting. We have two out, that we put out in 2020. We’re adding two more to that as well. So, that’s cool. We’re bringing some of our favorites, draft beers, and putting them into cans in 2021 this year as well. So, lots going on always around here.
Brent Hanifl 11:20
So, if people want to find out more about the brewery or maybe even apply for a job, what’s the best avenue for them to check out?
Joe Katchever 11:26
As far as applying for a job, we have a couple of ads on Facebook. That’d be the best way to get a hold of us for that. But as far as just finding out things about what’s going on, the best thing you can do is sign up for our email newsletter to keep up on things. And you can find a link on the website, pearlstreetbrewery.com. Also, we have our own app, Pearl Street Brewery app. And there are lots of cool features on on the Pearl Street app, as far as like specials, where to find Pearl Street beer, and if we’re doing ticket sales or anything like that. You can find out all that information through the app. So, those are your best bets.
Amy Gabay 12:02
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