Jon Cadoux of Peak Organic Brewing Company was kind enough to talk with me about his beer and brewery. I would like to thank him for taking time out of his day to speak with me. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed speaking with him.
Without further ado, on to the interview:
WIBeerGeek: I have read that you started home brewing with a group of friends in college?
Jon: That’s right
WIBG: When did you decide to jump up to all grain, and then move on to developing your own recipes?
J: To be honest, we only brewed a couple batches with extract and then moved to all grain. Sure it’s a hassle, but we quickly found that we had much more control over the beers we were brewing. Shortly after going all grain, we started developing recipes and keeping notes so that we could improve on our recipes.
We started using a whole bunch of local organic hops and other local ingredients back when no one else was doing that and people started digging our beers, so we thought this could be a interesting combination and went for it.
WIBG: So, you had started your organic brewing when you were still home brewing?
J: Yeah, and a lot of the ingredients we still use today like organic Vermont maple syrup, locally roasted organic espresso, all kinds of different things. Before we were brewers, we were passionate, foodie locavores, so we just started bringing that ethic into home brewing and found that it made for an interesting, different concoction that was unique to our beers.
WIBG: What made you decide to get into commercial brewing?
J: We started giving a lot of homebrew away and people loved it, which is obviously the most important part. We thought that what we were doing was an interesting little niche, keeping the ingredients local and sourced from organic farms. That is important from an environmental perspective and we wanted to bring it over to commercial beer.
WIBG: Is the original home brewing group from college still together?
J: That group is still intact but we have added a few new people over the past few years. The core group of the company, we all grew up together. Most of those people I have known since I was 12, which is great. It makes life a lot of fun, no doubt about it.
WIBG: Are you currently the head brewer, or do you have another brewer on staff?
J: There are a couple of us now, we don’t really have titles. My card says founder but at the end of the day we all do everything.
WIBG: What is your reaction to the new regulation that is going to require the use of organic hops for a beer to be labeled organic? Do you see the push towards all organic ingredients to be a good one?
J: We strongly support the new regulation. It is great, it really is an issue that was difficult in the past, but now there are many more organic hop producers. We buy organic Citra, Simcoe, Centennial, and will buy Amarillo next year so really the availability of quality organic varieties has just mushroomed. For us it’s a no brainer and we are 100% committed to it.
WIBG: Are you expecting the price of organic hops to skyrocket once they are required?
J: In theory, the prices should normalize because the supply should increase when more farmers get really good at growing organic hops and the yields get closer to the yields for conventional hops, so in theory it should normalize price, not make it skyrocket.
Access to organic hops is certainly more limited than conventional hops, but there are a lot of guys doing it, there is a lot of interest. They are wonderful growers too. In our Peak Winter Session for example, we use organic Citra hops from our good buddy, Brad Carpenter. In my opinion they are the best Citra Hops that I have ever used. They are just incredible and so that is the most exciting part. The growers come to the table with some unbelievable organic strains and varieties and I think that’s huge because I think at the end of the day the reason why we eat local and organic food is not only because of the social and environmental benefits, but because it tastes better.
When you walk into a great farm-to-table restaurant, people aren’t there paying a lot of money because it’s local and organic, they are doing it because it ought to taste fantastic. We refuse to buy an ingredient just because it’s organic, it has to be excellent first and organic second to make it in the door. We strive to produce beer that is extremely exceptional, as well as organic.
WIBG: Do you do most of your sourcing of the hops and the grain from local farmers?
J: We source from all over and work with a lot of different farmers. I think some might look at it as a hassle, but we actually love it. You know when you are just buying conventional grain you are pretty much just buying from a middleman or broker and its one contact. For us, we work with many different farms and farmers, from a time and efficiency standpoint maybe not an optimal way to operate, but having that direct interaction and relationship with our farmers helps improve quality and expectations over the years.
When you are friends with the farmers that you are working with they are going to step up their game to grow for you rather than just growing something and selling it enmass to a big middleman wholesaler. I think when the relationship is stretched out it is less fun, and I think from a quality standpoint, it’s just not as good. One thing we found out is that when you approach a farmer and you are willing to contract with him for a couple of years he will be pretty quick to increase acreage for you.
WIBG: You have had farmers expand production for you?
J: Yeah, that is a big risk with farming, you go all in, invest heavy and are growing something that you don’t know for a fact you can sell. We try to take that risk off the table as much as possible with our farmers. Then word spreads and maybe his neighbor who is also interested hears about our commitment and then they start to get involve. That’s how we expand our supplier base, keeping our relationship with the farm. The closer we work with those guys the better everything works. From a quality standpoint, I can’t emphasize it enough, a direct relationship with a farmer leads to higher quality ingredients, I am sure of that.
WIBG: You also have your local series, right? Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, do you source each beer in the series solely with ingredients from the each state?
J: That’s right, it was a really fun project. What we were trying to do was create a pretty standard recipe, an American Pale Ale, keep the recipe the same and see if there was a discernible difference that you could pick up, knowing that flavor differences in the beer would be due to the terroir of the ingredients. So we did that and it was just a blast, it was soo much fun. The bottom line is that there were really discernible differences
WIBG: So, did you learn from the series which state you should source some of the ingredients from?
J: I wouldn’t say that, it wasn’t like one was bad and one was better than the other, they were just different. For example, the big focus was on the hop side with Nugget hops. We found that the Nugget hops from each state had a ton of variability. The Maine hops for example had a robust citrus component; whereas the Vermont hops had a much more spicy character.
WIBG: That’s really cool. So if I could ask you a little bit about Weiss Principal now, can you reveal anything about the grain bill?
J: There is one thing that I am happy to say, we use a ridiculous amount of wheat, wheat as a percent of total grains is totally out of control and it makes it a horrible beer to brew, but we think it’s completely worth it. There is just a ton of wheat with some pale malt and just a touch of Munich malt, that’s it. Our early hop additions are Centennial, and the late and dry hop additions are massive Cascade hop bombs.
WIBG: I did pick up a lot of pine and citrus from it, it was definitely a very good beer!
J: I appreciate that
WIBG: How would you recommend drinking this? Is it supposed to be served cloudy, or should I leave the sediment in the bottle?
J: It’s funny you mention that, both. It comes in a 22 and the way I do it, everyone is different, but the way I drink it is that I try to get the first pour to be lacking in sediment and then the second one is kind of heavy. So it’s kind of like two very different beers out of the same bottle. I would say that I like them both, although some people certainly prefer one versus the other. I love the mouthfeel that comes along with that sediment, some people do think that it is a little too sticky, but I personally love it. Then you get others who appreciate the hops more when the sediment is not mixed in, when it’s a little lighter, crisper and brighter version they say that the hops, and the hop forward nature of the beer shines more without sediment. So, I don’t know if there is a right way to do it to be totally honest.
WIBG: It was a very good beer and I wish I could find it more reliably in Wisconsin.
J: We have very limited distribution in Wisconsin, really just a handful of the best bottle shops get special releases here and there.
WIBG: Do you have any special releases coming up?
J: Yeah, there are a lot . Next week we brew a beer called Fall Summit, which is a nice crisp, dry, marzen-style, but it is hop forward and hopped with Summit hops. We like Summit because they have that really nice piney, spicy character to them and it really plays well off that marzen-style malt backbone. The month after that we brew a beer called Maple Collaboration and that is a bigger amber beer, we brew it with a ton of oats to give it a really dynamic mouth feel and then we add a whole bunch of local, organic maple syrup. The month after that we have the local series again, and after that we have our Winter Session. The Winter session is a dark malted wheat beer and that’s single hopped and dry hopped with Citra hops from Brad Carpenter. Then right after that, we do an oak aged mocha stout, it’s a big Imperial Stout that comes out in December. That’s just a small handful of our upcoming beers, we try to do a new release every month.
WIBG: Is there a particular brewery that you look up to?
J: A brewery that I look up to tremendously is Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. The reason for that is that they do tackle a lot of different styles and every beer they release is absolutely excellent. They certainly are not the only brewery that does that, but they are the first that comes to mind. Every style that they try to tackle, and every beer that they release is excellent. They don’t release beers just because there is an interesting story behind it, it is just really high quality beer every single time. That is something that I really admire. I wouldn’t say that we have designed our company after theirs by any means, but I really like that they don’t rely on gimmicks, and don’t rely on marketing driven beer releases. Their beer is all about the liquid and I respect that a lot.
WIBG: Are you planning any upcoming collaboration beers with other breweries?
J: We haven’t really done any beer brewing collaborations, and that is not a plan of ours right now. Not because we are against it, but there are so many and it’s hard to even know how to do something that would cut through all the clutter.
What we have done, and love doing is partnering with people like Butternut Mountain Farm who produce really nice organic maple syrup, with Taza Chocolate who produce excellent chocolate, with Coffeeby Design, a local artisan coffee roaster or with Sambazon who produce an incredible organic pomegranate juice. We do a lot of collaborations, but they are with artisan food and beverage producers rather than other brewers.
WIBG: I have two quick questions in closing. First, do you have any advice for home brewers that can help them brew better beer more consistently and second, do you have any advice for someone who is interested in starting a craft brewery?
J: For home brewers, temperature control during fermentation will dramatically improve the consistency of your batches. If you are going to start your own brewery, make sure you have a unique offering for the craft beer community. The industry needs more innovation, not imitation.
That's all for today! Check back on Friday for my next post!
That's all for today! Check back on Friday for my next post!