The Brothers’ Brew: A WISEACRE Beer Odyssey

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Brothers Davin and Kellan Bartosch have traveled the world –literally- pursuing a dream. That dream was to craft amazing beer in the place where their story began. WISEACRE Brewery is the crown jewel of the up and coming Broad Avenue (2783 Broad Ave Memphis TN 38112)  and is sure to make Memphis a stop on every beer connoisseurs’ map.

Their current offerings include the Ananda, an IPA, and Tiny Bomb, a Pilsner. I personally resort to eeny-meeny-miny-mo when deciding and when you try them, you’ll understand why. As if the decision wasn’t hard enough, the brothers are working hard to cook up ideas for future tasty libations- stay tuned!

I picked Kellan’s brain to learn more about the brothers’ story as well as a few other fun tidbits. Check it out to get some education, but experience is the best teacher. The taproom is open Thursday and Friday from 4:00 to 8:00 and Saturday from 1:00 to 8:00. Grab some friends, grab some brews and take advantage of their amazing patio. But don’t forget to grab your plastic- it’s a no cash bar!

The two of you hail from Memphis and then spent your early adulthood traveling all over to better your craft. So what brought you back home? And specifically, why Broad Avenue? Did the fact that we have the world’s best water have anything to do with it?  

We love Memphis.  It is such a big part of my personality.  As I’ve lived other places I’ve ALWAYS been made fun of for talking about Memphis.  There’s an authenticity and culture here that I’ve always missed and that’s a huge part of what brought us back.  Broad Avenue is in the midst of such a great revival and we really just wanted to jump in.  So many people on the street have built this up themselves through hard work and it’s going to look even better in years to come with the Greenline and transformation of the loading dock on the north side of the street.  And yes to answer part 3 of question #1, the water here is really important.  As brewers, mineral content in water is a huge part of the finished product and dictated what styles came out of different European regions as it applies to beer history.  Now brewers can treat water to an extent, but if you start out with really high calcium sulfate and are trying to make a pilsner or a hefeweizen you’re in big trouble trying to get the water where you want it.  Starting with this incredibly soft water gives us the perfect beginning place for brewing where we can add calcium carbonate or whatever else if need be, but we have the best beginning point in the country.  We’re getting great ingredient efficiency too (*snort snort*).

Of all of the alcohol in this world, what drew you to the brew? What was the moment that you knew it was “The One?”

Beer is a such a great story and is very versatile.  It is the most consumed beverage in the world after tea (and water of course).  It is blue collar and also the drink of kings.  It is written about in the oldest writings known to man (Hymn to Ninkasi) and many anthropologist see it as the biggest catalyst in civilization (thought a deity created it because they didn’t understand why it made them feel funny, hunter/gatherers became sedentary to harvest grain, this brought about need for currency, currency led to development of counting–> documentation–> reading–> writing–> heirarchy–> government –> industrial revolution —> taste the rockies…etc…got it?).  Incredible stories in beer.  Brewing beer is an absolute zen, stars aligning, calling type job for Davin (my brother).  It is a romanticized job, but it’s really really hard work physically.  It requires a great understanding of chemistry, fluid dynamics, and exacting timing.  Recipe design is something that is developed over time both in theory and practice and he has world class schooling as salutatorian of the World Brewing Academy (Siebel in Chicago & Doemens in Munich) and also with amazingly talented brewers on a professional level.  He’s really incredible at what he does and there are very few people like him in the Southeast.

Craft brewing has seen an explosion in growth recently. What do you think has inspired the “Rise of the Craft Beer,” as The New Yorker has coined it, and what do you see in its future? How do you plan on standing out?

Hmmm…Layered answer here.  The US had great beer culture before prohibition.  Large breweries making cheap beer gobbled up all the market after that.  Craft breweries emerged in the late 70s early 80s in California with New Albion, Anchor, Sierra Nevada and more.  Many breweries have started since then, the ones who have made it and really succeeded are generally breweries with great passion and craftsmanship.  Those 2 words are a part of every brewery’s mantra, but some company’s passion is closer to the idea that a brewery is “cool” and there is a gap in being able to make something resembling beer and actually being good at making it.  The Rise of Craft beer is 98% great, but there is some danger when something becomes cool and marketing/finance types want to jump in on the benefits of being associated with a brewery without being able to truly tap into passion and craftsmanship first.  So that’s a part of what’s happening right now.  It’s also the local and foodie type movements which are a part of beer.  People want to support local business where they are and are very aware/informed as customers.  That’s great.  The foodie thingy is kind of like everybody feels the right to be a critic.  Just because you go out to eat a lot and take pictures of your food doesn’t mean you’re a food expert.  Beer apps, social media, etc give platforms for people to share their thoughts and this often leads to funny places.  People want to say something since they have a voice, but end up saying stuff like “interesting European-ness to this beer” or “this beer would go great with spaghetti”…which don’t really mean anything.  The worst side of that is people thinking that being negative makes them an expert and using their social media voice to bash.  Not just with beer, but with anything else in life; it’s just way easier to be negative than it is to be positive.  It’s easy to point a finger and condescend; it’s harder to love something and understand it.  Tangent…anyway…the foodie-ish stuff is a part of craft beer rising I guess.  All that blabbing were just some random thoughts as somebody being protective of an industry I love and being idealistic about it remaining pure, as mentioned before it’s 98% great news these days with people who care, are interested in discovering different styles of beer, embracing local/regional businesses.

There’s no real trick to standing out other than to have great beer and have a brand that represents us – once again easier said than done.  Davin studied brewing in Chicago and in Germany, has worked professionally brewing thousands of batches of every style of beer, and won lots of medals for his handiwork so we feel great there.  Standing out isn’t about marketing or advertising.  We’re not trying to trick people of make up words’ we’re just inviting people to join us in sharing what we love and have fun along the way.

With lots of breweries come lots of varieties, not all necessarily good. Do y’all plan to stay on the straight and narrow or go a little Bill Nye every once in a while?

We love every style of beer and will certainly jump around to Belgian beers, barrel aging, experimental, traditional, etc.  It’s kind of a weird topic though because if you do the Dogfish Head kind of thing and go all experimental people will be excited about some beer with toothpaste and Sriracha cocoa nibs in it…but just because something is weird/experimental doesn’t mean it is good.  On the other extreme of being all traditional, Davin loves altbier for example.  It’s a traditional German style beer from Dusseldorf with a bittersweet finish.  He might make the best altbier in the history of the world, but because it is an obscure style which may not be appealing without a real understanding…it could be a dud.  So there’s some juggling and prioritizing in terms of making what we love first (we gotta share the stuff we really believe in!), but wanting the experience to be enjoyable and inviting for consumers.  I’d say we’re split down the middle on our interpretation of beer styles, where at times we are trying to pinpoint nail the traditional style and other times we’ll take all kinds of liberties and put our own spin on things.  Once again, Davin’s skill in the brewhouse is like Kelly English or Andrew-Michael in the kitchen and does anybody doubt if their next dish is going to be great?  He has a complete grasp of equipment, timing, ingredients, theory, etc and knows how to manipulate every step of the way.  His brewing is new to Memphis, but he has been at this on a professional level for some time.

Being brothers and business partners must be awesome and at rare times frustrating. How has that relationship shaped WISEACRE?

We actually fight a lot more outside of work when our brotherness brings back the life long honing of being able to piss each other off more than almost anybody else when we want to. At work, we’re a good team in terms of letting each other do the things we’re good at.  We get along great, laugh a bunch, are honest and supportive of each other in and out of work.  There’s no way either of us would be able to work as well with anybody else in the world, especially the being honest with each other all the time part.  That’s not easy.  I guess we should thank our parents for that. And Davin’s wife Rachael because right now we are basically working all the time (22hr work day yesterday!).

You have already accomplished the ultimate dude fantasy of opening a brewery, but what is the absolute dream for WISEACRE?

Haha that’s silly.  Everybody’s vocational fantasy should be a process of discovering your gifts/skills in life first.  I have friends who are great accountants and they really love it.  That’s just as great as what we’re doing because people should feel like they are being productive and contributing  with stuff he or she is good at (IMO).  The people I am thinking of wouldn’t be happy trying to run a brewery.  Starting a business in general takes a lot of risk too and that weighs heavy on entrepreneurs (and their families).  We didn’t just start this last week either.  We took risk moving around the country to get great jobs and experience before we ever started working on a business plan for WISEACRE.  The absolute dream for us is pretty pure: we just want to have the best brewery in the world!!!  We really do just want to keep doing what we love and grow in a smart way while always keeping each other in check and focusing on having amazing beer.  We don’t ever want any business-y decisions to get in the way of having killer beer.  We hope that our beer and culture become an important part of Memphis and all the positive vibes coming from our city.

You just opened your doors, but you’re already on tap at Local, Young Avenue, Chiwawa, Tamp and Tap and Flying Saucer. What bars and shelves will you grace next?

It’s a process of growing and we have to be smart.  There aren’t contracts or anything like that in the beer world.  We also can only make a certain amount of beer and that’s a tough thing for people to understand.  If we’re in one bar and sell x number of kegs, that means we can’t sell beer in another place – you know what I’m saying?  We’ll be canning beer very soon and that’s important to us that we can deliver package beer to people, but we have to make sure the bars/restaurants/stores who have our beer have access to enough and are not running out.  We’re just going to have to take it day by day, by day.  Amen.

What question do you wish people interviewing you would ask and what the answer to that question be?

Really the way I spun that last question is what I’d like people to know.  Some guy the other day was bashing this brewery out of San Diego because they didn’t ship some beer he wanted to TN.  That’s goofy.  He doesn’t know what their staffing is like or capacity or commitments to other markets, ya know?  Right now the two of us are working non-stop, we’ve been open for less than a week and are doing all that we can with what we have.  Growing as a brand new company isn’t easy as it may require adding salaries or new equipment and we are looking at the books and just trying to make the best decisions we know how.  I just hope retailers and consumers will both be understanding instead of being negative about a situation they might not fully understand.

Besides that, it’d be fun if somebody asked “What’s the coolest vacation you’ve ever been on?”  “How much pizza do you think you could eat in one sitting?”  “Tell me about your men’s league basketball team; I hear you had 8 turnovers last night and fouled out – is the league that tough or is just time for you to throw in the towel?”  There’s just a lot of exciting stuff to talk about besides beer.

For more information about WISEACRE, you can read all about their story and beer on their website here.

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Posted on by Katherine Newsom in Assorted Wisdom, Featured, Guest Spots, Misc. Posts

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