AVA, Ill. — Owners of a startup microbrewery are hoping
they’re getting in on the ground floor of an emerging tourism trend.
Scratch Beer is the brainchild of partners Marika Josephson,
Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein, who decided to create beer using local
ingredients. The brewery, located in deep southern Illinois, opened in early
Along with other brew pubs in the region, Scratch Beer
someday could be a stop along a “beer tour,” similar to existing wine tours in
the region and throughout the Midwest. After all, not everyone is a wine
The business is nestled deep in a Jackson County forest,
accessed only by county roads that wind through the foothills of the Ozarks. It
is remote, but so are numerous wineries that have found success among those
willing to go the extra mile for flavor and ambiance.
The partners use mostly established beer recipes from
Europe, but enhance them with indigenous flora.
“We are using recipes for traditional styles, then adding a
twist to it by the addition of certain ingredients or brewing over a fire,”
Future styles will incorporate locally grown hops and
barley. Others include beer brewed with branches from cedar trees.
“We put cedar branches on the bottom of our mash tank and
filtered the water through it,” Josephson said. “We put cedar branches in our
“We have a big garden here where we’re growing stuff that
we’re going to put in our beers. Also, we’re working with a lot of local
farmers. For instance, an organic farm near Cobden grows arugula. We got a bunch
of their roots. We’re roasting them and are going to put it in a beer.”
Last year, the partners began growing tomatoes as an
experiment. They planted 31 varieties.
“We’re going to put some tomatoes in a beer, if we can
figure out how to do that,” Josephson said.
The business took shape in casual conversations between the
“For me, it was a combination of starting to eat food that
was more local and then getting interested in making beer like that,” Josephson
“It’s not something you see all that often. My partners,
Aaron and Ryan, were also interested in something like this. When we met, we
started brewing home beers like that with different ingredients we were finding.
It became the focus of our brewery.”
They are starting very small, using a 1 ½-barrel system.
Their license allows only sale of draft beer, though customers may take their
favorite brews home in a purchased container, called a “growler,” or in one they
A vegetable garden has been planted on the property where
the partners are growing plants they may use in beer or food recipes. In
addition, they are working with farmers in the area to provide other
The brew pub has a rugged, rural look. One wall features a
mural that resembles the Piasa, a mythical Native American creature painted on a
cliff above the Mississippi River near Alton centuries ago.
The bar and other elements of the small building were
created partly with other historic castoffs, including a skylight made with the
ceiling of an elevator car. The cash register, from the early 20th century,
formerly adorned a hardware store in nearby Anna. The partners started on a
shoestring and are planning a slow expansion. They’re building a brick oven
where they will bake pizzas and other foods to go with the beer on tap.
The future also may include live music and other diversions
offered by wineries in the region.