Interbrew: Growing a Brewery from Midwestern Roots with Shane Welch of Sixpoint Brewery

Editor’s Note: …and we’re back! Thanks for your patience during our prolonged intermission, we are ready to begin publishing once again and bring you the good word on Midwestern craft beer and culture. This project has been a fun, albeit daunting one for two craft beer lovers with full-time jobs, but with your support it has made it all worth it. We can’t thank you enough for being a part of the MwBC and we look forward to what the future holds! To reward your patience we are proud to bring you a brand new Interbrew with the founder of Sixpoint Brewery, Shane Welch! Cheers and remember–there’s still more to be explored.

How did you get started brewing?

I started brewing on my stove top when I was 19 years old and in college at the University of Wisconsin.  I actually purchased my homebrew kit from the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street.

What was your first homebrew? How did it turn out?

It was a hoppy Brown Ale.  It turned out quite well as I remember it, but that was probably my biased “made-it-myself” perspective.  I’m sure if I tasted it nowadays I’d find dozens of flaws in it.

Word on the street is that you are a Badger. Where is your favorite place in Madison?

I am a Badger indeed.  I have many favorite places – each one of them contributes to the eccentric patchwork and culture of Madison, which is an entirely unique city.  Some of these places are iconic, whereas others are a bit under the radar.  For a place to have a beer when the weather is nice, it is hard to top the Terrace at Memorial Union.  For a place to throw the Frisbee on a sunny day I still go to James Madison Park.  For awesome vegetarian food served by righteous folks, it is hard to beat Himal Chuli.  There are tons of great dive bars in Madison, but I usually like to venture off the beaten path a bit.  The Willy Street neighborhood has several great places, like Mickey’s Tavern, Crystal Corner, etc.  And of course I love the ‘Bou as well.  If you know what I mean when I say ‘Bou then you are definitely down with a cool spot.  There are really so many great places – downtown, west side, east Johnson street, Monroe Street, Schenck-Atwood – too many to name.  It’s just a great city.

I read that you worked under Dean Coffey, now of Ale Asylum, at the old Angelic. Tell us about that.

One of the best experiences of my life actually.  Whenever I look back upon those days, I look back with a lot of positivity as it was a time of learning, exploration, and breaking new ground – and all of this was influenced by Dean’s mentorship.  Keep in mind when I worked for Dean, I was 20-23 years old.  So I was an adult at the time, but definitely still impressionable and not nearly as enlightened as I probably thought I was.  Dean’s path to making beer as his livelihood is a great story, and his passion for great beer is clearly evident in the brews he creates.  When I was working with him, we did talk about beer frequently, but we also spent a lot of time philosophizing about music, politics, literature, anarchy, film, food, and having a rip-roaring good time.

I think beer was our destiny, and it was great to see our paths converge for a period of time.  In that sense, I think beer brought us together, and I hope it keeps us together too.

What would you say is the biggest lesson you took away from Dean?

Follow your passion, listen to your heart, and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in – even in the face of ridicule, torment, and persecution.

What do you think it means to be a brewer, especially one trained in a distinctly Midwestern tradition, on the East Coast?

I’d like to believe that Midwestern brewers, and all Midwestern manufacturers for that matter, have a reputation for solid engineering, quality, and craftsmanship.  Also, Midwesterners are supposed to be polite and courteous.  So if I am sharing those qualities with folks out East, I’d say that is a solid and well-needed contribution!

What’s your take on the East Coast craft brewing scene and what changes have you seen since you opened Sixpoint eight years ago?

Well, the “East Coast” is really too large of a classification, because Florida is as much of an East Coast state as Maine is.  Similarly, San Diego and Seattle are both West Coast cities, but they have drastically different beer cultures.

That being said, New England is home to some of the oldest craft breweries in the country, but when I arrived on the scene in 2004, they were not making the types of brews you’d commonly see on the West Coast or in the Midwest, with a few exceptions of course.  Things have changed drastically since then.  You see a lot more daring and bold beers, and ones made with more aggressive flavors.  Palates have woken up.

Clearly, we at the MwBC think the Midwest has some really great beer, but we’re curious: how are Midwestern beers and breweries received on the East Coast?

Well, in the beer community, they are received very well.  They may not have the sales figures to back it up, but among the beer heads, many of them are some of the most highly esteemed breweries out there.

How much beer are you producing each year?

We are growing each year, but this year we will make around 35,000 barrels.

What was the biggest challenge in opening your own brewery?

Too many to name!  Probably the biggest nagging and ongoing problem was our constant state of destitute hustling, and hemorrhaging cash flows.

What beer are you most proud of from your time at Sixpoint?

All of them, but I have a special spot in my heart for the Beer For Beasts beers, because of the disproportionate positive effect they have.

Any interesting new recipes you are working on that you could tell us about?

We have some epic stuff in the pipeline.  I wish I could share it with you, but I cannot at this time.  You’ll have to follow us for updates…this is a beer we’ve been working on for over a year, and it’s still probably 9 months from being released…

We also are finishing up an imminent release – a type of beer that has never been done before, in a can.  It’s called the Apollo and it is brewed like a true Bavarian Wheat beer – but with a twist.  I can’t wait to share that one with people.

What is it about beer that means so much to us as a society?

Society is an interesting phenomenon.  It brings us together in cities, but then makes us uptight, focused, and stressed out due to the competition and scrambling to get things done.  I think beer breaks down barriers in this sense.  Sharing a beer with someone and loosening up a bit is a great way to really just break the ice and swap stories, laughs, and thoughts.  It truly is a social elixir.  On a deeper level, one could say that beer actually is what created society, for people first started settling in cities when agriculture was invented.  And since the first crops that were grown were cereal grains and they were used for fermented beverages, you could say beer is the cornerstone of our civilization.  Or you could simply say it the way we say it, “Beer is Culture.”

What are your other passions in life? Do they influence your brewing?

I am very passionate about many things, but recently I have been most passionate about creating long-lasting and meaningful relationships with those people closest to me.

Favorite beer and food pairing?

Nothing can top the selfless, delicious home-cooked meals that Cathy prepares on a routine basis with a fresh growler from the brewery.

What are you reading right now?

I have three books in process.  I am finishing up Autobiography of a Yogi and this is the third time I’ve read it.  I’m halfway through Dethroning the King and it is fascinating.  And I just started The Wind-up Bird Chronicles because I needed some good fiction for balance.

What are you listening to right now?

Honestly, I am listening to the soft hum of a 747 Jet as I’m en route to Munich, Germany.  The woman next to me is trying to sleep.  But if you are asking to what I’ve been listening to lately at home, I collect vinyl and recently I have been listening to some great old Woody Guthrie albums I scored.  I also have been listening to some classic surf albums too.  The clang and reverb from the guitar sounds from those albums are indelible, and for some reason, goes really well with a nice IPA too.

Since this Interbrew was conducted Sixpoint founder, Shane Welch, and brewmaster, Jan Matysiak, have returned from a trip to Bavaria and released their much-anticipated summer ale, Apollo. Follow their journey and find out where to pick up a pack of Sixpoint’s brews by visiting their website.

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