Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beer Run: The Cellar In Fond du Lac

The Cellar door 109 N. Main St.
There’s a burgeoning homebrew scene in Fond du Lac and its epicenter is The Cellar, Dave Koepke's beer brewing and wine making supply shop. The Cellar shares a downtown building with an aquarium shop so when you first walk in you might think you went through the wrong door. What’s with all the bubbling tanks and fish? Just keep walking. Soon you’ll begin to smell the malt and you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Malt truly is the first thing you notice about the place. That wonderful smell is coming from the bags of grain stacked on carts and the rows of grain buckets shelved along the length of the store. “I stock 60 different types of grain,” Dave says. It’s not just a pound of this and a pound of that, either. He’s got it in bulk and his prices might be the best of any homebrew shop in Wisconsin. He says, “I try to make it as affordable as I can.”

The other thing you’ll soon notice about The Cellar is the owner’s enthusiasm for what he’s doing. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than teaching people to brew beer," Dave says. "It’s not just brewing, but the philosophy of brewing, as well.” You can see that in the way he deals with his customers. When I was there last Saturday I saw him working with a couple new brewers. One looked to be in his mid-20s, the other was pushing 70. Each came in with simple questions and each walked away knowing a whole lot more about beer and brewing than when he’d walked in. Later on Dave said, “I guess if you're a beer lover then we can talk all day long.”

He’s got plenty to talk about. Dave has had his hand in just about every aspect of the beer trade. He’s been a bar owner, worked for a liquor distributor and is a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s Diploma Course in Brewing. But he first fell in love with good beer during a backpacking trip through Europe. There he drank Czech Lagers and English Ales and in Amsterdam had a Belgian Whit that sealed his fate. When he got back home he immediately started brewing. His initial brews were, if nothing else, memorable. “The first two batches were terrible,” he says. The third was even more interesting. He smashed a carboy and had an exploding fermentation “but it ended up tasting awesome!” As so often happens, he was hooked.

Dave got into the homebrewing business in 1997 when he opened Valley Homebrew Supply, Fond du Lac’s first store for homebrewers. The store went under when the business it was attached to closed its doors. So what does a homebrewer do when he loses his job and winds up with a load of grain he can’t sell? He starts brewing, of course. Within six months he had brewed a hundred gallons of beer. He brewed everything - Lagers, Belgian Whits, Pale Ales and, one of his favorites, Vanilla Stout.

Dave Koepke at work
Dave’s hoping he’ll have a longer run with The Cellar. The store is still young, it opened just last May and it’s off to a great start. “I’ve tried to take all the things I don’t like about homebrew shops and do them differently,” he says. Eventually, Dave would like to see the shop develop into a brewery, but for now he’s focused on the immediate future. Within a year or two he expects to relocate and he's hoping to keep the shop in downtown Fond du Lac. And then there’s the new homebrew club he’s helping to get started. The club, which doesn’t have an official name yet, is going to have its kick-off gathering on Big Brew day, May 1st at the Denevue Shelter in Fond du Lac's Lakeside Park. “We’re just going to get together and see who turns out and have a good time.” That seems to be the re-occurring theme that runs through all of Dave’s endeavors. As he says, “I’m 15 years in and still having fun with it.”

For more information on The Cellar and to check out their incredible prices on malt visit the store’s website

For more information on the new Fond du Lac beer and wine making club visit their Facebook page.

And finally, what's the point of talking about homebrewing without a recipe or two. Here’s Dave’s recipe for his Vanilla Stout. He’s been good enough to supply both the extract and all-grain version. Enjoy.

Dave's Vanilla Stout - All Grain

11 gallons
SG 1.052
SRM 47
IBU'S 19.5

  • 13 lbs. 2-row
  • 4 lbs. Cara-pils
  • 3 lbs. Chocolate Malt
  • 1 lbs. Roasted Barley
  • 1 lbs. Wheat
  • .25 lbs. De-bittered Black Malt
  •  1 oz Northern Brewer 8.0% alpha acid @ 90 mins.
Add 1 or 2 vanilla beans in secondary for 1 month or put them in the keg - your choice.

Dave's Vanilla Stout - Extract

5 gallons
SG 1.052
SRM 65
IBU'S 18

  • 6.6 lbs. Briess Dark LME
  • 1 lbs. Briess Pilsen DME
Steeping Grains
  • 1.5 lbs. Chocolate Malt
  • 2 lbs. cara-pils
  • .5 lbs. roasted barley
  • .5 lbs. wheat
  • .25 De-bittered Black Malt
  • .5 oz Northernbrewer 8.0% alpha acid @ 60 min
  • Add 1 or 2 vanilla beans in secondary for 1 month or put them in the keg - your choice.

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