Thomas Croskrey (left) and Dave Musser are the men behind Bellwether Brewing.
After building a business rooted in ancient times, Bellwether is celebrating some history of its own.
The North Monroe brewery, which specializes in Old World styles made with herbs and honey, has its first anniversary party Thursday through Saturday with beer releases, food, live music and the launch of a pint club.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised – not surprised, really, but blessed – by how well people have responded to our creativity and taking risks,” says co-owner Dave Musser, a community activist and pastor in the surrounding Emerson-Garfield neighborhood.
“(Partner) Thomas (Croskrey) has been so creative with the beers that he’s done, I think it’s inspired other people to say, hey, let’s do something different.”
Adds Croskrey, a history buff who started homebrewing four years ago and has turned it into a full-time job: “It’s something I learned specifically for this purpose. Now it actually looks like it’s going to work.”
Along with more familiar hefeweizens, pale ales, IPAs and stouts, the more than 100 beers Croskrey has cranked out so far include the likes of gruits – with herbs instead of hops – and braggots, a honeyed hybrid of beer and mead.
He’s particularly proud of his Kulning, an adventurous, Nordic-inspired gruit/braggot brewed with yarrow, juniper, flower honey, toasted oak and a bit of smoky peated malt.
“It was kind of a risk, but it’s done pretty well,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t like drinking my own beer because I’m there from beginning to end and it gets kind of predictable, but that’s one I’ll go and grab.”
This weekend’s festivities kick off Thursday – Bellwether’s actual anniversary – with the tapping of a year-old keg of Seawolf, a brown braggot brewed with flavorful buckwheat honey. “(The aging) really brought out the richness of the honey,” Croskrey says.
There also will be grilled burgers – $5 each, or $1 with a beer purchase – and homemade cupcakes baked by a friend using the brewery’s Barefoot ginger blonde and Brother by Choice stout.
And Bellwether will launch its pint club: For an annual $25 fee, you get a 19.2-ounce metal imperial pint glass that you can get filled for the price of a regular pint.
Friday’s beer release is Higgelstein, a cross between a traditional Oktoberfest and session IPA that had a sneak preview at last weekend’s Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival. It’s brewed with both German and American ale yeasts, German malts and fruity Jarrylo hops.
Live music will be provided starting at 7 by Renndition, a Coeur d’Alene fiddle/guitar combo.
Things wrap up Saturday with the 10th release in the ongoing Fibber McGee IPA series, this time an imperial version dry-hopped with Centennial.
For food, the 40 Below dessert shop makes a return visit starting at 1 p.m. with snow fluff both beer-infused – using Seawolf and the Second Breakfast hefeweizen – and nonalcoholic. That will be followed from 5 to 8 by the CRATE food truck and $4 pint specials on summer seasonals: Kulning, Barefoot and the dark-colored, light-bodied Halfdan the Mild.
Special events will continue throughout Bellwether’s second year, including more pint nights to benefit local nonprofits and a planned December brewer’s dinner featuring four spiced Belgian-style ales.
There will be more collaborations along the lines of a pair to be released in the near future: a roasted pumpkin porter with Young Buck Brewing, and a strong dark braggot with hand-picked green walnuts produced jointly with Green Bluff’s Hierophant Meadery.
There’s also talk of special 22-ounce bottle releases around Christmas, and eventually some limited distribution. That will depend on adding more tanks to Bellwether’s small 1.5-barrel brewing system.
“We’re going to grow slowly and organically,” Musser says. “We don’t want to get in over our heads.”
It’s all still an adventure, Croskrey adds: “We don’t feel like we necessarily know everything just because we have a year behind us. We have plans and goals, but it still kind of feels like we’re winging it.”