Sara Hoechst had already been impressed with her patrons’ dedication to drinking beer at the 4-month-old Fitchburg location of Hop Haus Brewing this month.
Then, someone brought a personal propane heater to cozy up the outdoor patio.
“We’ve got a firepit out there, and most days there’s people sitting out there by the firepit having beers. They’ve been incredibly resilient,” Hoechst said. “People are just making it work. We’re really grateful for that kind of fighting spirit that people have right now.”
Hoechst and her husband, Hop Haus brewmaster Phil Hoechst, opened the Fitchburg brewery, complete with a full kitchen, 15-barrel brewhouse and canning line, on Sept. 1 as a supplement to the small Verona taproom that opened in 2015.
The heavy investment in open-air amenities — planned long before any notion of a pandemic — paid off immediately. Beers were poured for customers on the rooftop and ground level patios and expansive lawn, and the garage-style doors opened up to bring the outdoors into the indoor taproom as well.
The cold weather of December and January has deterred some of those drinkers and diners, but not as many as Hoechst expected.
“There’s a huge segment of people that are really trying to really shop local, keeping that front of mind,” she said. “To see that people are making such an effort to support where they can and when they can, it’s just so heartwarming. … You just can’t appreciate it enough.”
The packaging capabilities of the new brewery have been key, allowing Hop Haus to bring in house production of the six-packs of beers like Magic Dragon double IPA, Plaid Panther scotch ale and Sweet Sunglasses blonde ale. Such beers had been made and bottled or canned at Octopi Brewing in Waunakee since 2017.
With bigger batches at Fitchburg, the original Verona Hop Haus is now Phil Hoechst’s “Innovation Station” where one-offs and experiments take form. (Sara Hoechst is stoked about Hop Haus’ first sour, coming soon.) A one-off that’ll be graduating to the big system in Fitchburg this year is Castaway, a lager infused with lime that was such a hit on draft last summer that it’ll be canned when the weather befits a lime lager.
And Fitchburg also has brought Hop Haus’ fun Recreational Chemistry IPA series to a wider audience. Since 2018, Phil Hoechst has rotated hops on a mostly consistent juicy/hazy IPA base to showcase the wide range of flavor and aroma profiles that can be found in the many, many hop varieties available to brewers.
Recreational Chemistry had been mostly draft-only, with a small amount of large-format bottles available mainly at the brewery. With the new place, the Hoechsts moved the series to four-packs of 16-ounce cans, which has become the preferred package of the hazy IPA.
If you didn’t know this a year ago, you surely know it now. Hazy IPA options here have exploded in the past year-plus, to the point that I stare at the shelves in the cooler and really have no idea what I’m looking at. The pandemic has caused many breweries — including many hype-ey ones I wouldn’t have dreamed would ever distribute here — to redirect production from draft beer to cans for far-flung markets. These are New York’s Other Half and Barrier, Illinois’ Phase Three, Virginia’s Aslin, Minnesota’s Modist.
Many of these tallboys have sophisticated, abstract labels that, conveniently enough for Hop Haus, resemble the visual and beer palette it had already adopted for Recreational Chemistry. The market for this kind of beer has kind of developed around it.
“The whole hazy explosion that’s happened in Wisconsin, specifically in the past 18-24 months, has really worked out so well for that,” Sara Hoechst said.
While it’s hard to say Recreational Chemistry matches the output of some of the country’s best hazesmiths, it’s no slouch. Let’s dive into the most recent hoppy iteration to come out of the Haus.
Style: Hazy IPA
Brewed by: Hop Haus Brewing, 2975 Sub-Zero Parkway, Fitchburg; and 231 S. Main St., Verona
What it’s like: The Brewing Projekt’s usually excellent Dare Mighty Things is another rotating-hop concept in a hazy IPA, although Recreational Chemistry is beefier and a bit more restrained in its embrace of the hazy arts. DMT is lighter in color, is quite a bit hazier and has a fuller, softer mouthfeel.
Where, how much: The current Recreational Chemistry — featuring Mosaic, Amarilo and Idaho 7 hops — was canned on Dec. 8 and arrived at retail in late December, so supplies may begin running thin soon. (It’s still drinking plenty well at six weeks old; with hoppy beers, always check dates on the bottom of cans.) The colors in the label change slightly for each new version of Recreational Chemistry, and the featured hops are clearly marked on the label. Four-packs of the handsome tallboy cans are around $13 — a very competitive price in the hop-haze market.
Booze factor: While Recreational Chemistry occasionally veers into double IPA territory — the last version was 8% — this version is 7% ABV, which is still on the high side end of IPA’s range.
Up close: Recreational Chemistry pours a hazy amber, and this version’s hop cocktail delivers an intense aroma of a tropical fruit bowl — sweet mandarin orange, ripe mango, pineapple — and a hint of pine in its deepest recesses.
The flavor more or less follows that juicy blueprint, with a little snap of bitterness and a sizzle of Mosaic’s signature dank note on the finish. That mostly tidy finish and the medium body helps make this beer a pretty easy drinker despite its ABV.
Hint: Slow down and let the second half of your pour warm up in the glass and you’ll be rewarded with more hop complexity. This chemistry is recreational, after all.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of 5)