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  • Writer's picturePaige Latham Didora

post-game at thirsty pagan

Well, it is true. The Bitches Brew Crew closed down the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest. In fact, I got yelled at by a security officer, which doesn’t often happen. That’s the sure sign of a good time, people!

Pagan Gitchee

This means that, inevitably, we were “those people” – taking up space at the booth just to put the brewer on the spot. Well, that isn’t entirely true. It was benevolent curiosity and genuine interest (and we got out of everyone’s way).

Head brewer Allyson Rolph was appointed her position at Thirsty Pagan in November of 2012. The brewpub, in need of a serious revival, has been a Superior staple since the 90’s and was purchased by new owners in 2006.

Thirsty Pagan dining

Allyson, who is certified and ranked through the Beer Judge Certification Program and is a Cicerone-certified beer server, is one of only two female head brewers in Wisconsin. (source: Duluth New Tribune)

But all those acronyms and titles don’t capture what Allyson has truly given to the brewing community.

We asked her, in the middle of thousands of people, about how her sour was developed and she was more than willing – enthusiastic, actually – to share with us. She described a painstaking process of trial and error, explaining that she explores the fruit trees of her own (and her neighbors’) back yards, placing specimens into wort to see what develops.

“Not everything works out”, she explains. Referring to an experiment with cherry trees, she says, “two out of my three attempts were decent, drinkable. And I developed them. The third was extremely phenolic.”

Yeah, well, two outta three ain’t bad, I’m told.

T Pagan pizza

In fact, I don’t think I have ever been so struck by a sense of homegrown, authentic pride and support of any restaurant in my life.

Some folks who were pouring at the festival came over to our table to check in, suggesting that we stick around and see the brewhouse, and they were incredibly genuine.

I can't explain how much I love this photo. I didn't pay enough attention when I took it.

I can’t explain how much I love this photo. I didn’t pay enough attention when I took it.

After we wrapped up our flight which was full of some fantastic beer, including the Spring Thaw Stout, brewed in Parti-gyle fashion, we met up with Allyson who drew us across the sacred threshold, into her space.

TP tour 2

Allyson and her assistant/intern Jared showed us through the stainless steel, answering many of our questions and allowing us to explore (even to touch things we shouldn’t…Shari).

All the improvements that this generation of Thirsty Pagan owners, brewers, and employees has made are incredible. The old, tiny, system is now used for test batches, and although the place still feels like the best parts of a laboratory, the whole operation is much more streamlined, allowing for Allyson to meet the restaurant’s demands more efficiently.

Thirsty Pagan barrel room

Thirsty Pagan takes a fairly laissez-faire approach to barrel aging and souring. The brewers often use partially-filled kegs or leftover beer from events as a canvas for harvested yeast. They store the beer in barrels, pins, or firkins and simply see what happens.

TP tour 1

All of my thanks to Allyson, Jared, and the Thirsty Pagan for allowing us to sort of run wild inside the brewery. Thanks for answering all of our questions and for sharing your passion. Keep brewing fantastic beer!


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