Point brewmaster gets the luck of the draw
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – “Being able to taste beer is great, but not so much at seven o’clock in the morning; because, you still get the toothpaste effect. No beer is going to taste good with that going on.” laughs Stevens Point Brewery Brewmaster Mike Schraufnagel.
Being from the “Home of Colby Cheese,” the Colby High School graduate was a natural fit to enter the cheese-making industry where he worked for 12 years, while working with home brew. He then found his way to the Point brewery.
“It was just very much happenstance. I was a home brewer for a very long time before I even worked at the brewery, and I’ve been at the brewery now for 15 years,” Schraufnagel recalled.
“And, I just got hired on as a relief operator; and so, I would just fill in for vacations and stuff like that. Through a series of events, I was also a brewing manager. And then, after that, our brewmaster quit; I was interim brewmaster. And then three months later, they said, ‘We’d like to keep you full time.’ And I’ve been doing that for four years now.
“Basically all of my learning has been practical and on the job… it’s just then the opportunity came to do it on a bigger scale.
“Yeah, that was that was exciting.”
The Brewmaster’s Day
Schraufnagel said that there are a lot of day-to-day duties, while it is also about looking at the big picture.
“The day starts out, and I usually have gone before the last beer has been being brewed; so, I’ll go ahead and I’ll look at all the analytics. (I’ll) see if anything looks wonky with the numbers because they record data throughout their brews, I’ll just do a walk around, looking at the tanks – anything seem strange. And I’ll get back to my office, make sure I have everybody, all of the people are in the right places and they all have something to do, we’ve got the proper yeast, there’s enough malt for the next day’s brews,” he explained.
“So, we have an innovation team, and it involves sales, it involves ownership, marketing, and myself. And you know, they’re out in the field; so, they kind of see what’s going on. And they say, ‘Well, can we do this? Can we do that? What would it take to do this?’ And, we determine whether it’s something that we can do or can’t do. And usually the answer for me is we try everything. And probably, of 20 things that we brew in our pilot system, which small four barrel system, maybe one of those 20 will make it into the lineup at some point. So, we try a lot of things.
“Right now, looking at a new product line for cider, looking at seasonals for cider for summer, seasonals for the Whole Hog beer for next summer, and another seasonal for Point brand for next summer, and also another soda flavor.
But, no job is without its challenges. Schraufnagel said that the industry is in the middle of a few poor crop years, and getting inventory can be difficult on a typical basis.
“I think staying ahead of the demand for the beer and the cider, keeping your head on raw materials – those are those are two things that without the right information you can get behind on (and) nowadays to get raw materials in if you’re not looking at least six weeks down the road and you’ve missed something, you’re just not going to have that when you need it. It’s going to be late. So, I would say forecasting what you’re going to do, probably two months from now is difficult,” Schraufnagel stated.
It’s in the water
Schraufnagel said that the brewery is fortunate to be part of the Stevens Point community for several reasons.
“First of all, it’s a great community. And like I say, we’ve been serving this community since 1857. So, that’s 165 years. And they’re our core customers, and it’s always community first. The brewery never really would have expanded its reach as far as distribution, if it knew it was going to impact being able to serve the local economy. So first and foremost, we’re going to serve the community,” he said.
“We look back at this place and how old it is; we actually provided beer for the Union troops in the Civil War.”
But, it’s not just the community’s support, but its resources that help it thrive.
“A very important thing if you’re making beer, and a lot of people forget about, they think about the ingredients like malt, hops, yeast. I think what’s really underrated is water. We have really good water here. And if we didn’t, it would take all kinds of treatment to make the beer that we make. So, we’re blessed with great water, and we’re even probably going to add a filtration system within the next six months just to try to make it even better. And it’s, it’s not that big of an investment, but water is so important and a lot of people they never think about that,” Schraufnagel explained.
“You can get good water anywhere with the right treatment, whether it’s filtration to kind of get rid of the chloramines and the fluoride and some of the things that the city adds. You can go to reverse osmosis, which is a very pricey system. I mean, with that you can you can clean up water just spectacularly, and you can move anywhere in the world with that, but like I say, for us, it’s basically kind of turn on the fauce, and we’ve got water. We’re lucky.
“I think we’re just in a good a good spot that wins. There were several breweries in town; you know, pre-prohibition. I think a lot of started just because you can make good beer in this area with the water.”