Monday, July 15, 2024
CitiesDestinationsFood & Drink

Tale of Two Queer-Owned Craft Breweries in Madison, Wisconsin

Queer-owned craft breweries Giant Jones Brewing Company and Delta Beer Labs create their unique beer styles while giving back to different communities, including their local community in Madison, Wisconsin.

Most people know Madison as the capital of Wisconsin as well as the home of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. But what you may not know is that the fairly liberal city has an LGBTQ+ community, where some congregate for a beer at popular watering holes, such as Shamrock Bar & Grill and Woof’s, a cozy bar that offers drink specials to patrons with tatts, shirtless bears, or customers donned in leather – depending on the day of the week.

Madison is also where I – usually a connoisseur of white wine and handcraft cocktails – found an appreciation for craft beer thanks in part to visiting local queer-owned craft brews created at Giant Jones Brewing Company and Delta Beer Lab. The owners at both breweries are similar in a mission to give back to the local community; however, their beer styles are different, providing beer lovers with uniquely flavored brews. 

Giant Jones Brewing Company

Jessica and Erika Jones – transwoman and queer woman respectively – are the owners of the only certified organic brewery in Wisconsin – Giant Jones Brewing Company. And since its opening in May of 2018, the small operation is entirely run by four enterprising women who do everything: brewing, bottling, distribution, sales, events, maintenance as well as handling all administrative details to operate the blossoming brewing business. 

Jessica and Erika Jones, Owners of Giant Jones Brewing Company (Photo Credit: Kwin Mosby)
Jessica and Erika Jones, owners of Giant Jones Brewing Company (Photo Credit: Kwin Mosby)

The couple has focused on big beers: 7% to 12% Alcohol by Volume (APV) because they find them “compelling to make” and they can also sell their organic beer at a reasonable price. 

Like the majority of the craft beer market, their Double International Pale Ale (Double IPA) sells at a steady pace throughout the year. However, there is one organic beer that excels during the spring and summer.  

“We sell lots of Pale Weizenbock – a big German-style wheat beer – that leads with notes of clove and banana from the yeast with soft bready malt and light acidity backing it up, plus it’s dry and effervescent,” said Jessica Jones. “It often outsells Double IPA in July!”

(Photo Credit: Giant Jones Brewing Company via Facebook)
(Photo Credit: Giant Jones Brewing Company via Facebook)

Giant Jones Brewing Company sells all of its beer styles in returnable bottles, which inspires patrons to return the bottles to the brewery for credit to purchase more beer. The bottle labels are peeled off, the bottles are washed, and then they are refilled with more beer. 

Looking ahead to the future, Jessica and Erika Jones hope to navigate the complex multi-player system of the brewing business to create modern beer styles using all locally-sourced ingredients instead of getting those ingredients from somewhere else. They know their dream goal is years down the road, but they also focused on brewing initiatives. 

“Right now, we are introducing a variety of historical Belgian styles to our lineup that use raw grains for a significant portion of the beer,” said Jessica. “Using raw grains makes for a variety of challenges in the brewing process and can take a significant amount of extra time to create flavor with them, but more resilient systems that are better for the world are always worth the effort in the early stages.”

(Photo Credit: Giant Jones Brewing Company via Facebook)
(Photo Credit: Giant Jones Brewing Company via Facebook)

One system that Giant Jones has been dedicated to over the past few years is giving back to the community on a local, national, and international level. They joined the Brew for Ukraine initiative this year to raise funds for Ukraine war relief efforts along with other breweries in the community. The company also supports women’s health and abortion rights organizations through a Cookie Grab fundraiser that they host as members of the Culinary Ladies Collective, a local group of women in the food and beverage industry. The fundraiser is an epic bake sale with more than 20 types of cookies created by local bakers, and it raises more than $34,000 each year.

In addition to those community causes, Giant Jones is one of several breweries across the country that participates in the Black is Beautiful initiative started by Weather Souls Brewing in San Antonio, Texas. All proceeds from the sale of the beer are donated locally to Freedom, Inc., which works on racial, gender, and queer justice for Black and Southeast Asian people in Madison. 

Black is Beautiful Initiative to support local community organizations
Black is Beautiful Initiative to support local community organizations

Delta Beer Lab

Located south of the Giant Jones Brewing Company, on the other side of Lake Monona (one of five lakes in the Madison area), Delta Beer Labs also participates in the Black is Beautiful initiative, donating more than $115,000 to local organizations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged, especially in the Black community.  Urban TriageDane County Humane SocietyMadison Reading ProjectDairyland SportsSustain Dane, and The Marigold Foundation are a few other organizations the brewery has supported this year. 

At queer-owned Delta Beer Lab, Tim “Pio” Piotrowski and Michelle “Speedy” Riehn believe their scientifically-focused beers in the region and their acumen to balance quality flavors and seasonally appropriate styles with consistency” is a major differentiator when compared to other breweries. But according to Piotrowski, that’s not the only thing that drives their business decisions. 

Tim Piotrowski and Michelle Riehn, Owners of Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)
Tim Piotrowski and Michelle Riehn, owners of Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)

“Delta Beer Lab filters all decisions through our mission – to expand the community through quality, local craft beer without barriers to gender, race, or sexual orientation,” he said. 

The owners also make sure their employees have a vested interest in the business, too. Piotrowski explains, “We pay our staff a living wage plus revenue sharing and don’t accept traditional tips. If our guests want to tip, we’ll accept those as a donation to our current non-profit partner, which rotates each month.”

So, what are the popular brews at Delta Beer Lab? The New England IPA is consistently their most popular beer style. It’s lower in bitterness than traditional IPAs and the hop character is juicy and often fruity. It’s also a favorite among non-beer drinkers.

What's on tap at the Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)
What’s on tap at the Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)
Delta Beer Labs (Photo Credit: Kwin Mosby)
Delta Beer Labs (Photo Credit: Kwin Mosby)

Seasonally, BLG.03 (Belgian-style Witbier) is the next best seller all summer, followed by LAG.02 (Oktoberfest) in the fall, BA-CO.01 (Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale) in the winter, and in the spring, they play around with a variety of unique styles. Experimenting has always been a long-time passion for Piotrowski.

“I have long been inspired by the methods of converting four simple ingredients – water, malted barley, hops, and yeast – into a diverse array of beers,” he said. “There are so many flavor and aroma combinations that can be crafted through the science of beer production. There really is something for everyone.”

Currently, the owners of Delta Beer Lab remain excited about their ongoing partnership with Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, creating the PAL.08 (Sal’s Pale Ale) to pair with some of the best pizzas made in Madison. 

The brewery stays pretty busy because it has space large enough to host private events – such as birthday parties, work functions, and fundraisers – in its taproom and brewery, and warehouse. But wait there’s more… Delta Beer Lab also regularly hosts Trivia Night on Wednesdays and Drag Queen Bingo with Kendra Banxs on the third Tuesday of every month. 

Piotrowski, Riehn, and the rest of the Delta Beer Lab crew are feverishly working with The Forward Festival, Wisconsin’s largest technology and entrepreneurship festival, to develop the Cucumber Mint Kölsch, a special beer coming out in mid-August. 

Michelle Riehn and Tim Piotrowski, Owners of Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)
Michelle Riehn and Tim Piotrowski, Owners of Delta Beer Lab (Photo Credit: Samantha Dutcher)

So, if you’re a craft beer connoisseur visiting Madison, Wisconsin, you should consider visiting queer-owned breweries Giant Jones Brewing Company and Delta Beer Labs! 

For more breweries to support, we recommend checking out our list of queer-owned breweries in the U.S.

Kwin Mosby

Kwin Mosby has 20+ years of editorial experience which has included working as the editor-in-chief for Vacationer Magazine, managing digital producer for Travel Channel, and content manager for Travel Leaders Group. He is also a freelance writer and his work has appeared in reputable print and digital publications, including Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, Tripadvisor, and others.

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