Episode One

Artists and Craftsmen of the Great River Road – Pearl Street Brewery

Joe Katchever, the Brewmaster at Pearl Street Brewery La Crosse, WI, talks about the art of a perfectly crafted beer, seeing the artistry in everything, and living the brew life.

Read the Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: In this episode were talking with Joe Katchever from La Crosse’s own Pearl Street Brewery, 20 years in business. So Joe, did you picture the success of Pearl Street Brewery 20 years ago?

Joe: I really had no idea what was going to happen with Pearl Street Brewery.  I was going through my life and brewing beer and having a good time and not really thinking about the next year or the year after. Just you know, rolling along.

Interviewer: Craft beer has kinda jumped ahead of domestic beers nowadays, if you know I’m saying, and everybody kinda wants to have the next best flavor.   They want to try the next new thing and Pearl Street’s been doing that for the last 20 years.  Its liquid art, wouldn’t you agree?

Joe:  That’s what I look at craft beer as, this is the intersection between art and science.  Artistry is everywhere and people look at art as this thing that you hang on the wall and everyone stands around and looks at it.  I see artistry in everything, I see artistry in an electrician, who perfectly bends this conduit so its exactly 90° and who does his job in a perfectionist way.   That he’s proud of, that artistry.

Interviewer: Joe, are you an artist? 

Joe: I am definitely an artist.

Interviewer:  And what’s your canvas?

Joe:  My canvas is inside of a keg, or inside of a beer bottle.  When I’m designing a beer I start with a vision of what I want something to look like, and work my way backwards from there.   Trying to create it, trying to figure out how to make that happen.  Then you start making it.

Interviewer: What are the basic types of beer?

Joe:  Beer is fermented grain.  Fermented fruit is called wine.  Fermented grain, or any any starchy material, is beer.  Really, I mean they’ve been making beer for millenniums and beers essentially can be defined as an alcoholic beverage that was made with fermented starches. Beer itself can be divided into two major categories, of course with a big gray area in between them, but those categories are ales and lagers.  Ales are also known as top fermented beers.  They are brewed at a higher temperature, where as a lagers are a yeast species that thrive at lower temperatures. So lager beers are fermented cold.

Interviewer:  Does Pearl Street make one or the other or both?

Joe:  Pearl Street makes both.

Interviewer:  Let’s talk about one of Pearl Street Brewery’s pale ales. The Linalool.  How did you develop the flavor profile for that beer.

Joe:  So there is a guy who also happens to be a horticulturalist and a professor at UW Madison, who’s also a home brewer and he discovered these wild hops growing on his land; and as a home brewer, of course he picked some and made some beer.  And discovered they were pretty good, made some pretty good beer.   So him and his family transplanted the hops closer to the house and they started growing them in rows and cultivating and propagating these hops so they would have more.   And once they got a few rows of them, they brought me some of those hops here and we brewed some beer with them, and lo and behold they made some really delicious beer.   So that beer turned into Linalool.   And the reason we chose Linalool as the name is linalool itself is an aromatic compound that’s found in hops and commercial hops have linalool in them, as do wild hops.   And these wild hops had almost 2 1/2 times more linalool than a commercial variety of the highest commercial variety of linalool content.  So they were just over the charts and in their linalool content.   So they named them Northern Discovery hops and we’ve been using those hops exclusively in Linalool ever since. 

Interviewer:  So, do you have exclusive rights on those hops? Nobody else in the world could use them?  is that correct?

Joe:  Yeah, that is correct.  Linalool is the only beer that we brewed with those hops anymore because there’s not enough of them really to brew anything else.

Interviewer: Let’s talk a little about Shitty Lyte.  Why the name Shitty Lyte?

Joe: Well, it’s kind of a joke. We, as you can imagine, do a lot of brew fests.  We go, we set up, we have all of our beers that we’re proud of and we put them before people and they come and they sample all day. I’m sure you’ve been to many brew fests.  Brewers like me have gone to hundreds of brewed fests over the years, and it never fails.  At some point in time somebody comes up and says what do you have that light.   And honestly it happens all the time, and I have to think to myself, if you like light beer why are you at a brew fest?  So what do we have that’s light?  I always said, sorry we don’t make shitty light beer.  Then I would point over to one of my brewer buddies across the park, and say, but that guy I think he does.   And so they would go over to him and ask for something light and he’d laugh and send them over to some other brewer. You know, because it is kind of a joke.  But now I can say, yep we got Shitty Lyte beer. Actually, the reaction that we got with that is really positive.  Shitty Lyte beer really can fill the void of people that do want light beer and they find themselves at a taproom, whether or not they wanted to be there. Perhaps they were there because they came with a group of people that went to a conference, or because there was a reception of some kind.  They don’t really drink darker, heavier, or higher alcohol beers. We brewed that beer basically for them. For those people that find themselves at a taproom.

Interviewer:  How does somebody find Pearl Street brewery Joe?

Joe:  Pearl Street brewery is at 1401 Saint Andrew St. on La Cross’s Northside.  Phone number here is 608-784-4832 and our website is