beer from scratch brewing in ava, illinois photo by carmen troesser

Scratch Brewing Co. looks to the future with new Bulrush partnership, retail in Missouri and more

One might think that the ultra-remote Scratch Brewing Co., located in a farmhouse near the Shawnee National Forest in Ava, Illinois, would have been among the institutions least affected by the pandemic. But though they’ve remained open, they’ve been subject to the Illinois mitigation guidelines like anybody else in their region, meaning they’ve had to deal with constantly changing standards related to service, hours and indoor drinking. Their kitchen is currently not serving food, and they aren’t doing their normal beer flights. But they’ve got plenty up their sleeve to help them get through the winter, including a new partnership with Rob Connoley’s Midtown restaurant Bulrush and plans to distribute their beer in St. Louis and beyond.

“We reopened in June, and we’ve been open outside only and for beer only,” said co-owner Marika Josephson. “They allowed indoor seating up until a couple weeks ago. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen this winter regarding indoor seating in Illinois.” For now, the beer garden is open Friday through Sunday, and she anticipates they’ll stay open at least one day a week for outdoor drinking, adding that the space is comfortable and safe for socially distant hanging as the weather gets colder. “It’s nice and warm, and it’s good beer-drinking weather,” she said. 

But as dining out looks to become even more precarious, the James Beard Award-nominated brewery has searched for new ways to share their beer. “We have been talking for ages about going into St. Louis, or generally going to Missouri. Every year we have the same conversation: ‘Is this the year? Is this the year?’” Josephson explained. This year, they finally decided it was time. Most of the beer they release will be distributed for limited retail through Craft Republic and will be sold locally at stores like BeerSauce Shop, Craft Beer Cellar, Dogwood Wine & Spirits, Fields Foods, Gezellig, Parker's Table, Randall's Wine & Spirits, the Wine & Cheese Place and more. The beer will also hit a few Missouri retailers outside of St. Louis.

“It was definitely a little bit of a Covid pivot,” Josephson explained. “St. Louisans have been some of our biggest supporters ever – since before we opened. We wanted to share the love.”  

One of Scratch’s main campaigns at the moment is a partnership with Bulrush, a fine dining restaurant that focuses on foraged components and Ozark-inspired cuisine. “We’ve been excited to do something with [Connoley] for a really long time,” Josephson said, pointing out that the two institutions share a similar approach to food and drink. There, Connoley will keep one of his two taps running with Scratch beer, and hopes to incorporate it in the future into his tasting menu pairings. “We’re getting kegs and bottles, and that’s going to be standard moving forward,” Connoley said. “They’re epic around foraging and sustainability.”  

The partnership officially launches next Thursday, Nov. 19, as Bulrush and Scratch offer a ticketed dinner including one glass of Scratch beer – likely a barrel-aged plum beer – and a boxed dinner from the restaurant. Connoley said they’ll offer three seatings of around 20 people each, and when customers order their tickets online, they’ll have the option to add retail beers from Scratch; the options there are the barrel-aged Mumm, a sour black beer brewed without hops and flavored with lavender, mint, sage, basil and lemon thyme, and a barrel-aged Cedar Oak farmhouse ale brewed over a wood fire and fermented with Scratch’s wild house culture. Also available is their Dandelion Ginger Tonic flavored with dandelion, ginger and carrot tops. Tickets are available on Bulrush’s website. “We’re so perfectly suited for each other,” Connoley added about the partnership. “We bought as many bottles as they would allow us."

This event seems to be only a preview of what Scratch and Bulrush will do together. “I anticipate in the future ... that we would probably have some very special beers that we have created here that don’t see a lot of distribution because they're very small batch,” Josephson said.  

Beyond Bulrush, Scratch has other potential relationships in the works. “Kitchen Kulture has been a really, really close friend of ours,” Josephson explained. “I know that they are working on opening up a breakfast joint [Songbird]. We’ve talked to them about possibly partnering in the future.” She added that they’ve also discussed doing something with Vicia.  

St. Louis lovers of Scratch beer should move quickly to track down brews because the winter is likely to bring new safety guidelines and distribution challenges. “With this winter being kind of uncertain, with a resurgence of cases, the state [of Illinois] has gone back a couple of mitigation steps. We’re anticipating more of that this winter, and possibly that we’ll have to be shut down entirely. To be honest, I don’t know when we’ll send another shipment out.” But for now, fans of the brewery can check out the Bulrush, keep an eye out for retail in beer shops, and, most importantly, take the time to visit Scratch Brewing Co.