HOT SPRINGS – It’s all about the water… Hot Springs water that is.
In addition to Hot Springs’ waters' healing properties, tourist appeal (Evans Plunge) and providing the city's 3,500 residents with plenty of drinking, bathing, clothes washing and growing water, Hot Springs' water is also good for beer-making, according to two local brewers.
Both are hoping that one day Hot
Springs will develop into a beer-brewing hub, much like Fort Collins, Colo.
Since April of 2015, when the restaurant received its South Dakota malt beverage brewing license, Woolly’s Grill and Cellar has been offering micro-brewed beers.
Woolly’s brewmeister Barry Black said the chemistry of the water in Hot Springs is excellent beer-making water, much like the waters of Burton, England, along the Trent River.
Burton, best known as the home of the Bass brewery, once accounted for a quarter of all beer production in England. By 1877, Bass was the largest brewery in the world, and Bass Pale Ale was exported throughout the British empire.
The secret was the minerals in the water, which brought out the flavor of the hops, creating a unique taste.
Black -- a former builder of tall ships on the east and west coasts, said he was like the sailor who puts an oar over his shoulder and heads inland looking for a place to call home. For Black, home became Hot Springs, after sojourns in California, Washington state and Colorado.
He was doing some home brewing when he crossed trails with Phil and Vicki Wetzel, owners of Woolly’s, who were looking for something unique and localized to complement their focus on fresh, local foods.
“I knew the water was magical,” Phil Wetzel said, noting the healing properties associated with Hot Springs water by both native peoples and pioneers who settled the town. “And that lead to a water analysis.”
What they discovered was water very similar to Burton’s.
The Wetzels and Black began with some micro-brewing experiments, first producing Woolly’s Western Ale, a light pale ale, “not a lager,” said Black.
Pale ales hark back to the early 18th century, when brewers began using malts dried with coke coal, rather than wood-fired drying. This process resulted in more temperature control for brewers, Black said, and a more consistent beer product.
India pale ales (IPA) were created when seagoing Brits exported their pale ale beer to India, a three month sea voyage. To keep the pale ale more stable for this journey, additional hops were added to the kegs of beer sent to India, resulting in a new somewhat more bitter taste to the beer. Soldiers came to prefer this over time, and the result was demand for the production of IPAs.
Woolly’s, via Black, came to develop an IPA, Cold Brook IPA, and later a stout, Black Buffalo Stout, as well.
Stouts – a generic term for the strongest (or stoutest) porter-type beers, typically 7 – 8 percent alcohol where most other beers are 4 – 5 percent – are dark beers made using roasted malt or barley, hops, water and yeast. Stout beers come in several varieties, the most common a dry stout, like Guinness.
It takes about two weeks to brew up a batch of pale ale, Black said. Other beers may take longer or less time.
The focus of Woolly’s microbrewing efforts this year is to simply make enough beer to meet customer demand, Black and Phil Wetzel said.
“No one likes dry lines,” Vicki Wetzel said.
Woolly’s is still cooking up individual batches of beers in kitchen pots, although some bigger equipment may be in the offing. The focus is quality, not quantity, Black said. He gauges the quality of the beers by the number of customers who buy a pint, after trying a free sample.
Next year's plans include bringing back the jalapeno beer, which, when mixed with tomato juice turns red. That was a big hit in the restaurant, Wetzel said.
For now, Woolly's brews are a niche thing, Phil Wetzel said.
It's a different story for Highway 79 brewery and restaurant, where owner Jeremiah Simunek decided to go big -- really big.
The idea was a "wild hair," Simunek said explaining how he and his wife Britni were discussing what they should do with all the extra space built into their restaurant.
Their home brewed Beach Ball Kolsch – a beer Simunek and fellow brewmaster Ron Logue described as “a clean, crisp, easy-drinking, light and refreshing beer, with a slight apple and pear aroma” – has been a big hit since Highway 79 opened in 2016.
In fact, Highway 79's 217- gallon fermentation tank can't keep up with the demand for Beach Ball, Simunek said.
Which is why he and his wife got a brewing liquor license -- instead of just a license to serve liquor.
In April, the Simuneks, with the help of Logue and fellow brewmaster James Dolan, began construction of a large scale brewery along Cascade Road. The brewery, complete with several 50-barrel tanks and bottling system that can fill, cap and label up to 6,000 bottles per hour, will allow them to produce beer on a large scale, and selling it throughout the Black Hills region. Eventually they hope to go statewide and perhaps into surrounding states.
Simunek’s plans to be up and running have been slowed by the delivery of equipment – most of the brewing gear, including tanks is shipped by boat from China.
Beach Ball also is a product of Hot Springs water, Simunek noted. Beach Ball uses German hops and it is fermented longer than other Highway 79 beers -- Hop Springs IPA, Horses on the Road, Biere de Garde, and the newest beer, Mammoth Mocha.
All of these local brewers say they would like Hot Springs to become a brewery destination -- like Fort Collins, Colo., which is home to more than 20 breweries.
For a city the size of Hot Springs, they envision four or five breweries -- or a combination of wineries and breweries like those in Rapid City, Spearfish, and Hill City.
“The more the better,” said Phil Wetzel, “we could become a destination.”