There is a cabin nestled deep in the woods of Northern Wisconsin. But this is no ordinary cabin you see, deep within the woods in the town of Pembine there sits a cabin that is producing beer that is “rarely balanced, never boring.” This is the motto that Toni and Tim Eichinger choose to brew and live by. This plot of land is home to Black Husky Brewing. But this husband and wife brewing team is not the only inhabitants, a team of retired sled dogs also call this place home including their most famous pooch, Howler.
This nano-brewery started to create some buzz in early 2013 as word started to spread across the state. Their coming out party was this year’s Great Taste of the Midwest. And by now, you would have to search for a beer loving Wisconsinite that hasn’t heard about their great beer. This brewery is unique in that it is 100% wholesale with no onsite sales, so I would discourage you from making the trip upstate and knocking at their door. They have identified a few key accounts, mostly in Madison and Milwaukee, where they hand deliver their product.
After learning a bit about the history, I figured if I was going to write about a beer, it would be the one with THE Black Husky on the label. They have pegged their Pale ale as their flagship beer. Before I even opened the bottle, I was very intrigued by the measurables of this brew: 43 IBUs and 7.2% ABV. The ABV of this beer is much more typical of an IPA, where the IBUs more typical of a Pale Ale. But just like they say on the label: Like Howler, our pale ale does not let others define its style, so while some say it’s an IPA we say, “whatever – just drink it already.”
If there was ever a Pale Ale that was perfect for winter, it is this one. The nose and front of the mouth of this brew are much more floral, which is quite the welcome relief from the barrage of citrus hopped beers on the market. You get great hop presence from the dry hopping in the front of the mouth, which gives way to the caramel additions in the middle of the mouth. The mouthfeel is definitely heavy and rich letting a bit of heat sneak through because of the high ABV, which again makes this the perfect Pale Ale for a winter evening. Some bitterness comes through on the back end, but not to a point where it washes away the amber notes, but rather intertwines with them. From sip to sip and as the beer warms, the flavors evolve and change, which again, is a fantastic experience you don’t commonly get from a Pale Ale.
I have been blown away by all of my Black Husky experiences so I got in contact with brewers/owners/operators Toni and Tim Eichinger to learn a bit more.
You make beer out of a log cabin that is nestled in the woods . Does life get any better than that?
Tim: Not really even though every situation has its challenges. We are working in a very small footprint so space is very tight.
Toni: Nope! We have a lot of peace and quiet which allows for time to reflect on what and how we’re doing what we want to do. The little bit of city life and social interaction we may crave is quickly satisfied with a delivery trip to Milwaukee or Madison.
Tell me about working as a Husband/Wife team and the dynamic that makes the brewery successful?
Tim: We’ve been married for 33 years and one of the reasons for our success in marriage is respect, which is why we work well together. That doesn’t mean there aren’t conflicts. Toni and I both have strong professional backgrounds and we believe one needs to be professional at all times. I think we also are extremely honest with each other and you don’t see that a lot in business settings. Our relationship is undoubtedly the strength of Black Husky Brewing.
Toni: Certainly, there is a depth to our relationship and a level of respect and commitment unique from that of other partnerships, especially when you’ve been together as long as we have. However, I never think in terms of working with my husband and I don’t refer to Tim as my husband in the context of the brewery. It is a business and you need to separate your professional relationship from your personal relationship, always with the underlying knowledge that whatever direction we take the brewery, we have that foundation.
Can you share any interesting stories about your dog sled days and some of the dogs that have been made famous by your beers?
Tim: Well I am a reluctant musher. Our son Jake is the musher but having a kennel is a 24/7 job so you really develop a close relationship with the dogs. I did help Jake with training the dogs but I wasn’t very good on the sled. The first rule of mushing is never let go of the sled, which I did several times and a couple of times lost the team. One time I hit a small tree and was knocked off the sled. The dogs took off down the trail with me running after them cursing and screaming to no avail. It just happened that we had been training on a loop so they followed the trail, did the loop and headed back home where I met them and hopped back on the sled. I didn’t tell anybody about that for a while.
Toni: I recently had someone ask me how we came up with the dog theme for our brewery; they thought it was a great gimmick. I take every opportunity to let people know that all the dogs they see on our labels are real dogs that are a major part of our life; not a gimmick or marketing campaign we thought up to help us sell beer. There is a deeply personal connection to our dogs and the name of the brewery and all the labels we use. Some of our dogs are no longer with us, and the brewery gives us an opportunity to honor them and the place they held and continue to hold in our lives. We could tell you about when Harry bit off the end of Fish’s tail, but we’ll save that for another day.
At this point you self-distribute. Can you tell me about your long-term goals for the brewery?
Tim: We self-distribute and it’s a lot of work but we also control the beer for as long as possible and get to interact with the accounts and see if there are any issues. I guess long term we really just want to continue to brew really good beer, control the distribution to assure the beer is handled well right up until the consumer gets it and just adapt to that. We’ve seen modest growth every year and that’s good enough for us. We’re not trying to get rich, just make a decent living, doing something we enjoy and have some control.
Toni: We have a lot of ideas and long-term goals, but those we keep to ourselves. We take a very conservative approach to growth, believing it’s best to first ensure you are honoring your current commitments before you go flying off in a myriad of other directions. It’s all about focus.
Maybe this is obvious since you are set in among thousands of pine trees, but I absolutely love the spruce additions to Sproose Joose and Sparkly Eyes. What was your inspiration there?
Tim: I’d like to say it took years and years of research and I took a trip to the woods and there was some kind of divine inspiration but I was just talking stupid with one of my friends when we were drinking pale ale when I was still home brewing. So the first version was a beer pretty close to our pale ale with spruce in it. It did take a lot of time to get it to where it is now however. Sparkly Eyes took more work than any beer we’ve put out. I would make a test batch and Toni would say, “No; not there yet.” We were watching an SNL marathon one time when we were testing a pilot batch and they had the skit with Will Ferrell playing the cowbell on the Blue Oyster Cult song Don’t Fear the Reaper, and Christopher Walken kept saying “More Cowbell.” So Toni tries the beer and says (kind of yelled it actually) “It needs more cowbell!”
Toni: I don’t think I really yelled “More Cowbell” – well maybe.
Anything else we should know about Black Husky Brewing?
Tim: I’m not sure people realize how small we are and unlike other nano-breweries, we are 100% distribution. There is no taproom so essentially we are selling beer at its lowest profit point. We have learned a tremendous amount in the last 3 plus years and hope to keep doing this until we drop.
Toni: Black Husky Brewing is just Tim and I and the dogs, and honestly, the dogs aren’t a lot of help. They save their strength for photo shoots and celebrity appearances. There’s no sales or marketing team, no administrative or IT staff, no brewer’s assistant or summer interns – and at this point, we kind of like it that way. Maybe we’re control freaks – but we don’t except anyone else to care as much about our beer as we do.
What were the 3 best beers you drank in 2013?
Tim: Boy that’s a pretty hard question. I bring home beers and Toni and I compare them to our beers, especially to the Pale Ale and Sproose Joose and honestly, our beer is better. The one beer we had this year that I thought was really good was New Belgium’s Coconut Curry Hefeweizen. So often breweries put out a beer and say it has this flavor or that flavor and you try it and say – man they missed the mark. New Belgium totally nailed this beer. Even if you don’t like the style or the beer you have to respect that they delivered as advertised. As far as sour beers go – they suck.
Toni: Ditto New Belgium’s Coconut Curry Hefeweizen, but I’d have to say the three best beers I drank in 2013 were our Pale Ale, Sproose Joose and Sparkly Eyes. As many times as I’ve had those three beers, I’m never disappointed.