Sahale Ale Works crafts beer with Riveredge

Grafton brewery teams up with Saukville nature center, using sumac for a German-style ale

SAHALE ALE WORKS Owner Matthew Hofmann (right photo) showed off his latest brew, Wisconsinade, made at his Grafton brewery. The German-style beer was a collaboration with Matthew Smith (left) of the RIveredge Nature Center in Saukville, which grows staghorn sumac. Right photo by Joe Poirier, left photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press Staff

Sahale Ale Works of Grafton has partnered with Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville to produce a German-style wheat beer using staghorn sumac. 

The collaboration happened serendipitously, Grafton brewery owner Matthew Hofmann said, when he was looking for a maple syrup source in spring. Although Riveredge didn’t have enough syrup to supply Hofmann, Research and Conservation Manager Matthew Smith said he had a different idea and thus came the fermentation of Wisconsinade Gose. 

“Honestly I never used sumac before. I never tasted it. I was going off of what I read and researched,” Hofmann said. “To me it’s more of a summery beer. It’s light and refreshing.”

In May, the Grafton brewery was to be part of a group of breweries from southern Wisconsin that were to hold a beer-tasting event on the grounds of Riveredge, called a Frothy Forage, which was to benefit conservation and restoration efforts. 

The event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but proceeds from the brew still support the center. Every dollar from a can and long pour or 50 cents for a short pour is donated to Riveredge.

“That was one of our biggest fundraising events and we are thankful Sahale Ale Works is supporting our cause,” Smith said. 

“This was a partnership dating back before the pandemic and we hope to continue working together.”

Smith said the nature center began growing sumac in 2016 from a cloned plant that took several years to flourish.   

“It usually takes a while and you don’t have simple and fast outcomes for it to come back to health. When Matthew approached me, I noticed the sumac was prime and ready for harvest,” Smith said. 

“With sumac, aspen and other similar types of plants, you really don’t know because they are constantly shrinking and expanding based on the environment. The sumac clone I found was in decline and it was about to die. It looked unhealthy and wasn’t producing many leaves and fruit.”

Smith said sumac thrives on destruction, whether by fire or, like Riveredge is doing, harvest. A number of volunteers and staff members harvested the plant, he added wildlife also helped the cause.

“Rabbits and deer had their way with it, but it doubled in size and produced a lot of fruit, showing it was healthy,” Smith said. 

Hofmann, who is an avid nature enthusiast, said he was excited to work with the center.  

“We like what they do to begin with and they are local, well regarded and well known,” he said. “I figured it would be a win-win, where they can provide the sumac and I could provide a fundraising source.” 

Sahale opened in Grafton in July 2019. Hofmann said it has been an interesting year running a business during the pandemic.

“It certainly made for an interesting first year, if being an entrepreneur and starting your own business isn’t scary enough,” Hofmann said. 

“But in some ways it was oddly reaffirming.

“My goal is to keep making connections in the community and growing.”

During the mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses, Hofmann said, he was able to keep busy by canning beers for local breweries and he is continuing that venture.

Hofmann said he hopes to continue working with Riveredge in the future to produce more locally sourced beers. Smith also wants to continue the business relationship because nature in general can use the help. 

“When I went to college, I learned local conservation efforts are really important. There is a lot of work that needs to be done around here,” he said. 

Riveredge has been known to collaborate with local breweries in the past, such as The Fermentorium and Tasting Room in Cedarburg. 

Riveredge plans to have its Frothy Forage event on May 22.

“We look forward to having the event come back and it’s one of our biggest events of the year,” Smith said. “The partnership we have with local breweries like Sahale Ale Works really helps our organization and it’s a fun event for beer enthusiasts.” 




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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