Marika Josephson serves customers at Scratch Beer. The microbrewery and brew pub recently opened in Jackson County in southern Illinois. It is the newest in a growing trend of rural breweries attracting some of the same tourists who frequent wineries.
Marika Josephson serves customers at Scratch Beer. The microbrewery and brew pub recently opened in Jackson County in southern Illinois. It is the newest in a growing trend of rural breweries attracting some of the same tourists who frequent wineries.

AVA, Ill. — Owners of a startup microbrewery are hoping they’re getting in on the ground floor of an emerging tourism trend.

Scratch Beer is the brainchild of partners Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein, who decided to create beer using local ingredients. The brewery, located in deep southern Illinois, opened in early March.

Along with other brew pubs in the region, Scratch Beer someday could be a stop along a “beer tour,” similar to existing wine tours in the region and throughout the Midwest. After all, not everyone is a wine connoisseur.

The business is nestled deep in a Jackson County forest, accessed only by county roads that wind through the foothills of the Ozarks. It is remote, but so are numerous wineries that have found success among those willing to go the extra mile for flavor and ambiance.

The partners use mostly established beer recipes from Europe, but enhance them with indigenous flora.

“We are using recipes for traditional styles, then adding a twist to it by the addition of certain ingredients or brewing over a fire,” Josephson said.

Future styles will incorporate locally grown hops and barley. Others include beer brewed with branches from cedar trees.

“We put cedar branches on the bottom of our mash tank and filtered the water through it,” Josephson said. “We put cedar branches in our boil, too.

“We have a big garden here where we’re growing stuff that we’re going to put in our beers. Also, we’re working with a lot of local farmers. For instance, an organic farm near Cobden grows arugula. We got a bunch of their roots. We’re roasting them and are going to put it in a beer.”

Last year, the partners began growing tomatoes as an experiment. They planted 31 varieties.

“We’re going to put some tomatoes in a beer, if we can figure out how to do that,” Josephson said.

The business took shape in casual conversations between the three partners.

“For me, it was a combination of starting to eat food that was more local and then getting interested in making beer like that,” Josephson said.

“It’s not something you see all that often. My partners, Aaron and Ryan, were also interested in something like this. When we met, we started brewing home beers like that with different ingredients we were finding. It became the focus of our brewery.”

They are starting very small, using a 1 ½-barrel system. Their license allows only sale of draft beer, though customers may take their favorite brews home in a purchased container, called a “growler,” or in one they supply.

A vegetable garden has been planted on the property where the partners are growing plants they may use in beer or food recipes. In addition, they are working with farmers in the area to provide other flavors.

The brew pub has a rugged, rural look. One wall features a mural that resembles the Piasa, a mythical Native American creature painted on a cliff above the Mississippi River near Alton centuries ago.

The bar and other elements of the small building were created partly with other historic castoffs, including a skylight made with the ceiling of an elevator car. The cash register, from the early 20th century, formerly adorned a hardware store in nearby Anna. The partners started on a shoestring and are planning a slow expansion. They’re building a brick oven where they will bake pizzas and other foods to go with the beer on tap.

The future also may include live music and other diversions offered by wineries in the region.