BlackStack brings in a familiar face to head new mixed-culture beer program

Talking about BlackStack Brewing’s new sour program, Cooper Johnson, Murphy Johnson, Mat Waddell, and Bob DuVernois kick back in the taproom. // Photo by Tj Turner

BlackStack Brewing, which opened in 2017 in Midway, is starting up its own mixed culture program, with an established sour brewer at the helm: Mat Waddell, the former head brewer and co-owner of Wild Mind Artisan Ales.

After selling his interest in Wild Mind and announcing his departure from the company at the start of 2019, Waddell felt he needed to step away from brewing for a while. He started a job as a senior application engineer at 3M in January but couldn’t stay away from the foeders for long. In the same Facebook post explaining his decision to leave Wild Mind—which he founded and co-owned—he hinted at plans for future collaborations and soon struck up a partnership with the team at BlackStack after hearing of the brewery’s plans to start a sour program.

“Mat was one of our first friends and supporters in the industry. We’ve always admired his approach and felt [that] we shared a common philosophy of making styles you love without any shortcuts,” says BlackStack’s Cooper Johnson. “We’re a very close-knit bunch at BlackStack and we’ve never been willing to sacrifice the culture here for talent, so Mat being such a good brewer and great friend was a perfect fit.”

Waddell is taking the reins as the head of mixed culture at the brewery, which is investing in five wood foeders. Waddell will oversee the production of mixed-culture beer, the growth of the program, and the development of recipes alongside the rest of BlackStack’s brewing team. With the first set of foeders arriving in May and initial recipes in development, the program is already in motion. Waddell says he’ll be focusing primarily on mixed culture fermentation—which was his specialty at Wild Mind—but this time with more flexibility for experimentation.

Bob DuVernois, Murphy Johnson, and Mat Waddell on the brew room floor of BlackStack Brewing // Photo by Tj Turner

“I’ll be sticking with the mixed fermentation values and oak aging that I know, but I’ll be leaving the subtleties behind. The new beers will push [the] boundaries of what is typically done,” says Waddell. “Expect more concentrated and complex flavors.”

While investing in foeders isn’t exactly cheap, BlackStack’s owners believe it will pay off in the end. “We think foeders will give us a better end product while getting to pay homage to the more traditional methods of production,” Johnson says. “More complexity, more consistency, and way more fun. With each foeder having its own unique characteristics, we’re starting the program with five foeders as a way to still get to experiment and have variety across the different vessels.”

In addition to producing a full line of sours that will age in the foeders for about a year, Waddell says he plans to relaunch BlackStack’s Berliner weisse series, fully foeder-fermented and can-conditioned. “We will be pushing the boundaries of fruiting and flavor of these beers while keeping a base layer of mixed fermentation oak-fermented complexity,” he says. “Basically taking a Berliner and cranking it up to 11.”

The traditional sours will be bottle-conditioned in green glass with layered, intense flavors that Waddell says are inspired by the bold profiles of BlackStack’s IPAs. Waddell’s secret ingredient? Time. “The patience to let the beer do its thing with a keen eye on flavors, blending, and balance will be the key to launch the sour program at BlackStack and make them a leader in the sour beer scene within Minnesota,” he says.

When asked if he’s concerned about local competition or market pressure, Johnson simply says that the quality of the beer will speak for itself. “We have a lot of faith in the beer drinkers of Minnesota to seek out very intentionally crafted beer, regardless of style,” he says. “Making beer that we’re passionate about has worked out really well for us so far. We’ve had a lot of success in the taproom with our fruited Berliners, and Mat has been making exceptional beer for a few years that, if anything, is probably ahead of where the market is at.”

The first release to come out of the foeders will be Berliner weisse in late summer, with more releases planned later this year.