Grafton brewery brews with nature center sumac

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GRAFTON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- What do you get when you cross Sahale Ale Works in Grafton with Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville?

Matt Hoffman of Sahale calls it 'Wisconsinade."

"This is the fruit." explained Matt Smith, Riveredge's research and conservation manager from a field of staghorn sumac at Riveredge. "During the part of the year when it’s at its peak, you can press that and generate like a pink lemonade kind of drink that’s really delicious

Smith says the sumac thrives on destruction, whether by fire or, like Riveredge is doing, harvest.

"This is taking a by product from a restoration project that we’re doing to enhance our property and using that harvestable extra to benefit a community member and make a really interesting beer.”

It makes a perfect opportunity for Hoffman.

“We like working with local community partnerships, especially non-profits. It’s one of our missions as a business." said Hoffman.

Smith says the sumac is one of Wisconsin's more common resources.

“You can see sumac on the side of a highway or the side of a road because it thrives on disturbance." he said. "The highway departments, they’ll be coming doing their maintenance mowing of easements and that will actually invigorate this plant and encourage it to re-sprout like we did here.”

Matt Hoffman of Sahale was happy to help the nature center. Like a lot of us, the pandemic altered Riveredge's plans for the summer.

"With the pandemic, they had to cancel one of their biggest fundraisers." Hoffman said. "I thought this was a way we could step up and kind of fill some of the gap. They have lots of sumac on site so it worked out that they could harvest it for me and I could use it to make a cool and interesting beer and also raise money at the same time."

One dollar from every can and 50 cents from every short pour goes back to Riveredge.

Sahale Ale Works has only been open for just over a year. Luckily, Hoffman says people kept buying beer the last nine months and he and his wife, Sahale's co-owner, have been able to manage the storm and keep their dream alive.

"We're lucky, in a short time we've built up a strong community base and fan base." he said. "They came out and supported us. We were still able to sell cans to go. We sold some beer at distribution. So some of the local spots around metro Milwaukee picked up our beer and helped us out. So, we actually did pretty good all things considered."

Matt Smith says nature needs the help, even here in Wisconsin. He says he learned at a young age about saving the rain forest but then learned about something more immediate.

"I didn’t realize, rarer than that, there was a savanna nearby that was being destroyed." Smith said. "When I went to college and I learned about these really important conservation initiatives more locally, it really made me fall back in love with the Midwest and realize that there’s a lot of good work to do around here.”

He followed that passion to Riveredge, managing projects like making sure the thicket of sumac he's harvest thrives. That means cutting it down, which leads to a bigger, stronger sumac. The fruit from the harvest leads to a tasty, pink lemonadey beer.

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