By Becky Streeter
Eric Rykal has always loved beer. While in college, his biology courses led to an interest in the science of fermentation. He started home brewing and was instantly hooked. After college, he worked as a brewer for Lucette Brewing in Menomonie, and then followed up with two years as Head Brewer for the Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire. By then, Rykal had gained enough business know-how to realize his dream and open his own brewery: Modicum Brewery Co.
Modicum means “a small quantity of a particular thing, especially something considered desirable or valuable.” The Altoona brewery embodies this sentiment in many aspects: a tap of only a dozen beers, using locally grown hops, and employing a small, handpicked staff. Rykal’s goal from the start was to stay as small as possible. They have very limited outside distribution and prefer to sell most of their beer through their taproom. While there’s plenty of business items to attend to, Rykal’s favorite thing to do is “make beer and provide a place with a comfortable atmosphere for people to enjoy it in.”
Modicum has twelve tap lines that offer a range of styles and are rotated seasonally (or at the brewer’s whim). Each beer is made with 100 percent Wisconsin-grown hops. Rykal is a true believer in terroir—the characteristic taste and flavor of a beer is created by the environment in which it was produced. “We’re a Wisconsin brewery, brewing Wisconsin beers with Wisconsin-grown hops,” Rykal states. “These flavors come from thisspecific place. Buying hops from elsewhere would water down the sense of place that all of our beers possess.”
Modicum sources their hops from local farms, but they also have their own farm. Rykal’s business partner, Mike Blodgett, manages the taproom and runs the hops farm. They currently have four different varieties growing, and are constantly expanding. “Like all crops, hops have their challenges,” says Rykal. “There are pests and diseases to be concerned with. [The plants] are very needy when it comes to water and specific soil types. They require basically the same care from variety to variety but they do need to sometimes be harvested at different times as some types mature more quickly than others.” Hops are perennials, so Blodgett has to wait until late August or early September for them to fully mature. Once the plant flowers, the flower can be harvested and used in the beer.
Rykal says brewing days are the best days. “Beer is a process-driven beverage, every step of the process can impart its own fingerprint on the beer.” While making beer isn’t always easy, it is a labor of love. When asked which beer was Rykal’s favorite, he responded: “I can’t pick a favorite child.”
Modicum will be hosting a release party for two beers on September 29th: Terra, a wet-hopped ale brewed with 100% locally grown hops and barley; and a seasonal dark lager named Exclamation! And on October 5th, they will release a new Scottish-style ale called Dagnabbit.