Barrel aged nano craft brewing in Napa Valley.

When our friend told us about a small brewery serving up superb quality barrel-aged beers in California's wine country, we knew we had to work extra hard at getting one of the extremely rare invitations to check it out while passing through on our road trip. Our tasting was just the three of us and Brewmaster and owner Nile Zacherle

When our friend told us about a small brewery serving up superb quality barrel-aged beers in California’s wine country, we knew we had to work extra hard at getting one of the extremely rare invitations to check it out while passing through on our road trip. Our private tasting at Mad Fritz included just the three of us (myself along with two friends) and Brewmaster and owner Nile Zacherle.

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“Mad Fritz is the only brewery that actually tells you where the ingredients come from.”“ How many beers have you had where you look at the label and say, ‘Oh, I know where every one of these ingredients is from?’ You know where the brewery is, but 99.9 percent of the beer you drink, they’re using all the same sourcing. It kind of takes the personality out of the beer.” - Brewmaster and owner Nile Zacherle

Mad Fritz is the dream of Nile Zacherle, a highly regarded winemaker with David Arthur Vineyards and Montagna Napa Valley. With the help of his wife, Whitney Fisher, who is also a winemaker, he spent years developing plans to brew first-rate beer with impeccable – and improbable – standards.

Nile Zacherle, is a highly regarded winemaker in Napa Valley. Along with his wife Whitney Fisher, he’s spent years working on brewing beers that match his high standards.

They craft ales and lagers with an emphasis on controlling the raw materials furthering the expression of a time, place and the people that make it happen.

Nile is featured here with Matthew Laconis who is also part a new younger, more innovative generation of winemakers that are shaking up Napa Valley.

Zacherle, featured here with Matthew Laconis, is part of a new younger, more innovative generation of winemakers that are shaking up Napa Valley.

Zacherle and Fisher have plenty of smarts to go along with their passion for making wine and beer. He has a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis and, in the 1990s, worked in quality control for Anderson Valley Brewing Co. He then switched to winemaking and, after working at wineries in Australia and France, returned to the Napa Valley, where he’s worked in the wine industry since 2000

With a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis and a stint in the 1990’s working in quality control for Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Zacherle has been able to make a name for himself in both the wine and beer worlds.

All of the beers names and artwork comes from Aesop’s fables.

The names and artwork of all of Mad Fritz’s brews comes from Aesop’s fables.

Most of Zacherle’s beers are classic styles with various twists and all are aged in barrels, including IPA, porter, imperial rye stout, pale lager

All of their beers are barrel aged.

There is no bustling taproom and Zacherle seems almost averse to such common craft beer terminology as expansion, market share and distribution. “The business model is to stay small and be on the leading edge of quality,” said Zacherle.

You won’t find Mad Fritz in stores. The beer is on draft at only three restaurants, including the Michelin-rated Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford.

While you can now find Mad Fritz in a small selection of NorCal restaurants and beer centric taprooms, the majority of their beers are only available to those who have purchased annual memberships. You can also stop by their St Helena, CA taproom for tastings and purchase.

“We’re adding the transparency to the product and that artisan approach you might (associate) with winemaking. This isn’t a recipe. If I give you my recipe, I don’t care. The recipe isn’t important – the raw materials are important.” - Brewmaster and owner Nile Zacherle

Raw, artisan materials are what makes their beers stand out from other craft breweries.

Raw materials include everything from the barley to the barrels. “We’re paying more for our barley than most people would even consider. We haul in different waters from different wells (in Napa County) and add that element to the beer. Then we use barrels from the different wineries we work at and add that element as well.” - Brewmaster and owner Nile Zacherle

Zacherle goes about his work with a passion and an intellectual rigor that shines through the moment he starts talking about wine and beer, both the process of making and the joy of tasting them.

Open for a little over a year now, Mad Fritz is tucked away in an industrial section of town. Out front, there’s nothing more than a small paper sign on the glass door.

The brewery has been crafting beers out of a nondescript building in an industrial section of St Helena since 2014.

Mad Fritz is named for the couple’s two children, Madeleine and Fritz.

Mad Fritz is a combination of the couple’s two children’s names, Madeleine (Maddie) and Frederick (Fritz).

The barrel aged brews undergo secondary and even tertiary fermentation rather than being injected with carbon dioxide from a cylinder as is common, and some incorporate unusual ingredients.

Each batch undergoes secondary and even tertiary fermentation and often incorporates unusual ingredients.

Each beer is a unique bottling from a single barrel between 55 and 60 gallons.

Each beer is a unique bottling from a single barrel between 55 and 120 gallons. Below is a sampling of three of the beers we purchased during our visit.

Because the beers are made in small quantities, Mad Fritz sells basically only to members who have to sign up for a year’s worth of beer, 12 to 48 750 ml bottles. They don’t ship the beers, but they do have a release party four times a year.

BREWER’S NOTE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 This strong ale of sorts was the first to be crafted using a local well in Calistoga. An area known for minerality and beneficial health properties we thought it wouldn’t hurt us to make a little beer with it. This ale’s core malt is the Full Pint barley grown in Brownsville, OR while the Rye Malt was grown in Fallon, NV at 26% of the total grain bill. The generous spice and lift that Rye malt brings an aroma that is completely seductive as well as the synergy with the Ivanhoe heirloom hop this beer seems to get better and better with age. It clocks in with about 65 IBUs, 8.1 -8.6% Alc v/v and a pH of 4.7. Its terminal gravity of 1.004 adds to a crisp savory finish. Our lot code 15053041 was aged in Bourbon barrels for about two weeks and is unmistakeably intense. We partnered up with The Bounty Hunter andtheir great source of Bourbon to make this happenThis batch will be available for a very short time although its possible a few bottles may leave the brewery and could end up in your glass.  – Source

BREWER'S NOTE The idea behind this beer is to single hop with our locally grown Cascade and have a grain bill with approximately 30% micro malted blue corn (milled at our local Bale Grist Mill-est.1846). To craft a refreshing style while showcasing some of the color and flavor you get from the blue corn. The barrel age program is limited with another hop addition prior to racking for bottling. The result is a crowd pleaser that parallels many milder IPAs yet offers aromatic beauty of one of the greatest hops currently cultivated.

BREWER’S NOTE
The idea behind this beer is to single hop with our locally grown Cascade and have a grain bill with approximately 30% micro malted blue corn (milled at our local Bale Grist Mill-est.1846). To craft a refreshing style while showcasing some of the color and flavor you get from the blue corn. The barrel age program is limited with another hop addition prior to racking for bottling. The result is a crowd-pleaser that parallels many milder IPAs yet offers aromatic beauty of one of the greatest hops currently cultivated. Our original maltster, Rebel Malting Co, used to supply us a good supply of malted blue corn from New Mexico but in 2017 this sourcing ran out. We acquired Rebels’ Gen 2 malting kiln and began malting it ourselves beginning with our first batch in 2018. The flavors of this beer are incredibly unique due to the layering of malted corn, cascade hops and yeast esters offering lots of stone fruit. The color tends to be dictated by the blue corn and has a light red-blue hue to it.  – Source

BREWER'S NOTE The Eagle's Nest fable is just bad ass and the artwork by Barlow does it justice thus we needed to craft a beer that could be held to same level of morality! West coast IPA is the style framed with Colorado's Scarlet Malted Barley and a pinch of Belgian Special B to color it, a long bittering hop time 110 minutes with Amarillo and Citra then more and more and more on the finish. W... See More

BREWER’S NOTE
The Eagle’s Nest fable is just bad ass and the artwork by Barlow does it justice thus we needed to craft a beer that could be held to same level of morality!  West coast IPA is the style framed with Colorado’s Scarlet Malted Barley and a pinch of Belgian Special B to color it, a long bittering hop time 110 minutes with Amarillo and Citra (Version A) then more and more and more on the finish.  We introduced Version B (Chinook, Glacier and Magnum) in the fall of 2015 to offer a different expression of hops. We opted not to dry hop as we feel there is adequate punch from the whirlpool/knock-out steep. After a warm fermentation we racked to a 3rd use Chardonnay barrel for aging for two to three weeks only.  This highly aromatic beer is bright with hops as well as subtle barrel tones and a rich yet dry texture terminating at 1.006 to 1.008 and alcohol at 8.4 to 8.8 % v/v and 85 IBUs.  – Source

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Try something a little different the next time you’re in Napa Valley. You’ll find 11 cask conditioned Mad Fritz beers on draft for tastings and standard pours as well as bottles available for purchase at their taproom located at 1282B Vidovich Ave St. Helena CA 94574.

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