'Beered' science
Sweet Mullets brewmaster spills on craftsmanship behind craft beer

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

March 20, 2014

In 22 years of brewing, Mark Duchow has worked his way up from keg washer to brewmaster of his own craft brewery, Sweet Mullets Brewing, located on Industrial Road in the Town of Oconomowoc.
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC - Mark Duchow started his career in brewing humbly enough.

“I was an engineering student in Milwaukee 22 years ago,” he recalled. “I was looking for a part-time job to make some beer money. I saw a job as a keg washer at Water Street Brewery.”

From there, it wasn’t long before he rose to the top, earning the title of brewmaster. The Oconomowoc native also went on somewhat of a beer odyssey, gaining experience at breweries around the country before coming home to start his own craft brewery, Sweet Mullets Brewing at N58W39800 Industrial Road, with partner Barbara Jones.

“My beers are a conglomeration of all my experiences,” he said. “I’ve been called the ‘mad scientist of brewing.’ I don’t feature your typical beers.”

On Tuesday, he sat down with the Enterprise to discuss the craft and history of brewing.

ENTERPRISE: The first thing I have to ask is - what’s the story behind the name Sweet Mullets?

DUCHOW: I wanted to have a fun, memorable name. And it worked; it’s the most frequently asked question I get. Plus, I had an awesome mullet back in the 80s.

The most frequently asked question at Sweet Mullets is how did Duchow get the name. He says he wanted something fun and memorable, and there's also a cardboard cutout of the "sweet mullet" he was sporting in the '80s 
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

ENTERPRISE: What is the difference between craft breweries and the mega-breweries?

DUCHOW: The larger breweries are in it for the production, while the craft brewers are in it for the creativity. Craft brewers are chaning the idea of what beer is.

ENTERPRISE: What are some customer favorites here at Sweet Mullets?

DUCHOW: One of the customer favorites is the Steinbier, or “stone beer.” This is created by dropping fieldstones that are heated to between 12,000 and 15,000 degrees into the unfermented beer. That caramelizes the sugar and creates a toffee flavor with notes of burnt toast. I only brew this a couple times of a year.

Another favorite is the Jorge, which is a jalape–o beer. It has the flavor without the heat. 

ENTERPRISE: Do you have fun naming the beers? And what are some of the stories behind them?

DUCHOW: The Jorge was named after a chef I worked with down in Texas, who wanted me to brew a beer with jalape–o juice for Cinco De Mayo. I told him that day was only five days away, and he told me that if anybody could do it, I could.

Reggie 4 is named after my cat, Rye Bob is named after my dad, Celebration was brewed for the Harley Davidson 110th anniversary celebration and the 75th anniversary of the WYA C regatta.

ENTERPRISE: What is something people don’t know about craft beer - or beer in general?

DUCHOW: There is a tremendous history to beer in general. Drinking fermented grains is part of our genetics. People of European ancestry are genetically equipped to break down that kind of alcohol, while people of an Asian ancestry are genetically equipped to break down the alcohol you’d find in rice wine.

This resurgence of craft beer or small breweries is fairly new, it started in the early ‘80s. It’s up to more than 3,000 breweries in the U.S. now. However, back in the 1860s, there were 2,000 breweries in Wisconsin alone. Every small town had its own brewery. Oconomowoc had the Binzel Brewery.

ENTERPRISE: Do you sell bottles of your beer?

DUCHOW: No, but there is a possibility of a canned product. Canning is more en vogue and glass is on the way out. The cost of bottles has gone up 600 percent since the modern day recycling program was implemented, where it’s all melted down only to be remade into bottles.

Other drawbacks of bottles are that light can hit the beer and turn it skunky. The oxygen in the space between the liquid and the cap can also work to damage the flavor. In a bottle, the oxygen is 200 parts per million. A can is 200 parts per billion.

ENTERPRISE: What will be trending in the next three to five years?

DUCHOW: Sour beers are becoming popular. If you want to know what will be popular in the Midwest five or 10 years from now, look at what’s popular in the West Coast now.

ENTERPRISE: What is your favorite beer?

DUCHOW: My favorite beer is Pabst Blue Ribbon, because if I’m drinking Pabst, that means I’m out fishing.

Email: Jperttunen@conleynet.com