Mad Fritz was created by Nile Zacherle and Whitney Fisher, two people who have been brewing and collaborating with wineries for decades. They created and have been involved with Zacherle Wines, Fisher Vineyards, David Arthur, Montagna, and Utility Wines. Nile has a BS in Fermentation Science from UC Davis and completed the Master Brewers program. We got to talk a lot about his experiences in that program and about some of the people that he brewed with and what they are up to now. We also had fun talking about his experiences at some of the wineries and breweries that he worked with in the past! He’s one of those people who have really put a lot of thought into who his is and what he wants to be doing, and this is his passion. This is what he wants to be doing with his life.
Nile was the one who led our tasting, and he was fantastic! So knowledgable and so passionate about brewing–most specifically with regards to what he is doing at Mad Fritz in terms of sourcing every ingredient and tool that he uses. His emphasis, as his website states, is on “controlling the raw materials and furthering the expression of a time, place, and the people that make it happen.” It is a love of the community and the farmers, viticulturists, and the area itself that really set Mad Fritz apart. Every bottle is labelled with specific information on what he used and where he sourced everything in his bottles, from the water, to the grain, to the yeasts, to the barrels in which he ferments the beer! We had great conversations about where he finds his grains and the famers he works with, who grinds them, and why he uses the specific barrels that he does to ferment his brews. Our tasting table was actually a new cedar wood barrel.
This is directly from his website, but here are some of the finer details on what materials he works with:
- Napa Valley sourced waters from artesian springs and aquifers
- We use only single variety barleys that are craft-malted to our specs
- Locally grown hops that are farmed using organic and biodynamic principles
- Our knowledge of fermentation and aging in barrels (elevage) to express nuance rather than overt styling.
- Our combined experience in winemaking and brewing offers a unique landscape from where we can grow, malt, brew and age beers with a sense of place and personality.
I think the best part, though, was how incredible his beers tasted! Fantastic, complex, and nuanced beer that was uniquely his own. They are raw and pure, barrel aged in tiny batches, and naturally carbonated in the kegs and bottles. Though brewed in specific styles, you can taste how different these are from anything you might find commercially. Right now, he’s working on a program where specific restaurants in the area carry one single style of his beer, which means that in order to taste them all, you really wind up needing to do the tasting or go to a number of seriously good Napa Valley restaurants. He is incredibly careful choosing which restaurants he wants to work with. His operation is tiny, and he talked in detail about not wanting to get stuck making one signature beer over and over to the detriment of creativity and experimentation. They want to make great beer, and for them, that means making beer according to the best ingredients and the best supplies that they can find. That means that the beer will change as the grains change, and the hops, the barrels, and even the water that they use. He has no interest in being trapped in sameness; he wants to retain the flexibility of making the absolute best product that he can make.
These are hard beers to find and the quantity that they are making is beyond limited, but I recommend at least checking out their website!