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Brewery taps into new beer market

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MENOMONIE, Wis. – A craft brewery in Menomonie named for the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette, is tapping into a new beer market in western Wisconsin.

The company has started offering its popular Farmer's Daughter beer for sale in cans. Lucette co-founders Mike Wilson and Tim Schletty hope the new aluminum packaging helps the beer stand out from its competitors.

"We believe we are the first craft brewery in the country to produce 16-ounce six-pack craft beer in cans," Wilson said.

Aluminum cans were chosen because they keep out two items that are bad for beer: light and oxygen. Light can't penetrate aluminum, Wilson said, and it is more difficult for oxygen to penetrate cans than bottles.

Wilson encourages customers to drink Farmer's Daughter from a glass to bring out its flavor.

"Farmer's Daughter is a very flavorful beer," Wilson said of the spiced blond ale that is the brewery's top seller.

All other beers produced by Lucette are only available on tap.

"This opens a whole different demographic for us," Wilson said of canned beer.

Most craft breweries use bottles, which are cheaper because labels can easily be affixed to bottles but cans must be printed with specific labels, Wilson said.

Farmer's Daughter is being bottled in 16-ounce cans, larger than the traditional 12-ounce cans beer typically is sold in.

"Beer glasses and wine glasses are 16 ounces," Wilson said. "If you pour a 12-ounce beer into a 16-ounce glass you feel cheated."

Lucette recently began using a new cask canning machine in which sanitized cans are loaded into the machine and automatically filled with beer before the can top is added and cans are cooled in water. Before that the company was using a more labor intensive canning process in which most operations were not mechanized.

Since Lucette Brewing Co. opened on Hudson Road in Menomonie in October 2010, the company has experienced substantial growth, Wilson said.

Wilson and Schletty hope to sustain the company's growth and plan to increase the number of beers they offer. They also plan to can other beers.

Craft breweries are experiencing popularity at a level not seen since before Prohibition as beer drinkers appreciate the increased variety of beers available.

"People want to know where the products they are buying come from," Wilson said.

The brewery is working to be environmentally friendly. Grain left over from the brewing process is fed to cattle by a local farmer instead of being thrown away.

Jon Christiansen is the head brewer at Lucette. A graduate of the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago and Germany, Christiansen started as a home brewer about a dozen years ago.

He began brewing professionally about six years ago and has worked at the Water Street Brewery in Delafield and the Joseph James Brewing Co. near Las Vegas.

"I started finding out you could make a good beer," he said.

On a recent day brewing at Lucette, Christiansen stirred a batch of beer with a paddle as steam rose. A short time later he checked the carbonation level of another beer vat.

For Schletty and Wilson, that process is what their business is all about.

"We're just making good beer," Schletty said. "That is all that matters."

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