When you hear the word “Lambic,” what comes to mind? If you’re into beer—which you probably are if you’re reading this—Belgium is probably the first thing you think of, understandably. Traditionalists say that a beer isn’t Lambic unless it is brewed in Belgium, but blenders like Levi Funk of Funk Factory Geuzeria are trying to change that mindset. Funk is adding a twist to this traditional style by blending an American Lambic at this four-year-old company. The twist being where it comes from; other than its geography, Funk follows the Belgian process precisely.
Over the past few years, Funk’s beers have been gaining traction within the craft world; Funk’s last release, which was sold on Brown Paper Tickets, sold out in 90 seconds.
After much demand, Funk opened his own barrel house in Madison, Wisconsin last year. Here’s what he has to say about how it’s been going so far.
Paste: Do you like to refer to yourself as a brewer or a blender? What is the major difference?
Funk: Definitely a blender. I don’t have a lot of interest in the brewing side. I never really even home brewed. My interest lies in the fermentation, aging, and blending. The brewing side is technical, and I believe there are people much more skilled in the technicalities of brewing wort. The fermentation side is more of an art and where I like to play.
Paste: Fruited Lambics are not commonly made in America, what made you want to take on this style?
Funk: For that very fact, they aren’t typically made here and I love them. I want this type of beer to be accessible for Americans.
Paste: Many people think that Funk Factory and O’so are the same company. Is that true? If not, what role does O’so play in the creation of your beers?
Funk: This kind of goes back to the question “am I a brewer or a blender.” I’m a blender, O’so is a brewer. My relationship with O’so has been amazing. We learned a lot from each other. Beginning last winter, I started a barrel warehouse of my own and sourced wort from O’so, Penrose, and Rivertown. I know the wort O’so makes is of a very high quality and I will source wort from them for as long as they will make it for me. I am also looking to build diversity in my barrel stock, so I want to source wort from a number of brewers. The goal is to have greater complexity of flavors to stack and blend with.
Paste: What is your favorite beer that you’ve released? Why?
Funk: Ah man, I’ve been super happy with all of them. I’m a sucker for grape Lambic (Cantillon’s Saint Lamvinus), so making “The Fox and the Grapes” was the one I didn’t care if anyone else would pick it as their favorite. Lambics are already, flavor-wise, a blur between beer and wine. Re-fermenting grapes in Lambic blurs it even further.
Paste: Is there one particular beer that you are looking forward to releasing?
Funk: I get excited at every release. It’s such a long time in the making, and I’ve tasted the beer through its aging, fruiting, and conditioning process. When a beer is finally ready for release, it’s like the audience is finally catching up.
Paste: What are your goals for Funk Factory over the next few years?
Funk: Fill barrels. Fill barrels. And then fill some more barrels.
Paste: Do you anticipate your scale of production and frequency of releases to increase over the next few years?
Funk: Oh yes. When all the beer sells out in 90 seconds, I think that was a pretty strong message that I need to make more.
Paste: Everyone has that one gateway beer, or brewery, that gets them into craft beer, what was that for you?
Funk: I’m from Wisconsin, so Spotted Cow (New Glarus) obviously.
Paste: What is your go-to beer when you get home from work?
Funk: Right now it’s this fantastic local IPA “Fantasy Factory” from Karben4.
Paste: If you had the opportunity to work on a collaboration beer with any brewery, which brewery would it be, and what type of beer would you make?
Funk: Drie Fonteinen. If for no other reason than to be able to pick Armand’s brain about blending for a day.
Paste: What is your white whale beer? The beer you have always wanted to try but haven’t been able to get your hands on?
Funk: I think I’ve slayed all the white whales I once had. I have some good friends.