Appears in the October 2023 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Penrose’s award-winning seltzer shakes up the judges

Inside Penrose Brewing Company

Have you ever cracked open a can of spiked seltzer that was designed to trick your mind, body, and taste buds into feeling like you’re a kid again? This magical elixir is called Lemon Seltz-Up. And lucky for us it’s on tap—and sold in four-packs—at Penrose Brewing Company, at 509 Stevens Street in Geneva. Its creator, head brewmaster Tom Korder, dreamed it up back in 2021 in preparation for Geneva’s annual Swedish Days festival.

Over the years, Korder has perfected all sorts of boozy curios. Plum-flavored barrel-aged sour blondes. English-style barley wines. Spelt saisons. But for some reason, he got to thinking about lemons. Not shandies. Not limoncello. But those irresistible fresh-squeezed lemonade stands that pop up at local carnivals and state fairs. He loved the way those sippers (often called lemon shakeups here in the Midwest) were simultaneously sweet, sour, and pulpy. And the way they seemed to give an instant sugar buzz to every kid who could score one.

Lemon hard seltzer

What if he re-created that same kind of drink but made it so that adults nabbed a real buzz? Korder zeroed-in on two basic ingredients: a homemade lemon purée and a simple alcohol made from fermented sugar. He whipped a batch up for his coworkers, and they grinned like fifth graders on a field trip. “It blew us away, right away,” says sales manager Anthony Sperando. “We knew we had something special.”

Customers at Swedish Days agreed. So Penrose added it to its taproom offerings. The barflies liked it too. So Penrose sent off a sample to an even more discriminating set of judges—at the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago. After some scientific sipping, they awarded the Lemon Seltz-Up a stunning 94 out of 100 score and pinned a 2023 gold medal on it.

Fortunately for us, a good Seltz-Up loves company, which is why Penrose has been busy brewing up some sequels: a pink lemon Seltz-Up made with raspberry puree as well as a spiked Arnold Palmer called a Lemon Tea-Up that’s brewed with tea leaves. “All I can say,” Sperando says, “is that we have some good liquids here in Geneva.”


Photos: Penrose Brewing/Anthony Sperando