Wisconsin Brewing Company is making its debut. Located on the southern edge of Verona, the state's newest brewery offered an early taste Saturday to family, friends, investors, distributors, and fellow brewers at a preview party in its taproom and brew house. For well-known brewmaster Kirby Nelson, it was a chance to unveil the first four beers that he's hoping will become part of the brewery's signature lineup.
The invite-only celebration brought out several hundred people to see the new $11 million brewery and try Nelson's beers. The brewery was packed with people tasting and talking beer, with full access around the brew kettles and kegging line given to the crowd.
Nelson, who also serves as company's vice-president, and Wisconsin Brewing president Carl Nolen were both longtime employees of Capital Brewery in Middleton. Their new project attracted the support of dozens of investors, and construction proceeded through the spring and summer. The pair set a target of launching by November, and are hitting it. The brew house itself is expansive, and has the capacity to make up to 100,000 barrels per yer before expanding to two-and-a-half times that figure, which the company is hoping to achieve. For its first year, though, Wisconsin Brewing will be producing about 20,000 barrels.
Wisconsin Brewing's taproom can hold a couple hundred visitors, its walls lined with large two-story windows that look out into the brewery and outside towards an adjacent pond and the landscape of the Verona Technology Park. Beers are dispersed from a large stainless steel pipe that hangs from the ceiling and terminates with a dozen taps directly above a long wooden bar.
John and Maureen Friend of Middleton were among those captivated by the space and the taps hanging from ceiling. "Now that's a tapper, how can it run out of anything?" said John as he pointed to the piping and brew house.
The party offered a who's who of Madison brewers personally congratulating Nelson. Great Dane owner Rob LoBreglio was present, as were several of the staff brewers at the local trio of brewpubs. New Glarus Brewing owners Dan and Deb Carey, their own operation located just a scenic drive down County Hwy. PB and State Hwy. 69, brought a flower arrangement with a note of encouragement, and then toasted beers with Nelson and Nolen. Scott Manning of Vintage Brewing and Mark Knoebl of the Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb chatted over beers. Page Buchanan, who opened the House of Brews on Madison's east side just two years ago, expressed his amazement at the sparking new brew house and its leading edge technology.
"It's very impressive. This has to be the most state-of-the-art new brewery in Wisconsin," said Buchanan. "The workmanship is really inspiring to see the tanks and fittings so perfect, everything is so well done."
While the new brewery and taproom certainly captured the attention of party-goers, Nelson's beers were the stars of the show. Wisconsin Brewing built anticipation for its debut with a series of small limited-release beers that Nelson made with Vintage and the Great Dane and Vintage. These brews made their formal bow on Saturday.
Anyone who knows of Nelson is aware that he enjoys making German lagers. So, it's no big surprise that he has created Amber Lager, a brew that likely will become the flagship for the company. It's a solid example of the style with a smooth malty body and clean finish. In a casual observation of those who got their first taste of all four beers, the Amber Lager was a clear favorite by many.
Wisconsin Brewing will also offer Brown Porter; it's nearly black in color with lots of rich chocolate maltiness and light roasted-tones in the finish. This ale is well done and could easily become a favorite for those who like medium-bodied malty dark beers.
The other two beers that will be released are hop-focused. The Session IPA (India Pale Ale) is made with three different hops (Nugget, Cascade and Tettnang) that give it a crisp citrus bitterness while being lighter in alcohol at 4.8% ABV. And the American IPA has a sharper bitterness from four different hop varieties (Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and Cascade), and it's stronger at 7.1% ABV. All four beers will be distributed on draught and in six packs of 12-ounce bottles.
With these beers in Wisconsin Brewing's initial lineup, Nelson is sending a clear signal that he's doesn't intend to rely on his reputation for making traditional German styles. As Nelson moves forward, he will be using his new small-batch brewing system to develop new recipes. Nelson says he's already thinking about a Maibock, and hints that he intends to make a Saison and what he describes as a "kick ass pale" (ale).
Wisconsin Brewing officially opens its taproom on Friday, Nov. 1, and will be delivering its products to Verona neighbors in time for the weekend. It's official release of draught and bottled beer to the rest of the Madison market follows Monday, Nov. 4.