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Octopi Brewing plans to offer Wisconsin a vision of better contract beer

Showaki: 'If the beer is great, people will come back for more.'
Credit:Octopi Brewing Company
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Isaac Showaki has heard every complaint in the book regarding contract-brewed beer -- in fact, he's uttered most of them. As a cofounder of Chicago's 5 Rabbit Cervecería, Showaki was responsible for handling the brewery's contracts as the company started out. Frustrations with contract brewing, from sub-par quality to packaging compromises, plagued him constantly.

"I've already learned from other people's mistakes," he says.

After leaving 5 Rabbit in 2013 amid a falling out with his partner Andres Araya, Showaki set his sights on Madison. "I wanted to open a new venture in Wisconsin," he says. "It's a great place for beer, especially craft, and Madison's great living in general -- and Wisconsin has the lowest beer tax in the U.S."

Showaki's solution? A bigger, better contract model. He is launching Octopi Brewing, a brewery where he plans to devote 90% of its initial capacity to contracts with small startup breweries, restaurants, hotels, and other retailers, as well as existing breweries that want to increase capacity.

To be located at 3801 Kipp St. on the southeast side of Madison, just off Hwy. 51 north of McFarland, Octopi would start out with a 50-barrel brewhouse that has an annual production capacity of 10,000 barrels. With an eye on serving the Midwest market, Showaki currently hopes to open the brewery by the spring of 2015, pending city approval of construction plans.

Octopi would also offer consulting on design, brand building, and beer formulation. "I want to help and guide new customers in the brewing industry with formula creation, packaging design, marketing, supplier selection and equipment sourcing," says Showaki, who now lives in the Madison area.

Showaki also plans to offer Octopi-branded beer that will be served (along with contract brews) at an on-site taproom seating 70-80 patrons. In the future, he hopes to add a canning line. "It really helps beer taste great," Showaki notes. Though his lips are sealed as to his chosen chief brewer's name, he confirms that this person hails from the Midwest.

"My first marketing tool is, 'Try my beer,'" Showaki says. He says many breweries that operate on contract don't cater specifically to those clients, and so the quality of the beer suffers. He witnessed this firsthand in his work with 5 Rabbit. "We worked with eight breweries in 18 months," he recalls.

Showaki believes Octopi can fill an important void in Wisconsin's beer scene with his vision for contract brewing, particularly with its emphsis on small production runs. "My main focus is on true craft and specialty beers. Some of the breweries in the Midwest that contract-brew focus on macro clients with huge minimum orders," he explains. "I specialize in smaller-order craft beers and helping the customer make all the right decisions."

Asked what he'd tell customers and retailers who turn up their noses at contract-brewed beer, Showaki points to the goals for his business. "If the beer is great, people will come back for more," he says. "I believe in not rushing things. If you have to take an extra week and get something right, get it right. And Octopi will have a strong financial backbone to do that."

For Showaki, great contract beer is the craft beer world's key to building new fans. A contract-brewed craft option at a restaurant or bar is often the perfect gateway. "It takes only one beer" to convert a lifelong macro drinker to craft, he says. Growing up in Mexico, Showaki attended college at Boston University, where he tried his first craft beer. That thinking was also behind his successful campaign to convince Chipotle to sell 5 Rabbit beer in Chicago-area outlets.

Building upon that approach, Showaki sees contract brewing as a way to serve as his clients' "extra arm" -- hence the Octopi brand -- and get craft beer into more places where macros rule, or where beer isn't even on the menu.

With that in mind, along with ongoing rapid growth of the market, Showaki sees plenty of room to expand: "I believe Wisconsin's craft beer share has the potential to go up to 20 or 30% -- where Oregon is -- in the next ten years."

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