Madison's newest brewery is still technically based in Peter Gentry's living room, but it's bringing excitement to the near east side. Gentry, 32, is looking to open Madison's smallest brewery, which might also be one of smallest in the state. He's calling his venture One Barrel Brewing Company and is interested in a location on the 1100 block of Williamson Street. "It'll be a neighborhood conversation space, like a coffee shop, only with beer instead of coffee," says Gentry.
Gentry isn't making beer yet. He is still in the process of working through lease details. However, he's already accumulated several thousand dollars in new brewing equipment in anticipation of being able to start installing it within the next few weeks. His goal is to be open and serving his beer by summer.
Gentry grew up in the Marquette neighborhood, and hopes his small brewpub will be within walking distance of his childhood home (where his father Jim Gentry and mother Ellen Henningsen still live). That's fitting, because Gentry started homebrewing eight years ago when he bought a homebrew kit for his dad. After a few years, Gentry ended up with the kit, and his dad seemed just as happy with a case or two of beer every so often from what he made for him.
His dad is now storing some of that new equipment in the family home, because Gentry's own living room and basement is already overflowing with fermenters, small kegs and stainless steel brew pots. Gentry plans to make beer in 30 gallon batches, which is about one barrel at a time -- hence the brewery's name. Most of his equipment is new from Blichmann Engineering of Lafayette, Indiana, a company that specializes in helping small breweries and wineries.
Gentry is an accomplished homebrewer in the Madison area. His beers have won a handful of awards in local homebrew competitions. His signature beer, what he calls No. 2 Strong Ale, was one of the winners in the Grumpy Troll brewpub's homebrew challenge in 2009. That honor allowed him to make his first commercial-sized batch alongside then-brewmaster Mark Duchow (now owner of Sweet Mullets brewpub in Oconomowoc). The beer went on to win Honorable Mention in the 2010 U.S. Beer Tasting Championships.
Once Gentry's One Barrel Brewing Company is up and running, his standard beer list will consist mostly of ales. He's anticipating brewing almost daily to keep up with demand. "I know I won't get rich, it's impossible with this small of a system. When you run the numbers, you realize there are not enough hours in the day," Gentry laughs. But he's even quicker to point out that he's doing this because he loves beer. "It's basically a homebrewer's dream, I can brew what I want, when I want."
Along with No. 2 Strong Ale, Gentry's first beers are expected to be Penguin Pale Ale (a Belgian pale ale), and The Commuter (a Kölsch-style ale). The small system will allow Gentry to keep up to 10 beers on tap at a time, with an aggressive rotation of new brews constantly. His brewpub is also expected to serve light Wisconsin tavern-style foods like warm pretzels, Wisconsin cheese plates and locally-made pizzas.
Gentry is the former Madison sales manager of The Onion newspaper, and before that he sold print advertising to bars and restaurants in Madison. He says those experiences helped him learn about the local beer scene while developing relationships with bar managers and restaurant owners. Along the way he picked up a lot of valuable tips about running his own business.
Gentry recently met with residents in the Marquette Neighborhood to answer their questions about his business plan. He says that if he's unable to reach a lease agreement on the property on Williamson Street, he has other options in the Atwood neighborhood. But the road to making beer is still a long one for Gentry. Even after he secures space, he still has to meet local, state and federal licensing requirements.
If Gentry finds success, his longer term plans are to expand, but stay small. He says he would like to be able to open a second location, utilizing a slightly larger three-barrel system, somewhere in the Monroe Street area. His ultimate dream is to own a small production brewery capable of making 2,000-3,000 barrels a year. But now, all that seems a long way off.