Ravinder Minhas shaved off his mustache and goatee about nine months ago.

He looks younger without the facial hair but that's fine with him, since he no longer worries about trying to appear older.

Minhas, whose German-sounding name is actually Sikh, certainly doesn't have the profile of most 24-year-olds.

On Oct. 4, the Calgary, Alberta, native whose parents were born in India, bought the Joseph Huber Brewing Co. in Monroe.

But what's even more remarkable is that Minhas, who graduated from the University of Calgary in 2005 with a petroleum engineering degree, paid for the brewery without loans, investors or partners, he said. He used the money he has earned since starting a liquor company six years ago and his Mountain Crest Brewing Co. in 2003, both in Calgary and which have combined annual revenues of over $55 million.

"I was impressed. I think he's going to make some things happen down here," said Rich Schindler, owner of the Swiss Haus Food & Spirits and who met Minhas Wednesday at a gathering Minhas hosted for local business owners and operators. "He was interesting to talk to. He's sharp."

Minhas, who wouldn't disclose the purchase price or terms of the deal, has big plans. He wants to introduce a new beer before the end of the year and spend between $500,000 and $1 million to add another production line by January. That could increase employment at the brewery.

He also would like to increase production from 170,000 to 400,000 barrels a year. That would likely mean expanding the plant, which sits on two blocks near the city square. A new paint job and signs on the outside are also in the works. Just two days after buying the brewery, Minhas changed the name to Minhas Craft Brewery.

"I work hard and I work fast," Minhas said. "I call it the speed of Ravinder."

Minhas claims to be the youngest brewery owner in the world. He also may be one of the most energetic and confident. He is a Canadian regional finalist in the Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year contest. His parents, Rani and Moni Minhas, started a liquor store business in 1994 when the government in Alberta privatized the liquor industry, which had been previously run by the province. They quickly built the business into three locations with Ravinder (pronounced Rah-VINN-derr) and his sister, Manjit, now 26, learning along the way.

When Ravinder Minhas graduated from high school, he and his sister used $10,000 from the sale of Manjit's 1998 Toyota Rav 4 to start Mountain Crest Liquors. The purpose of the company was to create recipes and market premium liquor to sell to bars and restaurants.

The company got a break when tequila prices sky rocketed in Canada. Ravinder and Manjit, who had previously secured low-priced tequila, then took over a large portion of the tequila business in Alberta.

Manjit Minhas left the company in January 2005 to start her own beer company, selling her Minhas Creek Brewing Co. beers throughout Canada, but not in Alberta. Her five labels of beer are brewed at City Brewery in La Crosse.

"We don't encroach in each other's territories," Manjit Minhas said by cell phone from Calgary. "We're 18 months apart and we've always been very close as siblings. We like to do the same things."

Sitting Monday in the Founder's Tap Room, a place to sample beer and learn about the history of the brewery, Ravinder Minhas was relaxed and talkative. Behind him were two historic portraits of former brewery owners Adam Blumer and Joseph Huber. The brewery began production in 1845, three years before Wisconsin was a state.

Blumer bought the brewery in 1885. During Prohibition, he changed the company's name from Blumer Brewing Co. to Blumer Products Corp, which produced near beer, ice cream and soft drinks.

Blumer hired Huber in 1923 and when the brewery was sold to Carl Marty in 1939, Huber was put in charge. In 1947, Huber acquired partial ownership of the brewery, changing the name to the Joseph Huber Brewing Co.

Since that time the brewery has been sold four times, which includes Minhas buying the company from the Weinstein family, which owns General Beverage in Madison. The Weinsteins bought the brewery in 1995 out of bankruptcy.

"We've gone through some tough times," said Dennis Cleaveland, 56, a 38-year employee who believes Minhas will be good for the brewery. "We've had a lot of business with him and he's really pushing the product."

For the past three years, Minhas has contracted with the brewery to brew his "Damn Good Beer," the marketing slogan used for Mountain Crest's nine brands of beer. It accounts for about 80 percent of the beer produced at the Monroe facility.

The majority of Mountain Crest beer is shipped to Calgary, where its sold only in Alberta. His Mountain Creek, Rockhead and High Test beers are also sold in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. Minhas wants to expand to all 50 states and wants to use his new beer that is under development to help in that effort.

Before Minhas started using the brewery, there was just one shift running Monday through Friday. Now there are two shifts running Monday through Friday and Minhas believes weekend production is a possibility. He doesn't know how many jobs would be created.

"We kept this place afloat and they know that, so it's been a much easier transition," Minhas said. "If you treat people with respect, you'll get respect." Minhas, who wants to create a brewery museum, has also purchased the Rhinelander and Huber beer brands and the Blumer's soda line. He's especially fond of the root beer and thinks it might be a hit in Canada.

The Berghoff beer brand, which has been Huber's most popular brand, will be produced by a new company called Berghoff Brewing Co., which will contract with Minhas to brew the beer.

At Baumgartner's Cheese Store & Tavern, known for its Limburger cheese and onion sandwiches, Berghoff Red and Huber Bock are among the most requested drinks.

"He's obviously got a lot of great ideas," said Tyler Soukup, 26, who bought Baumgartner's in May 2005 with his brother Chris, 23. "For the town to embrace him, he'll have to do a good job over a period of time. I just hope they keep making Huber."


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