VERONA — The startup plan for the state’s newest brewery follows a different path from most craft brewing companies.

New Glarus Brewing Co. started in 1993 in an old appliance factory after Deb and Dan Carey sold their house. Tom Porter cashed in his 401(k) to buy a three-barrel brewhouse for Lake Louie Brewing, which he built in a 576-square-foot storage shed near Arena. And Madison’s Ale Asylum, now in a 45,000-square-foot, $8 million brewery, started in 2006 in a strip mall and initially made about 2,500 barrels a year.

Not so for Wisconsin Brewing Co.

Its $11 million Verona facility has a brewhouse that can make 80 barrels of beer per batch and is scheduled to produce 20,000 barrels in its first year.

The company is debt-free, having raised $8 million from investors, and by 2015 plans to spend more than $12 million on a state-of-the-art bottling and packaging line that would be housed in a new addition. Ultimately, and in relatively short order, the company wants to produce 250,000 barrels a year, about double what New Glarus, the state’s largest craft brewer, will make this year.

“Those are pretty amazing numbers to me, only in that no craft brewery in the state has done that yet. And there are people that have been in business for a lot of years,” said Jeff Hamilton, president of Sprecher Brewing Co. in Milwaukee and past president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild. “It’s probably possible, but it’s pretty tough to do.”

Besides its size and lofty production goals, Wisconsin Brewing Co. — which opens its doors this week in the Verona Technology Park — has a management team with decades of experience in brewing, distribution, finance and construction.

CEO and president Carl Nolen and vice president and brewmaster Kirby Nelson both spent years at Capital Brewery in Middleton. Nolen’s brother, Mark Nolen, is the company’s chief financial officer and brings more than 35 years of banking and business start-up experience to the brewery. Mike McGuire, the operations director who guided the brewery’s construction, spent more than 30 years with Alliant Energy, where he most recently traveled extensively building wind farms. He also was the first investor in the brewery.

“There is no way we fail,” said McGuire, a Beloit native and UW-Eau Claire graduate. “This is such a great team because everyone has their own expertise.”

Wisconsin Brewing Co. was formed after the Nolens made an unsuccessful bid in 2011 to buy Capital Brewery. The duo then began scouring the region for a place to start a brewery, and they found some property just off Highway 18-151 at the intersection of highways M and PB.

The facility was built by developer John Livesey with the understanding that WBC, which contributed $400,000 to the construction costs, would someday buy the building. The city of Verona kicked in $600,000 in tax incremental financing for construction costs.

The brewery’s tap room will open Friday, with Wisconsin Brewing’s four beers also being sold exclusively at Verona restaurants and bars at the outset.

On Nov. 4, the beer will appear in liquor and grocery stores, as well as bars and restaurants in a 22-county area stretching from the Fox River Valley to southwest Wisconsin, served by Sun Prairie-based Wisconsin Distributors.

Sales to the Milwaukee area are scheduled to begin in February or March with further territories to follow.

“Our branding really takes us statewide, really Midwest, really regional as we get bigger because of the way we branded everything,” Mark Nolen said. “Most of this plant here, all of this engineering, doesn’t have to be replicated. We just add tanks and some piping, and the cost (to expand) is much lower.”

The company has already ordered more fermentation tanks and has a business plan that spends $250,000 every quarter to buy kegs, which eventually will become the brewery’s largest single capital expense, Carl Nolen said. Kegs will be filled at the brewery, but tanker trucks, filled with 180 to 200 barrels of beer, will haul freshly brewed beer to the Stevens Point Brewery, more than 120 miles north, for bottling.

“Once we get over 20,000 (barrels), we will have the strategy in place to build that out and add the bottling plant,” Nolen said. “The go button is somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 barrels where we just have to bring it back in-house.”

The brewery, which is next to a 9-acre pond, has a 12-tap tasting room that can accommodate 200 guests and has outdoor space for a beer garden with picturesque views. The brewery is positioned to attract 200,000 tourists a year, many of whom will also visit nearby cheesemakers, wineries and other breweries.

High-tech venture

The Nolens — two of nine children in the family — grew up on Madison Street on the Near West Side. Their father, Pierce Nolen, owned The Congress, one of the city’s most famous Downtown watering holes.

Mark, 65, had stints with M&I Bank and Heritage Bank before he helped found Johnson Bank. Since 2009, he has worked as a consultant in the banking industry.

Carl, 56, got his start in the beer business delivering kegs to bars on State Street in 1978. His background includes working for beer distributors in northern and central Wisconsin, and working in management at then Coors Brewing Co. in Golden, Colo.

Both were surprised no one had laid claim to the Wisconsin Brewing Co. name.

“We needed a name that would support the strategic plan of the company,” Carl Nolen said. “We were excited to find the name. It’s simple, it’s clean and it’s who we are.”

Primary construction began in March, the brewing equipment began arriving in July, and the first test batches were out in September. Technology and automation are signature pieces of the operation.

Nelson, the brewmaster who spent 25 years at Capital Brewery, spends much of his time behind a bank of computer screens where, with a click of a mouse from inside a control room, he can regulate temperature, water flow and the addition of grains and hops to the brewhouse, made by German company GEA in Hudson.

Over the last year, Nelson, who still drives his 1987 BMW, has created four beers for this week’s launch.

He brewed and tested the recipes at the Great Dane and Vintage Brewing Co., where 2,500 glasses each of Bold & Robust Porter, WBC Amber lager, American IPA (India pale ale) and Session IPA were served.

“The only limit on potential is our imaginations,” Nelson said. “I have very fond memories at Capital, but this is really something.”

Covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(34) comments

plotman
plotman

I recently toured the brewery and sampled all the beers and was very surprised. My surprise was good because all the negative comments about the beer was proven wrong. As a bar owner I will carry all 4 to start and let the consumer decide.Lexus,get a clue Kirby never started the IPA's..all the negatives. What I would like to see is some boycotting of Ale Asylum by other bars that they compete against by having a FullBar and restaurant.

Big_Joe
Big_Joe

Ditto on the vitriol. I see a group of confident, accomplished entrepreneurs setting out to realize a vision. The party poopers like Lexus very likely have vision that barely extends beyond their nose. Negativity. It works for some people, but not those who takes risks and get things done.

dante
dante

Wow, the vitriol on here is astounding. Personally, I'm glad to see another brewery start up as it'll just drive ALL of them to produce better beer. More competition is a good thing, as it'll ensure quality stays high and prices stay low. Do you think that Ale Asylum would've dropped their prices by $0.50/6-pack (Woodman's prices, anyway) down to $7.50 if Capital and New Glarus weren't still selling beer at $7? Or that NG or Capital would have kept their prices low if the other wasn't in business to offer an alternative?

The only thing I will note, however, is that the market could get saturated and collapse, similar to what happened in the 1990s. NG is doing ~120k barrels this year, AA is doing ~20-30k, Capital is breaking ground on a new brewery with a capacity of ~100k, and now WBC is looking at jumping in with 20k barrels its first year (on the way up to 100k+). That's a crazy amount of growth in just a couple years, and I do wonder whether it's sustainable.

That being said, I love the idea of local breweries, and the vast amount of choices we get. When you think about having to choose between *which* local brewery you're going to support, that's a great problem to have.

plotman
plotman

Great points

Lexus Peterson
Lexus Peterson

Put it this way - when WBC has beers at next years Great Taste there will be no line. True gauge.

LouieLouie
LouieLouie

Kirby and crew ARE part of the craft beer fraternity. Why would other breweries allow them to test batch at their respective facilities? The comment by Mike McGuire 'There is no way we fail' may easily be re phrased 'Failure is not an option' due to the amazing amount of effort and cash it takes to start a brewery. Yes, the risks are high. Some of the folks commenting might want to buy some rubber boots and walk in a brewers' shoes sometime. Wisconsin Brewing has a great chance of succeeding because of the 'large' size of their facility. The Craft industry is growing up. Small start ups simply don't have the ability to create/maintain profit margins (something banks and investors are keenly aware of) due to increased buying power of raw materials. As to the 'Rock Star' treatment', I DO treat my accountant like a rock star.

freddiebell
freddiebell

I certainly see and understand why some people here are turned off by the level of arrogance that WBC leaders demonstrate with their comments here. That's not a good way to make a first impression, and it runs counter to many of the virtues that informed observers cite when discussing what they like most about craft brewing -- small size and a sense of fraternity, relating to and understanding their consumer base, personal love for product and process above desire for profits and expansion, etc. etc. I'm not saying that WBC does not feel or understand those same things. But their comments here don't seem to reflect that spirit. In fairness, we don't know how the interviews were edited, if the comments are representative of all that was shared, or if other, more sympathetic comments were left out. So it's probably wise not to draw too many conclusions about WBC in the absence of full and firm evidence, and instead simply judge them by the merits of the brews that they produce.

That said, this episode reminds me of the recent column where the owners of a new contract brewing operation (Pecatonica Brewing -- beers made by Minhas in Monroe) made some negative references to their host brewers and implied that they somehow would help Minhas to clean up their act, as if a group of guys who never have made a barrel of beer professionally in their lives know more about how to do it than those who have been in business since 1845. Again, we don't know how representative that was of the overall content of the interviews. But, as presented, it was yet another example of unnecessary and inappropriate arrogance from prospective brewers who have yet to prove themselves to the public.

Coincidence? Maybe not. I can't help but think that we craft beer consumers might have something to do with it. Perhaps to some extent we empower them and enable the attitudes. Too often real and prospective brewers are treated as celebrities (aka the rock star treatment) more than people who simply are doing a job -- not unlike the rest of us who, too, may be excellent at what we do, without all of the hype and hoopla. I certainly can envision how that might go to the heads of some brewers who read their own press and fan mail, take in the hero worship at brewers' festivals and other public activities, and don't keep it all in perspective. To be sure, most craft brewers are not that way, and in fact do an admirable job of interacting with their consumers, making them part of the process, and remembering where they came from as beer lovers first and foremost, like so many of us. Just the same, maybe we should all ease off on putting craft brewers and brewery owners up on a pedestal and simply see them for what they are: individuals dedicated to their trade but in the end just doing a job of their choosing: making and selling a product commercially. There are some really great craft brewers. But their also are some really great shoemakers, and widget manufacturers, and bakers, and sausage makers -- not to mention great teachers, and accountants, and policemen, and firefighters, and soldiers, and bartenders, ...

Let's make sure we keep it all in perspective.

trent
trent

Oh my head hurts. You people are so retarded. Beer is not about uber anything it is about just keeping true to the laws of chemistry. Overly hoppy and double or triple flavors is not better. Kirby has made fantastic beers and propelled real brewing back in Wisconsin like my forefathers made and learned in the old country. I and all of you owe him a great debt of gratitude for everything he has done and will do with this new venture. If you want to drink Frankenstein beers there are plenty to choose from but leave the good stuff to the rest of us. Hopefully real beer like Kirby's will become cost effective again and we can move back to pre-prohibition days almost a 100 years ago.

3cats
3cats

I'll give you guys a reason you could fail: the economy tanks again and folks can't afford the
$8-$10.00 six packs you are trying to peddle. Yeah, it's easy to be a beer snob but a lot of people can only afford Busch Lite etc.

Lrobby99
Lrobby99

I'll be happy to try their beers. Bring 'em on.

Mr_Deeks
Mr_Deeks

I have known Kirby from the beginning of Capitol. I was an equipment supplier for that first venture. I am delighted that his dream has come true because he couldn't have worked any harder for it. The Nolens may come off as a bit arrogant but Kirby is a humble and. Hard working Brew Master. I can't believe that he will craft any mundane beers. I wish them success and happiness.

Norwood44
Norwood44

The craft beer category has become a bit precious. There are some good beers, but there is also some wretched excess. Just ask Triumph The Insult Dog.
http://foodspin.deadspin.com/triumph-the-insult-comic-dog-visits-the-great-american-1450684336

Whazzat
Whazzat

Sounds like New Glaraus will have competition selling bland beer.

ggth
ggth

I'd suggest these gentlemen stop doing interviews - or at least talk less about themselves and their widget distribution plan.

GrandPrixGT
GrandPrixGT

Some of the more memorable Capital ones under Kirby were a Vintage Ale, a Dark Dopplebock, a Wild Rice Dopplebock, and various tweeks to the Dopplebock theme.

GrandPrixGT
GrandPrixGT

Capital made an awesome Baltic Porter while Kirby was there.

Ignatius J Reilly
Ignatius J Reilly

Despite the arrogant attitude I detect in this story, I will still support them. It just doesn't make me feel that good about it. I don't feel the craft brewing spirit here. Do you need to say "There is no way we fail"? There are plenty of ways businesses fail. It happens all the time. I don't want them to fail and won't let one story dictate my opinion of them, but don't SAY something like that. It doesn't come across well. Just make beer people like and that will speak for itself. I wish them luck and am looking forward to sampling what they have to offer. Like someone said earlier, it's all about what's in the glass.

monotone
monotone

You kind of want them to fail after reading this. Part of the reason craft beer drinkers are loyal to their brand is because they have been there with them while they were a tiny brewery. Have seen them grow, introduce new beers and mature.Their success is your success. Starting this big, this fast with with such a cocky attitude has disaster written all over it.

Bad-Mike Hill
Bad-Mike Hill

Whoa, Whoa, such negativity..... if you are going to invest millions in a business venture you better have a plan and a goal. You better be confident in what you do, so don't mistake that for cockiness. These Gentlemen have plenty of success behind them and there is absolutely no reason to believe they will not continue with that success. They love beer and will make great beers that will be distinct from the other local breweries. I wish them the best and much success, we cannot have enough craft beers in the area. I enjoy all the local breweries, I have my favorites, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the wide varieties of beer we are fortunate to have in this area. Don't complain..........ENJOY!

NorthernDaneCounty
NorthernDaneCounty

I don't wish them any ill will and I'll definitely give them a chance but I don't see them as just being confident. The Brewers Association list Wisconsin as producing less than 399,00 bbl last year and WBC expects in "relatively short order" (whatever that actually translates to in years) to be producing over 62% of that. Even with the increase in popularity of craft beer that is a huge number. I, along with most of the craft drinkers that I have talked to, have thought that Capital had become complacent and they seem to have become more adventurous in the short time since Kirby and Carl left than they have been for years before that. Hopefully everyone involved needed a change of scenery and will all be better and stronger for it. That being said, more choices and variety is never a bad thing.

Ignatius J Reilly
Ignatius J Reilly

It's great that they're excited about what they're doing, but the cockiness is causing me to be less excited about supporting them.

SoylentGreen
SoylentGreen

25 years at Capitol and it still couldn't eclipse New Glarus and many other breweries. DO you really think a pile of money and ambition (and over inflated ego) and make up for mediocre beer? Ale Asylum, New Glarus, and Lake Louie grew with quality product and careful plannig whereas you're working really hard to be big and bland. Even your test bed facility, the Great Dane, is little more than Granite City lite.

Good luck guys, you're certainly going to need it.

freddiebell
freddiebell

SoylentGreen: From where I sit, you contradict yourself. On one hand you bemoan a sense of arrogance and entitlement you perceive from WBC. But then you come off as a beer snob yourself in panning both Great Dane and Granite City -- both of which are successful and have plenty of customers, so they must be doing something right.

Your opinion that Capital made "mediocre" beer under Nolen and Nelson is just that ... an opinion, nothing more. Many people disagree with you. You also take it for granted that WBC will make "bland" beers. Unless you've tried them already and can state empirically why that is the case, how are you positioned to pass judgment when the rest of us are not? If you have evidence, share it. Otherwise you need to wait until you have the facts.

I can support your initial premise. WBC has to earn the trust and respect of beer consumers and the brewing community. It can't and shouldn't be handed to them. But the rest of your commentary comes off as the same disagreeable attitude that you don't want to hear from someone else. Nobody needs it. So let's lose the beer snob rhetoric, give WBC a fair chance to see what they can/will do, and then draw our conclusions. They deserve the same opportunity to succeed as the other firms you mention, whether you like their attitude or not. First and foremost it's about what's in the glass.

SoylentGreen
SoylentGreen

Beer snob? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I do know that having 'plenty of customers' does not equate quality. By that measure, bud light is one of the best beers in the world. And yes, I have had WBC's beers and yes, they are uninspired.

While with Capital Nolen made a lot of beer with very few remarkable qualities, much like the Dane and Granite city. And they've had a 'fair chance' for 25 years. Could they pul off something different at WBC? Maybe, but I find it highly unlikely.

Yes, it's just my opinion but that's all anyone has - opinion. There is no objective benchmark for what makes a good beer, certainly not # of sales or # of customers (again - Bud Light, #1 selling beer in the US) Your opinion is no more or less valid than mine, so if you think you've got some position to tell me otherwise, well, you're simply wrong.

freddiebell
freddiebell

SoylentGreen: You miss the point. I expressly did not offer an opinion about the WBC beers because I have no experience with them. You did. I also did not pass judgment upon other brewers' products here. Again, you did. That's why I called you out. It's not for you to speak for everyone else -- including me. I'm an informed observer of the craft beer segment, have been so for the last 25 years, and I do not agree with your assessment. I also don't think that, even with all that experience, I'm in a position to tell others what beers are "good" and which ones aren't. So I don't.

If, as you say, you've had the WBC brews already, and yours is an informed opinion, then (and as I said before) share with us what we are missing. Tell us about the product attributes, how representative they are of their styles (by commonly accepted guidelines or otherwise), how they compare with other, well-known examples of those styles, what flaws they have beyond perceived blandness, and other things that back up your claim. Otherwise you're not really contributing anything new or newsworthy to the thread.

Since you brought it up, yes, in fact Bud Light (and Budweiser) are among the best beers in the world -- for what they try to be. They each are clean, crisp, refreshing beers as per their designated styles. (You fail to note, and as knowledgeable brewers will tell you, that light beer is in fact the hardest beer style to make and perfect, unlike their much heavier counterparts, precisely because there is nothing to hide behind -- any flaws and off-flavors are immediately perceptible, especially to a trained taster's palette.) And, no, I don't buy, sell, make, or consume A-B products. I'm as interested in and supportive of craft brewers and their products as you or anyone else here. I just believe in giving credit where it's due and not taking an arrogant approach to the topic. I've also found over time that the whole industry looks (and tastes) better, and the discussions are more productive, with the glass half-full rather than half-empty. It's better to say something nice about a brewer and its output than something negative, and where the assessment is in fact negative, just say nothing. That speaks louder than words sometimes.

As a rule, nobody buys a beer that is lousy more than once with their hard-earned money. If it doesn't taste good, people will move quite naturally in another direction. We are blessed to live in a time and place with so many worthy options -- truly the golden age of beer and brewing in the United States, including the pre-Prohibition years. Let's let the market decide whether WBC, Capital, A-B, and everyone else makes good or bad beer as they see it. Neither of us is in a position to make that decision for the masses. WBC will rise and fall of their own accord, not simply because of what you or I think. I'm sure they know that and are planning accordingly, even if their words here do not reflect particularly well upon them coming out of the gate.

SoylentGreen
SoylentGreen

"As a rule, nobody buys a beer that is lousy more than once with their hard-earned money. If it doesn't taste good, people will move quite naturally in another direction."

The simple fact that Bud Light is the #1 selling beer in the US proves this wrong. People don't purchase this (or Coors Light or Miller light) for it's outstanding taste, they buy it because of it's juggernaut advertizing campaigns, low price, peer pressure and a fear of the unknown. Stating that it's the best of it's style is irrelevant. McDonalds is the best of it's market as well, and creating a product that's consistent worldwide is equally difficult, but nether make it good food. Liquor stores are full of bad alcohol that sells in great quantity for a variety of reasons.

As for backing up my claims, why bother? You've already made it clear you feel opinions don't matter. Anyone who bothered to stop at the GD could drink WBC's beer to their hearts content. I did, it wasn't good, No amount of discussion on mouth feel, lasting noise or whatever other beer advocatesque phrasing will change that.

I don't wish them ill in any way, OI just expect nothing short of another boring selection on the shelves of the local liquor store

freddiebell
freddiebell

SoylentGreen: You and I are not as far apart in our positions as you seem to think. It's more a matter of how it is presented. In fact I enjoy hearing your perspective, even where we disagree.

Yes, mass market advertising has had a major hand in consumer behavior over the years -- in the beer sector as much as anywhere. That more than anything (aside from possibly price points -- just ask former brewers what Old Milwaukee did to local brands when Schlitz was able to undercut them with that label in the target markets) is the reason why we no longer have brewers in this state such as Rahr, Oshkosh, Peoples, Effinger, Breunig, Walter/Hibernia, Potosi (pre-brewpub), Marathon, Mathie-Ruder, Rhinelander, ... and Fauerbach, to name just a few of the casualties. They made good beer. They simply could not compete. That said, micros and brewpubs do not seek to compete with megabrewers. They have successfully developed their own niche, relatively immune from the impact of saturation media advertising. If anything the big brewers have been chasing the micros, putting out "small-looking" brews without their corporate name attached to try to gain back some of their own dwindling market shares. Think about what that means.

Actually, I am interested in what you think of the WBC beers if in fact you've had them, beyond a meaningless generic descriptor ("bland," "wasn't good"). That's why I invited you to share. An informed opinion has the potential to convince others to try something -- or not to do so and better spend their limited money elsewhere. Much of the small brewing trade has to do with word-of-mouth publicity. Besides, not everybody who reads these e-pages is in Madison and able to stop at Great Dane to sample, so you can be of help to those of us not as geographically fortunate as you are in this case. You are in a position to perform a valuable service. How about it?

True, also, that many Bud Light drinkers do not want a microbrew in the first place and don't seek to enhance their beer profile. But many others do -- how else to explain that the market share for craft brewing keeps growing while it is stagnant to shrinking for the macros? I've seen numerous examples of people who liked Miller/Lite/Bud/Bud Light/Coors Light who agreed to try a Spotted Cow -- an excellent gateway brew for the relatively uninitiated to craft brewing -- and, once they decided they liked it, moved on to amber lagers, red ales, and other (to many people here) pedestrian brews -- but craft brews nevertheless. It was an upgrade and also a step toward something more assertive later on. It is part of a gradual process. More and more people are taking that step, in stages, and it has nothing to do with glitzy advertising campaigns. We all are better off for that, and for letting them decide for themselves what is next rather than saying for them what is "good" or "bad" based purely on opinion.

(An aside: I see your point, but I wouldn't call McDonald's "the best of its market" anymore, if in fact it ever was, among the mega burger makers. Have you had their fries in recent years and seen what lousy quality control they have anymore, across the chain, with regard to them? One day, and at one place, they are great, another day and at another location they taste rancid, cooked in old, overused oil, left out too long after cooking, or otherwise rendered virtually inedible. That is inexcusable for a mega producer like them, with the resources and know-how to do much better -- and part of why I give an earned nod to A-B for its beers. One may not prefer them, but at least they are consistent and reliable -- again, for what they try to be. You know exactly what you are getting if/when you buy one.)

Lexus Peterson
Lexus Peterson

One other thing- why after reading this am I not excited to try a Wisconsin Beer Company beer? I'm usually pretty excited to try a new WI beer but not so much with these guys. Can't put my finger on it. There's no real good story here. Maybe they can name their first IPA We Are Awesome

SoylentGreen
SoylentGreen

Probably because you're already had their beer under the Capitol label

McGruber548
McGruber548

Funny, I didn't know capital made an IPA or porter while Kirby was there

SoylentGreen
SoylentGreen

Baltic porter and the 2 IPAs currently available which would have begun under him.

Lexus Peterson
Lexus Peterson

So what do they do if their beer sucks? That my friend is how you fail. No management super team can save you when you make piss water.

number6
number6

Careful, 'Piss Water' is a copyrighted beer name in Wisconsin.

Peabody122
Peabody122

Over confidant? The one thing that could stop them cold is if the beers suck.

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