"It's my turn now," says Kirby Nelson, looking out of windows of his new brewhouse. Nelson's reflections come after taking a year off from brewing while his new, from-the-ground-up brewery took shape. His turn truly began as he fired up the brew kettle on Friday afternoon.
Wisconsin Brewing Company, located at 1079 American Way on the southern edge of Verona, has been under construction for nearly a year. But now Nelson gets to try his hand at filling the mash tun with water, malt and hops for the first time. Just before making that first beer, his famous "tell it like it is" demeanor seems to have transformed into that of a kid with a new toy crossed with the nervous energy of an expectant father.
"Every day I'm more enthusiastic about all of this," Nelson says. "After all, how often do you get to be part of starting up a place like this?"
It shouldn't surprise those familiar with Nelson to find out he's making an amber lager for his first beer. Many of Nelson's most well-known brews during the nearly 27 years he was at Middleton's Capital Brewery were based on German lager brewing traditions. "I'm a lager guy at heart," he admits.
Nelson is on schedule for an early November launch of at least four beers. Wisconsin Brewing won't initially be going with specific brand names for its beers, which will rather be labeled more simply by style. Along with Amber Lager, the brewery's initial lineup is expected to feature its American IPA, Session IPA, and Porter. Nelson made pilot versions of each over recent months while teaming up with Rob LoBreglio of the Great Dane and Scott Manning from Vintage Brewing, and he also maintains a test-brewing system to develop future recipes.
Carl Nolen, president of Wisconsin Brewing and a 33-year veteran of the beer business, says opening this brewery has a special feel of accomplishment: "This is different from just adding a major piece of equipment."
Wisconsin Brewing broke ground on its Verona site last winter and components of the German-designed and Wisconsin-built brewhouse started arriving over the summer.
The brewhouse is capable of making beer in 80-barrel batches (a barrel is approximately 31 gallons). The brewery’s initial design should allow it to turn out about 100,000 barrels a year before any significant additional expansion is required. As each new piece of equipment arrived over the last few weeks, a wave of excitement overtook the brewhouse.
"Every time we do something for the first time, we're all high-fiving each other," Nolen says, as he watches the final pressure checks on the brewing system. "It's been fun to see all this new equipment come alive.”
Nelson is excited as well, having missed the responsibilities of being a brewmaster while construction was underway. "I finally get to do what I like to do and what I want to do," he says.
Wisconsin Brewing plans to debut its beers Friday, November 1. That date is also Nelson's birthday, which ensures it will be far from a typical opening day celebration. Over that weekend, Nelson and Nolen will personally deliver beer kegs to bars, taverns and restaurants in the brewery's hometown of Verona. That's intended as a thank-you for their local support.
Starting the first full week of November, kegs will be released throughout southern Wisconsin. The brewery will also have a taproom for visitors, and is slated to open to the public later in November. Wisconsin Brewing will provide ongoing information about its launch plans via Facebook and Twitter.
"We've been asked if that first keg will de dipped in gold," says Nolen. "No! It's going into our stomachs!"