Arriving early in Elkhorn for an errand I searched “Elkhorn brewery” and found Duesterbeck's Brewery. Mapping the directions, I soon found myself passing the town of Elkhorn and out into corn fields.
Turning onto a smaller road, I passed a farmer on a tractor who gave me a country wave. One more turn and I found myself at Duesterbeck's, N5543 County Rd O, in Elkhorn, a farm brewery if ever there was one.
Pulling into the parking lot, you’re confronted with picturesque red barn buildings, which are framed in a backdrop of corn fields.
Though the buildings are new, they are inspired by the agricultural architecture of the area and the design of the main brewery and taproom building – begun in December 2018 – was a direct nod to the 19th century dairy barn it replaced.
In fact, the current building is constructed with beams saved from its predecessor and wood from the old barn was used for the taproom bar top, the paneling behind the bar, table tops and trimwork.
Behind the taproom/brewhouse building is a spacious patio – on the site of the old cow pasture – where there’s often live music on the stage built over the old manure pit.
Just off to the left is a private seating cabana inside a corn crib. A nearby farmstand was made from an old trailer that the owner’s dad used to use to pick rocks out of the fields when he was a boy.
Off to the left is that events space seating about 170 people in a building that replaced the old pig barn and on the right of the main building is the gift shop, which sells beer memorabilia, home decor and other objects.
The property has been in the Duesterbeck family for more than a century and a half.
Husband and wife Ben and Laura Johnson own Duesterbeck.
Laura is a Duesterbeck family member and Ben is a dentist who has been homebrewing since 2001.
Laura dreamed of rejuvenating the dairy and hog farm, which has been in her family for five generations of her family before her, and Ben dreamed of taking his brewing hobby pro, which led Laura to the idea of merging those goals by restoring the farm and making it home to a brewery.
“We decided on this business because this united both our passions. I get to improve my farm and make sure it survives generations to come, and Ben gets to make beer,” Laura told the Visit Walworth County blog.
Now, even at noon on a weekday, it draws a respectable crowd – especially considering it’s less-than-densely populated location. A taproom bartender told me that folks come from Milwaukee, Waukesha, Rockford, Chicago and beyond – they had visitors from Puerto Rico recently.
The surrounding fields that are part of the Duesterbeck property are rented to nearby farmers.
The fruits of the brewery business will go back into the farm to help preserve it for future Duesterbeck/Johnson generations.
Soon, the Johnsons will tear down an old storage barn and build a new brewhouse expansion, adding capacity in the form of fermenters to the existing brewhouse, which will continue to share a building with the taproom.
And that’s good news because the taproom runs about 18 lines of house-brewed beer along with a half-dozen housemade Chester White seltzers. More fermenters means even more variety.
Plus it will help Duesterbeck’s keep up with demand from draught and retail customers it has begun to service in the area.
At the moment, the brew team brews three-four times a week.
When I visited there were no lagers on tap, but still a pretty good range of styles, from the flagship malt-forward Crop Duester cream ale, to the self-explanatory Bine Bomb IPA, to the sweet Nutty Bill’s peanut butter porter to a range of sour and fruited ales.
The Johnsons source as much as possible locally, including honey from Henningfeld Honey in Delavan and fruit fro, the Apple Barn Orchard just up the road in Elkhorn.
My favorite was the barley nuttiness and the copper color of Muddy Duroc, a London brown ale.
Duesterbeck has a canning line but lacks the space to get it up and running full-time at the moment, so they offer growlers, howlers and crowlers if you want to take beer home with you.
An “other drinks” menu offers Sprecher sodas, Rebel hard coffees, New Grist gluten-free beers, three kinds of kombucha, lemonade, energy drinks and bottled water.
A nearby food menu focuses on bar-style favorites like pizzas, pretzels, cheese curds and cheese wedges in a variety of styles, beer jerky and beef sticks, chips and salsa, salmon and trout spreads with crackers, and bags of chips.
There’s an ice cream food truck outside that’s run by the Johnson’s son.
Although the expanded space will give the kitchen staff a little more elbow room, there is no plan to expand the food menu, according to my friendly bartender.
The taproom itself is spacious and bright and a decor that’s a nice mix of modern with a farmhouse flair, with repurposed barn wood, a reclaimed wood bar top and zinc panels below.
The place is apparently, ahem, hopping on weekends, with a bustling patio and taproom business but also with folks out on the grass in lawn chairs they brought themselves. It’s a family friendly vibe, with lots of children running around, too.
I don’t know what I expected when Duesterbeck’s Brewery popped up on my phone, but it wasn’t what I got. And what I got was a pretty unique experience with solid beer, a stunning setting and a friendly staff.
I visit a fair number of breweries and this is one of my new favorites.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.