Central Waters Brewing Co., founded in 1998 in Junction City, and owned by Anello Mollica and brewmaster Paul Graham, will open a second brewery and taproom in Milwaukee, the brewery announced.
Central Waters – located in Amherst in north central Wisconsin and the state’s first green-powered brewery – is subleasing the former Captain Pabst Pilot House, 1037 W. Juneau Ave.
The opening is a homecoming for Mollica, who was raised in Milwaukee.
“This is huge for me personally,” says Mollica. “Milwaukee is my hometown; I was born and raised here. Growing up, the beer that my family drank was Pabst, and ONLY Pabst. To be able to bring the brewery that Paul and I built back to my hometown, in a Pabst facility on the Pabst grounds, leaves me humbled and speechless.
“Paul is from Rochester, Minnesota, but the two of us have known each other and been great friends far longer than Central Waters has been around. Paul has even stayed at the house in Milwaukee I grew up in, so I know he feels the same pride as I do. After all, he's a Wisconsin kid now.”
Mollica says that Central Waters has looked at a number of potential sites for a Central Waters presence in Brew City, but nothing has felt quite right, until now.
“We knew that if we are going to do this, it has to be the right pace, the right location, with a fitting story,” he says. “When this opportunity presented itself, Paul and I drove down to tour the space. On the drive back to Amherst we both agreed that this was it.
“It is a beautiful historic building, full of brewery lore, in a city we love. We couldn't be more excited to showcase our love for our craft in a city so close to our hearts.”
Mollica says that Pabst left its entire brewing system behind in the building’s lower level and Central Waters will put it to use, but not making the flagships and other brews made up north.
“Our intention here is to utilize our Amherst brewery to provide all of our current offerings to this space,” says Mollica, who says the Milwaukee brewery will instead produce beers that are different from the ones Central Waters brews up in Amherst.
“We intend to install a canning line there, and begin offering sporadic can releases of Milwaukee-exclusive beers,” he says. “This will be yet another playground for our staff to experiment and make styles that we don't have the production space for in Amherst.
“People that are familiar with Central Waters know our reputation for hosting beer releases and parties, and I can foresee more of the same coming to Milwaukee. It's an extremely exciting prospect, and we all can't wait to keep making beers from all across the spectrum there!”
Mollica and Graham plan to make some changes to the taproom and restaurant space upstairs – including adding some color to the stark white walls.
“We definitely want to turn the space into a reflection of Central Waters,” says Mollica. “We feel like it should express who we are and have been over the last 23 years.
“That said, this building being a historical landmark, we are up against both a significant approval timeline for changes, and some limitations on what can be changed. At the end of the day, it will be about finding a balance between expressing Central Waters and preserving the historical nature of this beautiful building.”
Pabst opened its brewery and taproom – which had been making upwards of 4,000 barrels annually – in spring 2017 in a former 1872 church building that was once part of the original Pabst Brewery and was, for many years, the popular Forst Keller restaurant.
The original Pabst Brewery closed in 1996 after 152 years in Milwaukee.
The Pilot House closed in December, its business hampered by the pandemic and likely by the years of construction on its block in the Brewery District neighborhood.
As I wrote when the Pilot House opened, “architects Engberg Anderson ... designed a sleek new space for the returning brewery and its taproom, preserving old elements – such as the stained glass above the main entrance – while giving it a bright, modern feel.”
The same limitations that could restrict changes to the building – it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Milwaukee landmark, too – mean that Central Waters’ passion for green energy may not be able to be implemented in Milwaukee.
But that doesn’t mean Mollica and Graham aren’t thinking about the carbon footprint of the new location.
“We intend to continue pushing our green initiatives in Amherst to offset any further carbon footprint we absorb with this facility,” Mollica says.
While Mollica can’t divulge much yet, he confirms that Central Waters is talking to a potential restaurant partner to run the kitchen in the venue.
And, he says, he plans to use the three large copper tanks installed behind the bar by Pabst but never used. They could become vessels for housemade sodas including a hard root beer that could be used to make root beer floats.
Due to the many approvals required, Mollica can’t say quite yet when the brewery will be up and running and the taproom serving guests.
“We don't want to open the taproom until this is a fully branded Central Waters space, inside and out,” he says. “So when we get the go ahead from all the approval agencies, we will make our changes and be ready to open. We expect to have approval for beer production right around the same time.
“We are hopeful that by the end of summer, we will be able to start production there and open the taproom.”
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.