When Cedarburg-based brewery The Fermentorium opened its Tosa taproom, at 6933 W. North Ave. in East Tosa, it was called The Fermentorium Barrel House, reflecting a plan to house its barrel-aging program in the taproom.
However, says owner Kristopher Volkman, the federal government didn’t exactly love that plan.
“We were going to have the barrels right here in this space,” he recalls. “And you see that at a lot of other breweries, and the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is concerned about their tax revenue.
“So they had concerns about the security of (having barrels in the taproom), and so I ended up dropping that application, with every intention of revisiting it, but then COVID happened and then it was just chaos.”
With all that open space reserved for barrels that weren’t ever going to arrive, Volkman pivoted. First, by adding a kitchen.
“We've got a couple Ovention ovens, so it's not really a full kitchen,” he says. “We don't have deep fryers and all of that kind of stuff. Then around April, we hired a new manager who came from a little more of a food, cafe background.
“He's really elevated our food down here. We started doing these housemade pizzas with awesome crust. And he's been doing a pizza of the month thing. This month it's a portabella truffle pizza.”
Early this past summer, some large 6-8-person booths were built in the middle section of the taproom, across from the bar.
But even with those changes, there was still a big empty area in the back of the taproom and so Volkman decided to try something more, and connected with Andy Noble of Riverwest’s We Buy Records to do a pop-up vinyl shop back there.
“I was a customer of his,” recalls Volkman. “So, having ruined my homebrewing hobby by going professional with that, I've always been a music enthusiast, going to shows and stuff like that. I thought, ‘we’ve got all that room in the back, maybe let's add some records in there.
“So at about the same time, I think Andy had posted that he was looking for some second space, whether it was warehouse, whether it was storefront. And I reached out.”
The July pop-up went well, as did a still-ongoing promotion that encourages customers to bring vinyl to play in the taproom by offering BOGO beers to folks that do so, and thus was born The Fermentorium Vinyl Lounge.
There’s a small bin of records right inside the entrance with a sign directing customers to more vinyl in the back. There, they’ll find two long rows of bins full of a variety of music, but heavy on the classic rock.
All of these records, selected by Noble and his team are used and cost $5 each.
There’s also a bin of new vinyl that Volkman curates himself from a distributor. A selection of those records is also displayed on the wall behind the bar, next to the beer list.
Also at the back is a turntable with headphones so customers can check out the used records before buying. The bartenders are also still willing and able to play records behind the bar, too.
In addition, The Fermentorium Vinyl Lounge will be hosting DJs spinning records and there’s also Music Bingo with Quizmaster Trivia every Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We're trying to just get more of a record store vibe, that you can hang out, have a cold beer and a pizza,” says Volkman. “I think there's a solid overlap between the craft beer enthusiast and music lovers and record collectors, so I want to just marry those things.”
The experience has been a positive one for Noble, too, and he’s working to hone the types of records that will most satisfy the East Tosa craft beer-loving music fan.
“Kris has been really great to work with,” he says. “We’re just feeling out what works there but it seems like $5 classic rock has been the sweet spot.
"Demand in general for classic rock at all price points has really skyrocketed in the last few years after being almost non-existent for most of my record dealing days (from 2000-now).”
We Buy Records also has a Chicagoland location and I asked Noble if he could see expanding this kind of collab to a brewery near that store, too.
“I would certainly be game for trying this in Chicago, as well,” he says. “That shop is sitting on about a quarter of a million backlog of LPs at the moment.
“I like the combination of record sales with these more connoisseur beer bars," adds Noble, "as it sort of recreates how many of us enjoy playing and talking about records at home and brings it into the public realm.”
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.