Starting a brewery is the dream of many a hop head, but the costs, equipment and everything else required can deprive even the most effervescent would-be brewer of her foam.
No one knows this better than John Degroote, CEO at New Barons Brewing Cooperative, 2018 S. 1st St.
“Brewing is a capital-intensive industry and brewers, who otherwise make a great product, can have a difficult time getting off the ground without being properly leveraged,” says Degroote.
“New Barons itself, would not have been able to get off the ground if our friends at Enlightened Brewing Company hadn’t helped us by letting us produce in their former brewery.”
As a means of paying that leg-up forward and as part of its mission as a member-owned coop, New Barons has launched the Co-Opt initiative, although in a sense it’s really just giving a name – and renewed energy – to work the coop has already been doing for a few years now.
“We started helping brewers back in 2019 – first with Faklandia, then later in 2020 with Component – but the Co-Opt initiative dawned on us earlier this spring with Radix Fermentation.
“It was the perfect time to start trying to open up our doors a little bit more and pay it forward as on premise consumer demand once again grew.”
Co-Opt is is an acronym for community-owned pop-up taproom, but in addition to having a retail component, New Barons is also looping in its production facilities and expertise.
“As a co-op brewery, we aim to be a shared resource for others in the industry,” Degroote says. “From sharing equipment to ideas and techniques, it’s all in the effort of more people making great beer.”
After Nate Fakler won New Barons’ homebrew competition two years in a row, he began to brew his beer to scale on the New Barons system, ultimately opening his own place in St. Francis.
Then, when New Barons opened its taproom and brewhouse in the former Enlightened Brewing space in the Lincoln Warehouse, it collaborated with its upstairs neighbors at Component Brewing on a shared brewing system.
The partnership led to collab brews like L-Dubbs Saison, Kveik Like Mike Norwegian IPA and the Things We Don’t Say IPL, and now Component is expanding into a larger space in the Warehouse.
This year, New Barons began working with a pair of brewers that have alternating proprietorship arrangements with MobCraft Brewing in Walker’s Point: Radix Fermentation and Rookery Brewing.
Degroote and his team began working with Radix owners Adam and Kayla Thomas in February.
“We invited Radix to our space for a ‘Taproom Takeover,’ where patrons were able to come in to purchase pints and bottles of their beer to take home,” says Degroote.
Then, they worked together on a wild coolship farmhouse Grisette collaboration called Grisette Sauvage that will be released in bottles at New Barons on June 19.
That success led to a bottle releasee on July 10 during a Taproom Takeover with Rookery, which specializes in farmhouse ales, sours and barrel-aged beers.”
And now New Barons is seeking other up and coming brewers to take part in the program.
“The early success of the program has us ready to cast a wider net, looking for more brewers who are ready to take the next step,” he says. “We’ll be giving hands-on training to new brands, giving them the much-needed experience on the commercial market, all the while helping the cause for more beer in Milwaukee.”
Degroote says Co-Opt participants must be licensed as wholesalers in Wisconsin and must not have their own brick-and-mortar sites. They must also be member-owners of New Barons.
“The ideal brewer(s),” he adds, “will pursue federal and state licensing to become fully independent brewers. Brewing bandwidth and scheduling will be based on New Barons supply and demand and the ability to procure more fermentation space, which can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.”
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.