After a lot of hard work, and some test batches of beer, the first phase of the new $5.5 million Brewing Experience at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle is about to open.
The newly constructed 1,760-square-foot brewhouse building is up and running and will host its grand opening on Saturday, June 18, at 11 a.m.
In addition to a celebratory first keg tapping, Rob Novak – who Milwaukee-area folks may remember from his years at Draft & Vessel, Black Husky and Raised Grain – and his team of volunteers will be on hand demonstrating a rural 1860s era brewhouse and offering samples of beer brewed on-site to guests 21 and up.
Doug Hoverson, author of “The Drink that Made Wisconsin Famous.” Hoverson will sign books and give presentations at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.
There will also be live music and refreshments available for purchase.
Two other features of the experience – a beer garden and the old Wittnebel Tavern, moved to the site from Old Ashippun – will open next year.
The brewhouse is a modern structure inspired by classic ones, with architecture that recalls a stunning old barn. A pair of hearths is where brewing takes place. Around the room are barrels and beer crates and other objects, as well as some modern technology.
“(It) is a building that is not a replica of a historic brewery but was inspired by the architecture of breweries in Wisconsin,” says Site Director Dan Freas.
“It's not meant to be an authentic version, (but) a much more flexible space. We also wanted to introduce things like the touch screen interactive.
“We realized that at any point in the day when the guest comes and visits, they're only going to see one part of the whole brewing process. We wanted to make sure that guests could see the whole process of the overall experience. Adding video, adding computer technology, allows us to tell stories in different ways. That's new to Old World Wisconsin.”
Old World Wisconsin's historic brewing program was launched in 2015.
In addition to brewing demonstrations, Novak will use the brewhouse for collaborations with local brewers. Black Husky already came in to make an altbeer, and others, like Raised Grain, Third Space, Lakefront and Radix Fermentation are on tap to come over.
Some of the brewers will co-host monthly beer dinners in the brewhouse.
Additionally, says, Novak, a number of industry groups have visits planned, too, including Pink Boots Society and Malteurop.
“All the brewers who come here are excited because it’s like what they do, it’s basically the same thing,” says Novak, “They all have different techniques, whether they learned them in Germany or Chicago or California, and we have to figure out which ones are rooted in history.
“Every craft brewer is also a history geek.”
The historic brewing program is one of just a few that exist in the United States, says Novak.
Beer made in five-gallon batches will be available as samples. When they're open, the beer garden and adjacent tavern will sell beer made in collaboration with a craft brewer. That brewer has not yet been named.
Meanwhile, next door at the old Wittnebel Tavern, which was built in 1906 in Dodge County and moved to Old World Wisconsin last year, will begin to get an exterior facelift in two weeks, says Freas.
“We have the funding for the exterior work,” he says, “but we’re still fundraising for the interior work. When the exterior work is finished at the end of summer, we hope to be able to begin work inside and be ready to open, along with the beer garden by next summer.”
Ultimately the experience will also include a hop garden – for which some plantings have already been made – and, says, Novak, malting barley could potentially also be added.
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.