Sure, the beer is great, but one of the things I love most about writing about craft beer is meeting the people that make it.
While I’m sure macrobrewers are passionate about their work, the people who basically lay it all on the line are the ones that are most fun to chat with.
People like Angie and Andy Molina at Racine Brewing Company, 303 Main St., in Downtown Racine.
The Molinas, who are married and have kids, quit their jobs to open what is currently Racine’s only brewery (though not for long) in March of 2018.
“We've been open just about three years,” says Angie Molina – who also maintains a blog called the Crazy Beer & Chicken Lady at the brewery’s website – when I stop in for a visit on a weekday morning before the open sign is switched on. “Just my husband and I. This is what we do full-time. I was a teacher for 20 years and he worked for InSinkErator for 17 years before we decided to do this.
“Because we utilized a financial program called the Rollover Business Startups program, we rolled his 401k into a corporate 401K, and that's how we funded. So he had to stop working to do that. I worked up until a couple of months after we opened.”
The decision was not one the Molinas – who had been homebrewing and wanted to realize their dream of opening a hometown brewery and taproom – made lightly.
“We were all in,” says Molina, “but I mean, we didn't just rush like willy-nilly. We still have kids at home, so it took me a solid six months to come up with a realistic, responsible business plan. Once we put all the numbers together and they really made sense, we did it.”
It is a homey taproom with an indoor beer garden – with comfortable seating and an array of potted plants – a nice bar with tap handles made from old skateboards (Andy, says Angie, “was a big skateboarder back in his heyday”) – and a brew system right out in the middle of the space.
It’s a three-barrel system with a steam-powered heat source and a 136-gallon, custom-made Bubba’s Barrels mash tun. In back there are also three three-barrel fermenters, a four-barrel fermenter and a pair of three-barrel brite tanks.
“The intent was for us both to brew, but when we got open, realistically, it wasn't going to work that way,” says Molina. “So my husband just does the majority of the brewing and I get all the boring administration stuff.
“We do it out in the open and people love to come in and talk to Andy while he's brewing and ask him questions.”
What Andy brews is a mix of mostly familiar styles: lagers, IPAs, stouts, etc.
The day I visited there was Hola Racine Mexican style ale, a coconut porter, an IPA, a chocolate stout, an amber ale and a really, really nice hazelnut blonde ale (pictured above).
A bunch of other brews were in the tanks getting ready to be added to the lineup. A couple whiskey barrels hold the annual anniversary stout, which will be released in March to mark Racine Brewing’s third birthday.
“We do a nice mix of everything,” says Molina. “I think the majority of what we brew is pretty true to the style and we don't very often have crazy, weird stuff. We have a good Mexican ale. That's our best seller. We have a good stout. We have an amber ale and then we do fun stuff. We have an IPA, and we have a coconut porter that's been really big since day one. Andy will throw in some sours and we'll do some really big stuff.”
Being the only craft brewer in Racine has meant that the Molinas have catered to a broad variety of preferences.
While Racine Brewing packages some beer, it’s not doing much at the moment. What they do have, they sell themselves out of a cooler in the taproom. Of course, they fill growlers and crowlers, too.
“It's a big production,” says Molina. “We have a can seamer, so we do it all by hand. It’s day-long process. We’re also on tap at a few of the bars in town.”
Racine Brewing offers a mug club with a long list of benefits, as well as an all-you-can-drink happy hour, which sounds like an iffy idea, but Molina says only one customer has had to be swept out of the place for overdoing it, which isn’t bad for three years.
As you’d expect, the past year has been rough for Racine’s Downtown and for Racine Brewing Company, too. But, says Molina, they’ve persevered.
“We're struggling like everybody else,” she says. “At first it was really rough. Really early on, at the end of March last year, we lost my dad to COVID, and we almost lost my stepmother, as well, and so we all were quarantined and we all had this period where we didn't do anything.
“Since then, we've just followed the state and city guidelines. Right now we're at 50 percent (capacity), and people are coming. We have had huge, huge community support from day one. Still do. It's awesome.”
In October, the Molinas inked a deal with the Village of Waterford to operate a semi-permanent beer garden in a park beginning on May 29.
“We're super excited about that,” Molina says. “It's called Ten Club Park. Right in downtown Waterford and right along the Fox River. It's gorgeous.”
There will be live music, food trucks, special events and, of course, hopefully, a big demand for beer and craft soda (which Racine Brewing also makes).
“Andy’s going to be very, very busy (brewing),” Molina says.
By the time you read this, about a week after I’ve written it, Racine Brewing might have some company.
When I visited, Littleport Brewing, which has been in the works for four years now, was planning to open any day now in an old cream city brick warehouse at 214 Third St. – you can see it from the Racine Brewing taproom – and 1 of Us Brewing is working on getting its place open at 8100 Washington Ave., out toward I-94, soon, too. (Watch for upcoming stories on both of those, too!)
“Historically speaking Racine had many breweries,” says Molina, “and there was one (craft brewer) on Sixth Street (Benjamin Beer Company), but he only was open for about a year and a half. That was before us. So we're the only one right now.
“I would say (the beer scene) is definitely not as robust here as Madison or Milwaukee, but we're also not a college town. So I think it's been a little different. We have people that are traveling from out of town that stop by. We have the marina on the other side of the pier and a lot of people from Illinois will come use the marina here and so we get a lot of the boaters up here throughout the summer.
“We get all different kinds of people. We get old people, we get young people, we get everyone in between.”
Racine Brewing is open 3-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 3-10 Fridays; noon until 10 on Saturdays; and noon until 5 on Sundays.
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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.