After stopping in at Lake Geneva’s Topsy Turvy Brewery to taste some beer and see the taproom someone in my party said, “now I can say I went to church this week.”
The brewery, which opened in July 2020, is housed in the neogothic former First Baptist Church at 727 Geneva St., just a block of the town’s Main Street.
“The church is an old Baptist Church, but it has not been a church since the late ‘70s,” says Taproom Manager Ashleigh Balsley. The dates on the cornerstone of the building are 1840 and 1910. We recently sat down with a town historian and she put together a basket for us full of church/building history that we plan to soon display through the taproom.”
The first First Baptist Church was erected in the 1840s and rebuilt in 1868. It was replaced with the current structure in 1910. In the 1990s, the empty church was remodeled into Geneva Village Shops, with a bookstore and other businesses.
In addition to an interesting list of house beers and brews from other Wisconsin breweries, the taproom boasts (ahem) cathedral ceilings and a fine collection of stained glass windows, including an especially impressive one behind the bar. Another cool one in a nook at the base of the bell tower has the name of the church in one of the panels.
The taproom is mostly wide open except for a separate space behind the altar in what likely would’ve been the church’s sacristy. That space, too, is lined with stained glass windows.
Furniture is a mix of basic taproom tables and chairs and some nice handmade tables fashioned from vintage reclaimed wood. The base of the bar is made from blocks that look like pieces from giant Jenga games.
There’s a patio out front, too, with umbrella-covered tables and good people watching.
Though Topsy Turvy doesn’t have food – beyond some Milwaukee pretzels and locally made popcorn – customers are welcome to bring their own.
The brewery was opened by Chicagoland’s Daniel Schuld in the former church that has been home to the Geneva Village Shops in the 1990s.
“Dan chose Lake Geneva because his family has spent many years up here because of their home in Fontana, so it was a place he loved and wanted to help support,” says Balsley.
The brewhouse is in the basement and there brewer Justin Kirsch, from the Chicago area, crafts brews in a variety of styles, but with an eye toward always having some good sessionable options on the tap list.
“We run on a three-barrel system, so we are very tiny compared to many of our local breweries,” says Balsley. “Working with such a small system though we are able to create a lot of experimental brews!”
Behind the bar are some tanks, called pig tanks, that are basically small brite tanks.
“They can hold 6-8 1/2-barrels of beer,” says Balsley. “We pump beer straight into them from the basement eliminating the kegging process. We just got them up and running for the first time (a few) weeks ago so we are still learning many new quirks with them.”
When I visited, I noted a couple blonde ales, a couple hazy IPAs, a pale ale and a double pilsner, along wth a couple seltzers.
Some of those beers – like the Lake Path Blonde Ale, Twisted Hammock Pale Ale, and two riffs on the Stellar Nova hazy IPA – are available in cans, plus they can put anything into crowlers.
As Balsley notes, there’s a lot of different brews rotating in and out of the taplist, and if you check the website you’ll see that includes a dunkel, a Mexican lager, an imperial stout, red ale, porter and more.
Topsy Turvy also offers a selection of beers from other craft brewers relatively nearby.
When I was there, they had stuff from Black River Falls’ Sandcreek Brewing, Milwaukee Company, Indeed, Lakefront and City Lights, Madison’s Ale Asylum and from Wisconsin Dells Brewing.
So, next time you’re in Lake Geneva, stop in to try one of those sessionable blonde ales or that malty double pilsner that packs a little more punch. Then you can say you went to church.
Topsy Turvy is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 1-8 p.m.; Friday, 1-9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. It is closed on Tuesday.
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.