If I told you that Jeff and Trish Torzala opened their one-barrel brewery and taproom in a space that has been home to three previous breweries, you might think that’s a bad omen.
But what if I tell you that space is on the second floor of the Lincoln Warehouse, 2018 S. 1st St., and that it’s previous occupants were Eagle Park. Enlightened and Component ... none of which failed and all of which grew out of the space?
Suddenly, things seem brighter, right? Like this space has good mojo.
Torzala Brewing Company swung open its doors there on June 18 and to start is open Friday-Sunday, though they’re looking at adding Thursday soon, too.
“It is a really ideal space to begin, get started,” says Trish Torzala. “Who knows what will happen (in the future), but the size is enough to be able to serve the beer, visit with people and then have a small system back there.”
That intimacy with customers that the space affords might be part of what makes this informal brewery incubator such a success, adds Jeff.
“That's the key to me,” he says. “I've been here every day except one and talking to people, and I think that's a huge part of starting the business. So people understand our story, and they understand the brewing. Yes, we're the ones brewing, and it's right back there. And you talk to people about anything. I really like that part of it.”
That story begins with the meeting of two people passionate about beer. Jeff attended Chicago’s respected Siebel Institute and did the local Barley to Barrel brewing program. He also worked at Spike Brewing in Riverwest, which manufactures brewing systems.
Trish is also passionate about beer – her lager hits the taps by the end of the month – and considered Siebel’s brewing program but opted to follow a path into therapy.
“I was in advertising and marketing prior to my switch to therapy,” she recalls. “I knew I wasn't going to stay in the industry. So I was looking around to what I wanted to do. I also had a passion for psychology, and that won over because I was able to still continue to work in advertising, and then do the schooling on the side.
“But I've always had a love for craft beers brewing. And then when I met him, just starting to explore the process, starting to grow our own hops at home.”
After securing the space last October, the couple began decorating the taproom space and rearranging the brewhouse a bit. After inspections and paperwork, they began brewing around the beginning of April.
“It doesn't look like a lot, but it was still a lot of work, the stuff we did in here,” Jeff says.
“Our little trick here was Component’s logo is still on the other side of that,” he adds pointing to the reclaimed wood panelling painted with the phrase, “Welcome to the South Side.”
“I was going to sand it, and I'm like, ‘Oh, forget that. That's too much work." So I just turned it around.”
The branding, logo and design of the Torzala look comes courtesy of good friend Brian Michalak, who works in branding and design for Culver’s.
The only shortcoming of the second-floor space is that it’s not always easy to find. Fortunately, there is this video guide to arriving easily...
The brew system was purchased from Component, which moved downstairs in autumn.
On it, the Torzalas have been making a small rainbow of beers so far, says Jeff, who describes himself as, “a traditional style brewer. I appreciate a true-to-style beer.”
So, there’s a dry stout, a very traditional porter, a doppelbock, a red ale, a pale ale with honey, a pale ale with hops from Poland (called Jones Island!), a red ale and a blood orange hefeweizen.
In the tanks at the moment are Trish’s Mexican Vienna lager, an Oktoberfest (including a variant with brewed with maple syrup made by brother-in-law Jake Palubicki in Crandon, both due in September) and a doppelbock, among other goodies.
“To me, that's a huge part of that beer scene is seeing that array and not all pale ales,” says Jeff. “It's definitely an array. We had Munich Helles on tap that kicked already. So, I just got to get back to brewing that.
“And that one, instead of Lowenbrau, we called it Papabrau after (Trish’s) dad because for the first beer, I said, ‘Hey, Gil, what do you want?’ He's not a big beer drinker, but he was like, "’I used to Lowenbrau back in the ‘60s.’ I said, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got to go back to the original Lowenbrau then.’ So I looked up recipes and it had to be made. So that was fun.”
Component has offered to help Torzala Brewing can some beers on its packaging line downstairs and the couple will likely take advantage of that in the future, likely self-distributing a bit, maybe selling some cans in the taproom, which at the moment packages to-go brew using a crowler sealer.
“(But) because with a one-barrel system, how much can you really distribute,” Jeff says, rhetorically. “So we want to do events, we want to distribute, but we also realize we can’t go crazy and then we have no beer (for the taproom).”
Speaking of events, Torzala isn’t wasting any time getting in on the festival game.
On Sept. 24 it will host Jones Island Fest, which it’s calling, "The world's smallest beer garden," from noon until 6 p.m.
The one-barrel brewery’s diminutive beer festival will be held at Kaszube’s Park, 1439 S. Carferry Dr., the smallest site in the city parks system.
Of course, the beers will include the Torzala Oktoberfests and its Jones Island pale ale.
With the Hoan Bridge and the skyline – as well as the Viking Octantis, which is likely to be moored just yards away that day – it should be an evocative and fun event.
And as befits a family run brewery with a passion for history, the site has a connection.
Though Torzala’s roots are not on Jones Island, his Polish ancestors – who arrived in Wisconsin to farm up near Crivitz – were Kaszubes and likely knew (and may have been related to) Jones Islanders.
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.