Craft breweries bring tradition, jobs to southern Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Craft breweries bring tradition, jobs to southern Wisconsin

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Craft breweries are the newest trend in the beer industry accounting for more than 100,000 jobs in America. In Southern Wisconsin nearly a dozen have opened their doors over the last two years.

"The day we opened there was a line of 50 people out the door. We ran out of beer," One Barrel Brewing Company owner Peter Gentry says.

Opening less than a year ago, the One Barrel Brewing Company on Madison's east side is taking the art of beermaking back to it's experimental roots.

"We've made beer with oregano, beets, we do a lot of stuff with the old school ingredients like molasses," Gentry says.

The brewery is part of a nationwide phenomenon of small and local breweries popping up in neighborhoods across the country. Most start out as simple home breweries in basements and garages.

"They set me up with a kit just like this," Gentry says while pointing to a home brew kit at the Wine and Hop Shop in Madison. "It just kind of goes to show what you can do with a plastic bucket."

For hundreds of local brewers the Wine and Hop Shop is where they get their start, buying grains and other ingredients to concoct the perfectly balanced brew.

"Craft brewing and home brewing do go hand in hand. The more good beer people try the more good beer people want to drink," Wine and Hop Shop owner Ben Feifarek says.

For the lucky few like Gentry, the hobby quickly becomes a career. He and his brewmaster make one barrel batches at a time in their kitchen which they end up serving to customers at their bar. At the end of the year the company expects to brew between 250-300 barrels of beer.

"We do it in small batches so we can really control how it comes out," Gentry says.

Just a few miles away in Verona, a much larger brewery is also getting started.

"We've been on the market now for about 12 weeks," Wisconsin Brewing Company President/CEO Carl Nolen says.

The state of the art facility at the Wisconsin Brewing Company has the space and capacity to pump out 300,000 barrels a year. Owners say they decided to build a larger brewery so they could grow and expand over time. In their first year they're expecting to pump out nearly 30,000 barrels. They expect to see that grow significantly in the future as they've already expanded their sales territory to the Milwaukee area.

"There has been an explosion like I would have never foreseen 25-30 years ago and I believe it's really just beginning," Wisconsin Brewing Company Brewmaster Kirby Nelson says.

Over the past few years the craft beer industry has grown an average of 15% annually. It now produces more than 300,000 barrels a year in Wisconsin alone.

"I think Wisconsin truly can get to about 800,000 barrels of beer and not with people drinking more but drinking differently and drinking local," Nolen says.

The beermaking industry in America has had a lot of ups and downs over the years. The industry reached its first peak back in 1887. Then once prohibition started the number of breweries drastically dropped to only a handful that were able to stay open making soda and other products. Once prohibition ended around 700 breweries started making beer again, but strong competition weeded out several breweries over the years and less than 100 were up and running in the 1980's.

Brewers say the industry started to grow back to it's original prominence in the late 80's early 90's. By 2010 the number of breweries in America had jumped up to nearly 1,600. That growth continued and in just three short years, from 2010-2013, more than 900 breweries joined the marketplace bringing the total nationwide to over 2,500.

But with so many new breweries, how long before the market becomes over saturated with beer? Over at Capital Brewery workers think there's still plenty of room to grow, as they prepare to open their second location in Sauk City.

"It's going to be a 50,000 square foot facility with full brewing and packaging lines including cans and bottles," Capital Brewery Vice President of Sales Corey Wehling says.

The expansion will give them the space they need to increase their production to 40,000 barrels a year. Which sounds like a lot, but by comparison they're a relatively small operation. Case in point just one of the major beermakers, Anheuser Busch, makes nearly three times as much beer and money as all of the craft breweries in America combined.

"We are a very very small piece of the total industry. There is all kinds of room to grow for the foreseeable future," Wehling says. 

It's enough growth potential to inspire the largest and smallest of breweries to pump out more beer to satisfy the masses.

"The more breweries the better for everybody. For us as brewers we can learn a lot more and then for the consumer there's going to be even more options and choices," Gentry says.

Currently the craft beer industry accounts for about 7% of the total beer that's consumed here in Wisconsin. In other markets like Seattle and Portland, that figure is between 17%-20%. That's why brewers here think the industry will only continue to grow and create thousands of new jobs over the next few years.

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