For Nate Warnke, perseverance is in the blood. Fortunately.
A home brewer for more than 10 years, the Madison native and East High graduate has had his patience tested several times on the way to his dream of opening his brew pub, Rockhound Brewing Company.
He forfeited a steady job to pursue the dream, sat waiting on an occupancy permit when he was ready to open for weeks and, most significantly, supported his wife as she faced and fought cancer.
But on Tuesday evening, Rockhound’s Facebook page said (or, better, whispered), “Pssst. We’re open!” And with that, Warnke’s lifelong dream was fulfilled.
The brew pub on 444 S. Park St. is named Rockhound after Warnke’s geology degree — a “rockhound” is slang for a rock collector. Currently, Warnke has a shortlist of upscale comfort food options, from pot pies and burgers to seasonal entrees. A few “bigger items” are still in the concept phase with head Chef Nick Nesthus, formerly of Buck & Badger.
As for drinks — particularly beer — Warnke has eight taps supplying his own beer and eight guest taps currently stocked with local brews from Ale Asylum, Tyranena and Central Waters, among others.
Warnke began homebrewing in 2004 when his girlfriend (now wife of nine years), Tracy Harris, wanted to try. “After our first batch, I became obsessed,” he said.
In the years that followed, Warnke made his share of good brews and bad brews and still remains ever optimistic about the process. All homebrewers have to brew a lot of batches before creating a winner, he said.
He is currently perfecting the lineup for his five-barrel system, which should include a gamut of malty lagers, hoppier pale ales, porters and barrel aged beers.
After leaving his job at American Family Insurance to pursue his dream of opening Rockhound, Warnke was hit with what could have been a major setback.
Last summer, Harris, 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Warnke and Harris were at a crossroads. They mutually agreed that, “We’ve come so far, we might as well keep going.” Many decisions about the brewery were made by her bedside.
While she was recovering from chemotherapy, Harris has had her hand in the design of the brewery. As a graphic artist, Harris has helped with promotion, social media, logos and others designs including a painted representation of the levels of gravity throughout the state on the northwest wall of the brewpub. You can find the 1974 map that inspired the painting on the opposite wall.
Despite the natural fears associated with quitting a secure job to pursue hops and happiness, Warnke is glad he did. He’s also proud of his and his wife’s steadfastness throughout the process of bringing his brewery dream to life.
Although Rockhound Brewpub is now open, Warnke is still a bit nervous. However, “If you’re not nervous, you’re comfortable,” Warnke says. “And you shouldn’t be comfortable.”