The vibrant and historic intersection of Winnebago Street and Atwood Avenue is about to make more history and, if Peter Gentry's plan is successful, add more life to the East Side neighborhood.
On Friday, Gentry will open what is believed to be the first nanobrewery in the city. His One Barrel Brewing Co., 2001 Atwood Ave., is designed to make about 200 barrels of beer a year using a high-end home brewing system.
The 1,300-square-foot operation features a bar that will only serve beer and wine, a one-barrel brewing system and 11 fermentation tanks, each holding 42 gallons.
But nano not only refers to the amount of beer that will be brewed.
Gentry, who at one time was close to becoming a firefighter, has invested just $100,000 in the project but could have spent more than twice that much. His father built the 20-stool maple bar and a good friend with construction experience, but who was out of work, served as the general contractor.
"I just think I've got a great location, and business is booming in this area," Gentry, 32, said. "As long as I can brew good beer, I'm sure I'll be successful."
He considered creating a small-batch production brewery but the margins were too thin. By making beer on site and selling it by the glass, his profit is higher than if he would sell it to a wholesaler.
Food will be limited. The bar will bake frozen pizzas from Fraboni's and serve piragi, a Latvian bun with bacon, onion and spices, made at Stalzy's Deli down the street. There will also be Landjaegers from Zuber's in Monroe, pickled eggs, and beers from other craft brewers in the state.
"I think it's a great idea and a great addition to the neighborhood," said Gail Ambrosius, who has a 2,300-square-foot chocolate shop at 2086 Atwood Ave. "I just think this neighborhood has really come alive."
Gentry has been home brewing for eight years and in that time brewed an award-winning commercial batch of Belgian Dark Strong beer at Grumpy Troll Brewing Co. in Mount Horeb. His beer took honorable mention at the 2010 U.S. Beer Tasting Championships.
His business is also near the Barrymore Theater, Alchemy and Green Owl cafes, along with redevelopment sites on East Washington Avenue that could bring thousands of new craft beer drinkers to the area.
The state is dotted with a growing list of breweries of various sizes but those with brewing systems under three barrels are few. Rustic Road Brewing Co. opened last month in Kenosha, while the Pigeon River Brewing Co. in Marion on the Waupaca/Shawano county line is scheduled to begin brewing later this summer.
In 2010, Tim and Toni Eichinger opened the Black Husky Brewing Co. near Pembine in Marinette County. They spent about $50,000 to start their 1.5-barrel system.
"It was a way to learn and get into the business and feel like you're not going to lose everything if you make a mistake," Tim Eichinger said.
Gentry, who spent six years in sales and marketing at Capital Newspapers, grew up near Orton Park and is a graduate of East High School and UW-Madison. He got into brewing after giving his father a home brewing kit only to find his father liked tasting the beer more than making it.
Gentry has spent the last year planning and developing the project and began construction in April in what was a grocery store in the early 1900s. He's modeling the business after Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette, Mich. He's also received input from local craft brewers and made his initial commercial batches at Sweet Mullets Brewing Co. in Oconomowoc.
"The whole brewing community has been so helpful," Gentry said. "We're not competing. It's all positive. We're all competing against the big brands."