Peter Gentry’s initial business plan in 2012 was to open a microbrewery, work 80 hours a week and be relatively self-sufficient on a small scale.
He stayed true to the plan for a while, but as the state’s craft beer scene continued to evolve, so did his business. The demand for his beer outstripped his ability to keep up at his One Barrel Brewing Co., located at Schenk’s Corners on Madison’s East Side. That’s when, in 2015, he became the first customer of Octopi Brewing Co. in Waunakee, which is now making about 5,000 barrels a year on contract for Gentry of Commuter Kolsch Style Ale, Penguin Pale Ale and other brews and hard ciders.
The One Barrel brand will get a further boost when Gentry, on May 23, opens a $1.5 million taproom with a one-barrel brewing system and terraced outdoor deck that can hold nearly 400 people in the Door County village of Egg Harbor. The 4,000-square-foot building is located just off of Highway 42, across the street from the Main Street Market grocery, a block south of Shipwrecked Brew Pub & Restaurant and next door to Hatch Distillery.
Egg Harbor also has one of the largest concentrations of rooms for tourists on the peninsula and is less than a 15-minute drive from Sturgeon Bay, where Gentry now lives with his wife, who grew up in Green Bay. The second location for One Barrel is designed to help grow the brand in northeast Wisconsin and introduce vacationers from out of state to One Barrel products.
“The market has taken many of us our size down this path where we have to take advantage of having a second taproom,” Gentry said. “There’s just a lot of competition out there. We’re all itching to stay relevant and stay busy.”
Other small brewers expanding
Gentry points to O’so Brewing Co. in Plover, which earlier this year opened the 1,238-square-foot O’so Madhouse on the ground level of the Marling Building at 1817 E. Washington Ave. in Madison. The taproom doesn’t brew beer but sells O’so products. Similarly, Door County Brewing Co. in Bailey’s Harbor is growing beyond Door County, with a taproom on Milwaukee’s east side scheduled to open later this year.
Back in Madison, Parched Eagle Brewpub, which opened a small-batch brewery on Highway M in the town of Westport in 2015, opened a 676-square-foot taproom on East Washington Avenue in 2017. The taproom is designed to increase visibility and promote the Parched Eagle brand.
“I think you’ll see more my size stepping into this because it helps the business,” Gentry said. “Margins are better with taprooms and we need to take advantage of that.”
But Gentry has an even bigger plan. The entrepreneur, who moved to Sturgeon Bay in September, said that he will begin searching in October for a site on which to build, or a building to buy, on Madison’s West Side.
The project would serve as a brewpub and larger-scale brewing facility, allowing him to reclassify his business as a brewpub, not a brewery, which means he would be able to open three additional locations under state law. Because he brews most of the beer on contract at Octopi, Gentry’s operation is classified as a brewery and is only allowed two locations.
“I’m going to start looking at a West Side location, but I need to buy,” said Gentry, who said he’d like to open a Madison brewpub in 2022. “My goal is to move away from Octopi and have a larger brewery on the West Side. There really is nowhere you can go to avoid competition.”
Madison is flush with a variety of craft brewers. But while most are Downtown and on the East Side, options on the West Side are limited to Vintage Brewing Co. on Whitney Way, Great Dane Brewing Co. at Hilldale Shopping Center and Capital Brewery in Middleton, which has a large outdoor beer garden and a small indoor taproom.
Started with home brewing
One Barrel got its start after Gentry spent eight years home brewing and helped brew an award-winning commercial batch of Belgian Dark Strong beer at Grumpy Troll Brewing Co. in Mount Horeb. Gentry had considered becoming a firefighter but instead dove into the beer business by investing $100,000 in creating a 1,300-square-foot nanobrewery on Atwood Avenue with a one-barrel brewing system and 11 fermentation tanks, each holding 42 gallons. His father built the 20-stool maple bar, and a good friend with construction experience served as the general contractor.
For his second location, Gentry considered sites in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Dells, Milwaukee and Minocqua before choosing Egg Harbor. The project, located in what had been gallery and retail space, includes a $190,000 community development initiative grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The taproom will have an indoor capacity of about 90 people, while Wild Tomato Pizza will operate a takeout kitchen that includes a wood-fired oven.
“Increasingly, customers are looking for locally produced, artisan foods and unique destinations for a night out or a weekend getaway,” said Errin Welty, downtown development account manager for WEDC. “Microbreweries offer a more family-friendly and inclusive environment than traditional bars and can attract a more diverse audience to the downtown area.”
WEDC has helped other brewery projects around the state, including Ooga Brewing Co. in Beaver Dam, Driftless Brewing Co. in Soldiers Grove, Octopi Brewing Co. in Waunakee and Vintage Brewing Co.’s Sauk City location along the Wisconsin River.
Gentry said the terraced deck that is being built for his Egg Harbor taproom includes five truckloads of Door County sandstone and will likely “cost more than my first house,” he said. A play structure for children is planned, along with a large-screen television. The brewery will make between 150 and 200 barrels of beer a year.
“It’ll get a lot of intimate tourist experiences, and hopefully people will interact with our brand and continue to buy it back home,” Gentry said of his products, which are only sold in Wisconsin. “It was the right combination of affordable property and the tourist buzz and the proximity to family.”