(Janesville, WI) By Neil Johnson, Gazette
A Janesville microbrewery has landed a home downtown for brewing, tapping and selling beer that three local craft brewers say will fly under the name Rock County Brewing.
“We wanted it to be simple. No big gimmicks, no crazy, extreme names or product labels. The beer, and the location will do the talking. We'll teach people that like big-name, light beer that beer made with hops that has a little flavor and color isn't a bad thing,” said Janesville resident Andy Walker, one of the brewery's partners and brewers.
Walker along with Janesville resident John Rocco, who owns Janesville home-brewing retailer Farmhouse Brewing Supply, and Rockton, Illinois, resident Ed Sundstedt, an employee at Rocco's store, signed a lease this week at the former Carriage Works building at the northeast corner of Milwaukee Street and Parker Drive in downtown Janesville.
The partners will have a three-barrel microbrewery and tasting room in the Carriage Works' northeast end along the east side of North Parker Drive.
The space is a blank slate of off-white brick walls, high wood-and-steel beam ceilings and concrete floors. It needs full-scale electrical and water service as part of a lease and renovation deal. The three brewing partners, who are self-funding all the brewing equipment necessary, said they wouldn't discuss full details of the lease.
Janesville brothers Shawn and Shannon Kennedy bought the three-story Carriage Works building earlier this year. The building, parts of which were built in the 1880s, now houses law offices and a yoga studio.
The Kennedy brothers plan within months to renovate the building's spacious third floor to relocate their dozens of employees and corporate headquarters of SASid, a Janesville-based tech company they own.
The Rock County Brewing partners say they'll submit plans within weeks for city review to wall off the back portion for fermenting and brewing operations and rework the storefront area as a relaxed, tavern-like tasting room where customers can try fresh-brewed beer on tap and buy it for carryout in large, gallon-sized glass growlers.
Rocco said this week it'll be a four- to six-month process to get federal and state approval to run the microbrewery, and the brewery also needs approval of site and operating plans from the city's plan commission and the city council.
If all goes well, Rocco said this week, Rock County Brewing could be producing and selling beer for walk-in customers and under distribution deals with a small number of downtown taverns by January or February.
The council in May approved key zoning changes to allow microbreweries and brewpubs to operate in the city's downtown business district, setting limits for gallons of beer produced based on state law.
Rock County Brewing for months has been trying to find a place to house a brewery, which would start on a small, local scale with 260 to 300 barrels of annual production.
The microbrewery wouldn't run as a restaurant or brewpub but instead would have a tasting room set up with tables and a tap that would pull fresh-brewed beer straight from the tanks and through a cooler.
Rock County Brewing plans to have anywhere from six to 10 varieties of beer on tap, with varieties ranging from light-colored ales to a spicy Saison, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale.
The brewers, who each have between 10 and 15 years experience brewing craft beer, said they want to brew a slew of varieties each month. Rocco said he and his partners don't have a flagship variety they'd try to market under Rock County Brewing.
“We all like a lot of styles and varieties. We've all got a lot of different ideas and tastes and have to see what people will like,” he said.
Sundstedt plans to man Rock County Brewing full-time, but he said hours of the brewery's tasting room will be more limited to start, probably from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
Brewing partner Andy Walker also is a major partner in Foremost Media, another Janesville tech company that plans to relocate its offices to a former tobacco warehouse just west of downtown under a lease deal.
He said the Carriage Works building size, its heavy concrete floor and how it's situated in the larger building works well for a microbrewery. While they were negotiating lease deals, he said, it emerged among several properties downtown as the best, most readily available fit.
The Kennedys have said they'd like to bring a restaurant into the Carriage Works next to the microbrewery that could market Rock County Brewing beer and share an open space out back that could become a courtyard.
Barry Badertscher, a local real estate broker, runs his office out of the Carriage Works. Badertscher helped Kennedys reach a deal on the Carriage Works this year, and then brokered a lease deal with Rock County Brewing.
He calls the microbrewery a “progressive” step as the downtown enters a riverfront revitalization that would in part revamp the area as a hub for adult entertainment.
“This is how I think re-development will happen here. It'll be engineered one step at a time. You can build a distinctive flavor and a destination for people,” Badertscher said.
A trickier philosophical hurdle, Badertscher said, is to erase a local notion he believes is pervasive, yet false: that only a small number of Janesville residents are open to trying something new, such as a downtown microbrewery.
Badertscher pointed out several sushi shops and Japanese-style Hibachi restaurants that have opened and taken root along Milton Avenue. He said they're not supported mainly by trend seekers and foodies but rather by customers whose tastes are casual.
“I don't believe there's a lack of open-minded people in Janesville who'll embrace something new and different,” Badertscher said. “I think there's just a shortage of people who want to be open-minded that we've got open-mindedness here.”