Local Libations

One Barrel Brewing Making a Buzz

By Erica Krug | Photo By Erica Krug 0

As an undergraduate in college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I took a botany class called "Plants and Man." Professor Timothy Allen was from Britain and he paced the sunken lecture floor like an actor in one of Shakespeare's plays. Spitting out of the side of his mouth and gesturing wildly, he would make bold proclamations about plants. And man. To be honest, most of the time I had no idea what was going on. But there are two things that I remember about that class: First, during one lecture Professor Allen not-so-subtly compared a slide of primates in a jungle to one of a group of people sitting in a mall corridor under a maze of potted plants. Second, for a final project we could choose between writing a paper and brewing beer. I'm proud to say that my oatmeal stout received an ‘A.’ In a serendipitous kind of way, we also have Professor Allen to thank for Madison's first nano-brewery, One Barrel Brewing Company on Atwood Avenue.

A year out of college, One Barrel Brewing owner Peter Gentry was playing soccer with some friends, one of whom was still a student at UW-Madison and needed a ride to the Wine and Hop Shop to pick up supplies to make beer for Professor Allen’s class. On a whim, Gentry decided to buy a home brewing kit as something to try with his dad. From there, Gentry entered and won some contests, including getting his #2 Strong Ale brewed at Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb. Feeling good about his home brews, Gentry decided to quit his job and start his own business. When he opened the One Barrel Brewing doors in July 2012, the bar went through 17 kegs in nine days, which was four times Gentry's projected production.

One Barrel has a playful vibe. Jackalope busts and antique cross-country skis mount the walls while a flat screen television above the front window seats shows an aquarium, a beach fire or, appropriately, the Brewers. A precarious stack of games perches on a corner shelf. On a recent visit, a pair of middle-aged men shared beers over an intense game of Connect Four. With a bulbous, beer-drinking penguin for a mascot ("It's the only thing I could draw," Gentry said), the beer on tap made by Gentry and brewer Dan Sherman has names like Care Bear Stout, Flemish Giant  and Bunny Hop (Gentry: "You can make a penguin look just like a rabbit, did you know that?").

The beer menu changes often; the premise of a “nano-brewery” is that the beer is brewed in very small batches, even less than a “micro-brewery.” When a beer is popular, it remains in the rotation. You can also get guest beer on tap from places like Oconomowoc's Sweet Mullets and Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing. Gentry said that the brewing community has a real sense of camaraderie, and he likes to support other small breweries; "My favorite saying is 'The rising tide lifts all ships.'"

Wine and snacks round out the menu at One Barrel, with local selections including hummus from Banzo, frozen pizza from Fraboni's and chips and salsa from next door at Tex Tubb's.

As the third annual Craft Beer Week descended on the city of Madison (May 3-12, noticeably the only “week” with 10 days), Gentry was gearing up for One Barrel's first. On Friday, May 3, One Barrel featured its very own "tap takeover," the first time all 12 One Barrel taps poured One Barrel brews. One of the kegs held a celebratory hard cider made with 600 pounds of hand-pressed apples from Ecker's Apple Farm in Trempealeau, north of La Crosse. On Saturday, May 4, One Barrel held an "exhibition" with Sherman Brewing while Gentry bartended and answered questions. In all, One Barrel had a successful debut at Madison’s Craft Beer Week.

Gentry’s latest great idea has been the “beer-unch,” a themed meal with food prepared by Chef Derek Rowe. The first one held this past April was so successful that Gentry hosted two more in May—a Cinco de Mayo themed one during Craft Beer Week that featured ceviche, jicama salad, pollo (chicken) en mole, churros, beer- and wine-centric cocktails and Alterra coffee; and a Mother’s Day event on May 12. He’s now planning to make these Sunday morning “beer-unches” a monthly occurrence at One Barrel.

While Gentry enjoys scheming up the next big thing for his small business, he doesn't envision One Barrel expanding beyond the nano-brewery model. He doesn't believe that the capitalistic urge to get bigger and bigger is always sustainable or feasible. For now, One Barrel is at brewing capacity and the buzz is growing. I'm sure Professor Allen would agree that you shouldn't mess with a good thing.

Erica Krug has Journalism and Elementary Education degrees from the University of Wisconsin. A Madison native, she teaches elementary school by day and cooks by night while writing about it on her blog, Wisconsin Fun Next Exit. Newly vegetarian, she eats an extraordinary amount of kale salad doused in lime juice, cilantro, garlic and jalapenos. She enjoys attempting to garden, hot yoga, road trips and drinking delicious hoppy and dark beers- often while listening to every single Brewers game on the radio.

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