Coming Together at Working Draft Beer Company
By Bjorn Bergman | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
Ben Feifarek has his wife to thank for turning him into a brewery owner. Over a decade ago, a friend invited Feifarek over to make some homebrew. When the time came to head over to his friend’s, he considered not going. “My wife encouraged me to go and, thanks to her, I made my first batch of beer that day.” Since then, Feifarek has focused many years on our state’s favorite adult beverage.
Soon thereafter, Feifarek was hired at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street in Madison, and his love of brewing blossomed. After years of working at the shop, he purchased the business in 2012. “I met so many people that I loved working with at the shop, but it wasn’t feasible to employ many of them beyond part time. We were looking for a way to all work together doing what we love and make a living,” said Feifarek. From this scheming, Working Draft Beer Company was born.
There are two other main partners in the business. Ryan Browne is the CEO of Working Draft and also serves as the brewing educator at the Wine and Hop Shop, where he was hired in 2011. While both Browne and Feifarek have tons of experience in homebrewing, they decided to bring a professional brewer into the fold. Clint Lohman also worked at the Wine and Hop Shop for a stint and then moved on to brew professionally at both Vintage Brewing and Wisconsin Brewing Company. Feifarek knew that he liked working with Lohman, so it was a natural fit to recruit him to lead their brewing program.
After about two and a half years of planning and construction, Working Draft Beer Company opened its doors at 1129 East Wilson Street in Madison (the former home of RP’s Pasta and Just Coffee) in March 2018. “We love talking and sharing face-to-face with others over a beer,” says Feifarek, so they made a conscious decision to start a brewpub rather than only a brewery.
Working Draft has a simple yet inspiring open taproom. On the left as you enter, you are greeted by a huge mural by Madison artist Jenie Gao. The piece is titled “How We Gather” and features two sets of hands and arms—one with hops tattoos and the other with barley tattoos. Both hands are dipping into a colorful swirl of liquid, which, one can imagine, is likely beer. The mural sets the mood for what Feifarek, Browne and Lohman have going in the Working Draft taproom. “We wanted to create a space where people come together.”
About half the building is devoted to brewing beer on site. They have a seven-barrel brewing system as well as a one-barrel pilot system, which allows them to do small experimental batches. As homebrewers and self-admitted hopheads, the owners of Working Draft love IPAs and their tap lineup boasts many types: west coast, brut, double. Their flagship beer, Pulp Culture NE Hazy IPA, is juicy and fruity with pineapple and grapefruit and the aromas and flavors of four different hops. At the same time, they appreciate the craft of making a good lager. Lagers show the skill of a brewer because they are so simple—a brewer can’t hide off flavors behind a ton of hops. Working Draft aims to have one to three of their own lagers on tap. This is a commitment, as lagers take three times as long in the fermenter as a traditional ale. Overall, they have 16 taps, 10 to 12 of which feature Working Draft beers. They also make soda in-house and host guest taps, including a gluten-free beer from Alt Brew.
Their taproom food menu has been through a couple iterations since opening (it started out as a pop-up of Heritage Tavern) and has settled into a groove since Jon Churan and Ryan Jennings came on board. Churan and Jennings visit the farmers market twice a week when in season to pick up local produce, which drive the veggies found on the menu. They source beef, pork and lamb through Fox Heritage Farms in Sauk City. Using a small onsite kitchen and the help of their other kitchen staff, they produce a diverse array of foods that complement their beers. Highlights include a Cuban sandwich (smoked ham, pork confit, spicy pepper mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles on Madison Sourdough ciabatta) and pimento cheese and buttermilk biscuits (housemade buttermilk biscuits with Hook’s 5-year cheddar).
Both Feifarek and Browne come from an arts background. Feifarek worked in technical writing before homebrewing, and Browne has a deep love of poetry. As a result, they want their business to support the arts. Thus far, they have live music once or twice a month, and they have hosted poetry readings and talks by local authors. “Long term, we aim to create an artistin- residence program that will support new artists.”
While Madison’s craft brewing scene is strong, it becomes even stronger with the addition of Working Draft and their connection to the local homebrew scene. Next time you stroll through Madison’s east side, be sure to check out their space and enjoy what they have to offer the community.