By Jaclyn Brandt
Craft beer is all the craze these days, and everyone seems to think they can make their own. Those that stand the test of time are the ones who have it in their blood. Carl Nolen, Mark Nolen and Kirby Nelson, the owners of Wisconsin Brewing Company, decided to start their own brewery after spending a combined total of more than 100 years in the industry.
“We’ve always wanted to own our own brewery,” CEO Carl Nolen explained. “We have always worked for other breweries our whole lives and we had the opportunity to do this on our own.”
Nolen spent decades working at Miller and Coors, and was most recently president and CEO of Capitol Brewing Co. The trio broke ground on the building for Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona, Wis. in January 2013, and 10 months later opened their doors.
Besides knowing how to make good beer, the team knows craft beer drinkers. Nolen explained that now people either drink “good beer, or just beer.”
“People that drink craft beer today have really changed the beer scene over the last few years,” Nolen explained, adding how important it is to stand out from the crowd. “Craft beer drinkers are interested in experiencing the beer, enjoying it with friends, talking about the different flavors. They are very, very loyal – but never faithful. They are going to try everything that is out there. They are never going to just try one brewery’s beer.”
The recent popularity of craft beer has changed the beer culture, in Wisconsin and across the world.
“Today it is so mainstream and so widespread that you cant not go to a place and get craft beer,” Nolen explained. “Craft beer us now ‘good beer, and the rest is just beer. For the right occasion, they want to drink better. For an extra dollar you can drink the best beer in world.”
Before their brewery was even completed, Wisconsin Brewing Company struck a deal with Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company to test out their new product, and it soon sold out. The test helped WBC choose the four beers that they say would launch their new brewery: Amber Lager, American IPA, Brown & Robust Porter, and Session IPA.
“We wanted to do something completely different when we launch new products for our company,” Nolen said. “And we thought the public would think it’s cool to see different breweries working with each other. We pilot-tested all our brands in their breweries. We brewed them there, and we sold them there.”
Time was spent thinking of the clever names for the beers, but in the end, they decided the names weren’t what was important about their new product. So they named them 001, 002, 003 and 004.
Word of mouth about Wisconsin Brewing Company quickly spread, and Wisconsin Distributors took notice. They just signed a deal with the company to distribute their beer to even more places across the state. Wisconsin Distributors also distributes brands like Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Bass, Labatt, Michelob, ShockTop and others, and Wisconsin Brewing is proud to be on that list.
“You have to have a strong district partner before you can even begin to start a company,” Nolen explained of starting the brewery. “We were lucky to work out an arrangement with Wisconsin Distributors.”
The distribution company considers themselves equally as lucky to have found the partnership. Ryan Wessley, specialty brand manager with Wisconsin Distributors, said distributing WBC beer is an opportunity they had been searching for for a while.
“Over the last few years our [craft beer] portfolio has expanded rather significantly,” Wessley said. “Just about three or four years ago we picked up New Belgium. They are the third largest independently owned craft brewery in the country. When they happened it had an upward effect as far as our craft product.”
Wisconsin Distributors also distributes other regional brands, but had been looking for that niche in the Wisconsin craft beer market. Wisconsin Brewing Company offered the perfect opportunity to support brands from Wisconsin with quality craft beer.
You can find WBC’s four brews in grocery stories, liquor stores, restaurants and bars in the Fox Valley, and the company expects to expand those locations quickly. Wisconsin Distributors distributes beer in 22 counties, and WBC’s beer is now in multiple locations all across the state.
But if you want to make the trip to Verona, you can also visit the brewery and see how the beer in made firsthand.
Nolen expects the brewery in Verona to welcome 200,000 visitors a year. In their first seven days, 2,000 people walked through their doors.
Nolen explained he gave tours the first two Saturdays they were open. On the first Saturday, the visitors were from surrounding towns – Verona, Madison, Fitchburg. But the second Saturday, they had visitors from St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago.
“Four different groups of people, all from out of state,” he said.
Wisconsin Brewing Company prides themselves on being from Wisconsin and for Wisconsin. The factory was built from local products, and even their German brewhouse was built right here in the state.
“The story of Wisconsin Brewing Company is really the story of Wisconsin,” the company proudly explains. And the name signifies that no matter where they go, they started in the state known for their beer.