By Merry Dudley
Photos courtesy of Norma Jean Fochs.
When we think about doing travel-related activities such as taking tours of interesting buildings or businesses, we tend to believe we have to travel great distances to see something new and interesting. What we may forget is that there are unique places often much nearer.
In my case, I had to drive about a mile to find something amazing.
The Central Waters Brewing Company came to Amherst several years ago, but I had yet to stop in. But I drive by it almost every day, so I took notice when the building added parking, put up the impressive row of solar panels, then expanded with a new loading area a few years ago.
When they added a huge new warehouse and expanded the main entrance last year, I finally realized just how big this business had become.
So in February, I finally turned down Allen Road to see just what was going on down there. Anello Mollica and Paul Graham, the current owners and operators, were kind enough to show me around and answer some of my questions.
SCENE: So how long has Central Waters been at its current location in Amherst? How did it all begin?
Anello Mollica (AM): Central Waters started in Junction City back in 1998 as a homebrewer’s dream. We quickly maxed out production there at 750 barrels per year. In 2006, we decided to grow the business, as demand was huge. We chose Amherst as our location and began construction in 2006, brewing our first beer in our new location on December 31, 2006. Since then we have grown from 750 barrels in 2006 to 11,500 in 2014, with a goal of closer to 18,000 in 2015.
SCENE: Those of us who drive by on the County Road B bridge have a great view of the awesome solar panels in the back. Can you tell us about your solar energy initiatives? How long has Central Waters been “green?” Was it always in the plans to use renewable energy? Has it made a difference in your day-to-day business? Do visitors comment on it?
AM: Renewable energy has always been something Paul and I have believed in. We built our first set of solar in 2008 and have since been adding on. We now have solar thermal, providing heat for the building and, most notably, hot water for all of our brewing needs. We also have a 20kW solar PV system, providing electricity to our brewery.
These are the very visual pieces, but in reality, we do a lot [of things] to shrink our environmental footprint. From energy reduction through lighting, to choosing the right suppliers that are also green, to reducing water consumption, we do anything we can.
People do comment on it, and we get asked by other brewers across the country. At the end of the day, brewing is very resource intensive, so it is our duty to reduce our usage to stay in business for the long term.
Paul and I always wanted this because we believe in it. It certainly impacts our use of energy. Our business is integral to the use of power and water, so it’s our duty to minimize what we use as stewards if the environment. People comment on it all the time.
SCENE: This year you added a new building, and the front of the building, which I now know is the taproom, has been beautifully updated. Tell us about the latest expansion and the remodeled entry.
AM: The influx of tourism and visitors in our taproom is amazing! We certainly had no idea it would turn into what it is. We remodeled it to accommodate the increase in visitors because we realized we needed more space for more people.
The new warehouse is to accommodate our burgeoning barrel-aged beer program, making it one of the largest in the country for barrel-aged beers.
SCENE: Just a few weeks ago you had your anniversary party, and I noticed people lining up before noon! How did it start? What special events/goodies do you offer during this event? And have you already begun to make plans for next year?
AM: We had previously had smaller anniversary parties, but it wasn’t until our 14th that we started offering a special-release beer only available that day at the party. That year, the beer won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Since then, the party exploded, doubling visitors every year.
This year, we had nearly 4,000 people in attendance, and last year’s anniversary beer, Sixteen, won the gold medal at the World Beer Cup for the best barrel-aged stout in the world. People come from far away to get these beers.
We plan for this event year-round. It has been a huge undertaking, and our crew works hard to pull this off.
AM: We offer 7 year-round products: Hop Rise, Mudpuppy Porter, Ouisconsing Red Ale, Glacial Trail IPA, Satin Solitude Stout, Honey Blonde and Shine On. We have a rotating seasonal beer, too.
We also offer a multitude of limited-release beers throughout the year, from our award-winning barrel-aged program with beers like Bourbon Stout and Bourbon Barleywine to Illumination (our double IPA), to a rotating array of limited 22-oz. bottles throughout the year — more than 20 in all.
SCENE: So when can visitors stop in? Do you give tours?
AM: Our taproom is open every Friday and Saturday from 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm, with free tours at 5:00 pm.
SCENE: Finally, is there anything else you would like to talk about? Upcoming events or products? History or awards?
AM: Watch our Facebook page and our website for upcoming events because there are a lot. Most notable, we were recently given the distinction of being named the best brewery in Wisconsin and one of the top 100 brewers in the world, both by www.RateBeer.com.
On March 27, come to Central Waters, 351 Allen Street, Amherst, to hear live music by Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Tickets are $10 each (you must be 21 years or older to attend). Doors open at 6:00 pm and the show begins at 7:00 pm. Call 715-824-2739 for more information.