First impressions: One Barrel Brewing Company

The opening-weekend board at One Barrel Brewing Company. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

If the many hits my preview post from earlier this spring has gotten are any indication, the arrival of Peter Gentry’s One Barrel Brewing Company in Madison has been highly anticipated. Luckily, the wait is over now that One Barrel officially opened this past Friday at 2001 Atwood Avenue, near Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace. I’m delighted to report that my first visit left me happy and impressed.

Linda Falkenstein briefly wrote about the opening at Isthmus last week, and the Wisconsin State Journal featured an in-depth piece from Barry Adams and nice pre-opening photos from Craig Schreiner. As Adams notes,

The 1,300-square-foot operation features a bar that will only serve beer and wine, a one-barrel brewing system and 11 fermentation tanks, each holding 42 gallons….

Food will be limited. The bar will bake frozen pizzas from Fraboni’s and serve piragi, a Latvian bun with bacon, onion and spices, made at Stalzy’s Deli down the street. There will also be Landjaegers from Zuber’s in Monroe, pickled eggs, and beers from other craft brewers in the state.

I couldn’t resist stopping in, so J and I and a friend had a few beers early Saturday evening. The word had clearly gotten out as the place was really hopping (though fortunately not completely packed to the gills). The bar staff were all gracious despite the opening-weekend rush. Gentry could be seen in the glass-enclosed office and brewing space in the back; I took it as a good sign that the proprietor/brewmaster was on site but avoiding the bustle for a bit, leaving things in the hands of his front-of-house crew.

The space is wonderful, with lots of exposed brick; a nice long, wrap-around bar; plenty of high-top tables; and a casual seating area in the window up front. Keeping things simple, all the beers are priced at $4.50 each. They currently only have two of their own beers available; as the online menu notes, “Please be patient – We just got federal approval to brew at the end of June.” I tried The Commuter, a light Kölsch that was an eminently drinkable session beer that is sure to please lots of folks, including those who think they don’t like microbrews. J ordered the #2 Strong Ale, which we all agreed was absolutely fantastic. Despite the online menu’s indication that high alcohol-content beers understandably will be only 8 ounce pours, the Belgian-style Strong Ale came as a full pint, which meant that at 10% ABV it really packed a wallop. It looked like their goblets (and bev naps) hadn’t yet arrived, so J effectively got an unofficial 2-for-1 opening weekend special.

As Linda Falkenstein reported, “Eventually there will be up to nine house beers, but Gentry plans on saving a couple of taps for other small, unique Wisconsin beers.” While they ramp up production, there are a bunch of great non-1BBC microbrews on tap, including the super-tasty and beautifully colored Hibiscus Saison from Vintage Brewing that I finally got to try.

Check out Adams’s article for more details, then stop on by for some great beer and to welcome Gentry and One Barrel to the neighborhood for what is no doubt going to be a very long stay.

UPDATED 7/13/2012, 7/17/2012, & 7/24/2012: The local press’s love for One Barrel hasn’t let up. For more on the opening and Gentry’s plans for the future, check out this 77 Square piece from Rob Thomas (“the bar sold out all four kegs of its summer ale on the first night, and a total of 17 kegs over the weekend”), this Isthmus article from Robin Shepard (“I’ve been selling more beer in a day than I thought I’d sell in a week,” Gentry reports), and this Wisconsin State Journal update from Chris Drosner (“Though Gentry thinks his business will eventually slow down to something more sustainable, he hopes to open a second One Barrel location — perhaps with a three-barrel system — on the West Side within a few years”).


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