Ahnapee Brewery to bottle its beer
A big shipment from Italy is arriving in Philadelphia this week and will travel by rail and truck to Algoma, where it will change the way that the Ahnapee Brewery does business.
The shipment will contain a 31-foot bottling machine from Borelli in Italy that will allow the brewery to begin selling its beer in 12-ounce bottles. The beer previously has been sold only in kegs or 16-ounce glass containers that had to be bottled by hand.
“By next spring you will be able to buy our beer in stores,” says Nick Calaway, general manager of the brewery.
Calaway and brewery owners Brad and Aric Schmiling will be working with two men from Borelli to install the bottling machine in the 7,000-square-foot building owned by the Schmilings across the street from the brewery’s tap room. The bottling machine will allow them to process more than 20 bottles at one time.
The goal is to have the bottled beer available for sale by March.
Excitement has been building at the brewery over the last few weeks as Calaway returned from the Great American Beer Festival with a silver award for its Long Goodbye, a Munich Helles beer that was rated above 53 other breweries in its category
Last weekend Ahnapee also walked away with the People’s Choice Award from the Northeast Craft Beer Festival in Ashwaubenon for its double cherry oak-aged stout.
Since the Schmilings reopened the brewery in 2013, sales have doubled from 250 barrels in 2014 to a projected 500 barrels this year.
Their relative Henry Schmiling, a Civil War veteran, first opened the brewery in 1868. It was the only brewery within miles, and Henry used to send his wood barrels up to the small towns along the coast by boat, keeping his beer cold with ice he cut from the Ahnapee River adjacent to the brewery.
Not surprisingly, he was a popular man, says Calaway. Today, Ahnapee remains the only brewery in Kewaunee County.
The Schmilings’ parents reimagined the historic brewery building as a winery when they purchased it back in the 1980s and as von Stiehl Winery, it has become the largest winery in the county. Three years ago, the Schmilings decided to begin making beer again. They bought an old garage next door to the winery to turn into a beer tap room and hired Calaway to make the beer.
Being head brewer has been a “dream realized” for Calaway, who learned his craft at Titletown Brewery in Green Bay.
“But I never realized how much work it would be,” Calaway said, noting that the brewery is open at noon and often doesn’t close until after midnight. “In addition to supervising the brewing, I often have to tend bar and just be here to help out,” he said.
The brewery began with some of Calaway’s home recipes. The first year it turned out their signature Two Stall, a subtly sweet chocolate milk stout. Little Soldier (named after Henry who was just 5 feet 6 inches’ tall) followed and then an Ahnapee Lager. An IPA titled Noble is also part of Ahnapee’s regular offerings..
While the popular tap room is located in a renovated garage on Navarino Street, the beer is produced in an old dairy about six miles northwest of Algoma in what they have named the old Carnival Guernsey Dairy.
Ahnapee also offers seasonal brews including a pumpkin ale and a fungi beer made with mushrooms in a brown ale. A series of doppelbocks, which contain 9 percent alcohol (double the 5-6 percent alcohol content of a lager), is aged in whiskey and rum barrels to give it added flavors and sold in hand packed bottles.
Part of the fun for Calaway is trying a new beer recipe and seeing how popular it is in the tap room. If it sells well, they brew another batch, he said.
“We just kept getting busier and busier all summer,” said Calaway, noting that the tap room’s location on the Ahnapee River makes a nice stop for people traveling through Algoma to Door County.
“Lots of people still take the scenic route,” he said.
The new bottling equipment will also allow the Schmilings to move their wine bottling from Michigan to the building across the street, which will save significantly in trucking costs, said Aric Schmiling. For the winery, the new equipment replaces a nine-bottle machine that could only be used for bottling wine. Von Stiehl has sold it to a vineyard in Peshtigo.
The stainless steel machine has three options for capping the bottle – a cork, a metal cap and a pressurized cap for champagne. The Schmilings also have contracted to bottle the wine of other local vineyards..
Calaway says that the sales of other Northeast Wisconsin small breweries have quadrupled once they began offering their beer in bottles.
With a March deadline for the first shipping, Calaway is also pleased that there will still be good reason to come by the tap room as not all of its brews will be available in bottles.
Each spring, the brewery hosts a Hobo Fest, honoring the men who used to hang out by the brewery when they got off the train at the end of the line in Algoma.
“We make some of our best barrel-aged beers just for the festival,” said Calaway.
The special brews won’t be available in stores. Like the hobos, “you’ll have to stop by the garage and ask for a glass,” said Calaway.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Ahnapee Brewery to bottle its beer