After the fire, Hopskeller breathes new life - Republic-Times | News

After the fire, Hopskeller breathes new life

By on June 14, 2017 at 11:57 am

Matt Schweizer highlighted Hopskeller’s new and larger brewing equipment as one of the more exciting aspects of the Waterloo microbrewery’s rebirth.
(Sean McGowan photo)

Seen as one of the more unstable of the elements, fire has its advantages and disadvantages.

The flames that consumed Matt Schweizer’s prized business at 116 E. Third Street in Waterloo last fall, for instance, were a destructive force as they drew shut the curtains over his dream of running a successful microbrewery, following just one month of operation.

Schweizer felt “heartbroken” over seeing part of Hopskeller Brewing Company’s ceiling caved in, his apartment on the floor above heavily damaged from the smoke, and his brewing tanks beyond repair.

But amid the devastation, he began picking up the pieces.

“There was never any doubt we were going to reopen,” the Hopskeller founder and brewmaster assured. “When I saw it (the same day of the fire), I thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to rebuild.’”

Eight months later, Schweizer is starting to see rebuilding efforts come together in an amazing way, with plans to reopen this August. New brewery equipment will allow for the production of much more beer at a time.

A new pizza oven will adjust wait times — Schweizer said in the month the brewery was first open the kitchen would produce one pizza every 3.5 minutes, but some customers would still wait up to two hours for their order.

“It wasn’t that pizzas weren’t getting made. It’s just so many to make,” he said. “This is going to fix that in a really good way.”

Getting back to Hopskeller’s main attraction, Schweizer said he also plans to unveil several new beers to bring the total on tap up to 12.

“I’ve been brewing since 7 a.m. this morning,” he said during a recent Republic-Times interview. “You have August as the reopening, September as the anniversary of the original opening and one year after the fire in October.

“So it’s going to be a few cool months,” he added, indicating he has a special release planned for each milestone.

He elaborated that these new beers will be “quite a bit different.”

“I’ve been really getting into older, extinct, highly local English and American recipes. You just don’t see those anymore,” he expressed.

Schweizer opened Hopskeller last year to combine the brewing of Pacific Northwest style beers and the more mild English ales under one roof. He plans to bring back the beers that earned the brewery much success right out of the gate — the ever-popular raspberry wheat ale, light English ales and a Northern English brown ale among them.

Schweizer confirmed that getting to this point has come with struggles, but through an overwhelming amount of emotional and financial support, his faith in the brewery’s reconstruction has become unshakable.

“First and foremost, my parents’ support was crucial,” he said. “If they were not behind this, I don’t know what I would do. I can’t live in an apartment and I’m between jobs.

“If it wasn’t for (my parents), this would be very, very difficult. I’m trying to imagine a scenario where I could still do this without them.”

He also expressed thanks to his business partners, whom he described as “just as enthusiastic” as he about the reopening.

Hopskeller part owner George Obernagel is among them and is looking forward to what the extra brewing tanks and added cooler space will provide.

“I think with the additions it’s going to be great,” Obernagel said. “We’re looking to open in mid-August. It’s going to be bigger and better.”

Residents are keeping a watchful eye on Facebook of the progress made toward the brewery’s highly anticipated reopening.

“We’re going to be as ready as humanly possible. It’s going to be absolutely bonkers,” Schweizer said.

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years.