Hopskeller nearly set to impress in Waterloo

Matt Schweizer looks forward to opening his brewery in downtown Waterloo next month. (Sean McGowan photo)
Matt Schweizer looks forward to opening his brewery in downtown Waterloo next month. (Sean McGowan photo)

Matt Schweizer grew up in South St. Louis County, but his travels to the Pacific Northwest and Northern England diversified him in unimaginable ways.

That diversity served as a key piece of the puzzle in getting Hopskeller Brewing Co. ready to roll out to the public over the past two years. Schweizer plans to open the brewery’s doors within the next few weeks — though he doesn’t know an exact date.

“We’re not going to advertise when, so you’ll just have to come by and check,” Schweizer said.

Hours of operation will be 2 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit Hopskeller online at Facebook.com/Hopskeller or call 939-2337. Hopskeller is located at 116 E. Third Street in Waterloo.

Doug Dobek, an assistant brewer at Hopskeller, almost seems as excited as Schweizer for the finished product. Dobek began working for Schweizer after he decided he wanted a new activity post-retirement.

“We’ve been chomping at the bit to open,” he said.

However, Schweizer, 31, after going through the ropes of brewing and establishing a business, is practically giddy at the prospect of a dream-come-true. The former Gibault Catholic High School teacher toyed with the idea the moment he started brewing 10 years ago.

“What 20-something is going to start brewing and not think, ‘How cool would it be to own a brewery?’” he said.

Schweizer’s story goes even further back than the start of his home brewing days to a time when he lived in Northern England. During his stay, he spent a lot of time sampling English ales and taking in the drinking culture of the region.

That experience served as an inspiration for his home brewing. Yet, Schweizer’s cultural diversity continued to expand several years later.

He moved to Eugene, Ore., and there he discovered a strikingly different style of drinking and brewing that would add to his experience.

The Pacific Northwest style constitutes brewing heavier beers that can get a person into the right state of mind after a couple drinks and is also bolder in flavor. On the other hand, English brewing brings about lighter beers that can allow a beer enthusiast to drink more with a more diluted effect.

So why did Schweizer decide to bring the two together?

“It makes both of them a little better,” he said. “You can rein in the American ones and try something different with the English ones.”

Even with his exposure to the two different cultures, Schweizer would still need a lot of support from the community to get far enough along in the business. That help came in a multitude of ways.

The city of Waterloo is one of those which Schweizer said “has been remarkably helpful along the way.” In addition, about 10 different people in the community decided they liked the idea enough to invest in the business.

The money helped get his idea off the ground. After that, he brought on Dobek and another assistant brewer, Dan Frey, who began home brewing about 16 years ago.

“I thought, ‘This is a good way to put a hobby of mine to good use,’” Frey said of working with Schweizer.

Dobek said he came into Hopskeller with no brewing experience whatsoever, but Schweizer and Frey managed to teach him quite a bit over the past couple of years.

“We’ve all become better brewers from each other,” Schweizer said.

These experienced brewers not only cooked up a lot of batches, but also entered into many brewing competitions with certified judges. Schweizer showed the Republic-Times a good 20 or so medals won during these competitions.

“It makes us pretty confident that what we’re doing is good,” he said.

In addition, the six beers Hopskeller will make available to the public live up to this award-winning standard.

“All of these have won at least one gold,” Schweizer said, adding that he plans to only serve award-winning beers at the brewery. “It’s a challenge I posed to myself.”

The six beers Schweizer will unveil in the beginning include two light English ales, a raspberry wheat beer, a session strength India pale ale, an American amber ale and a Northern English brown ale.

The new brewery owner described the two light English ales as “not bitter” and “easy drinking.”

“It’s the classic question: ‘What’s the closest to Budweiser?’” he said. “It’s not even close, but it’s as close as you’ll get.”

Citrusy, piny and characteristically hoppy describes the session strength IPA.

Schweizer said the raspberry wheat seems to garner the most popularity.

Paired with these different brews, Hopskeller will serve pizzas and a few baked appetizers. The food and drinks only make up a part of the brewery.

Additionally, Schweizer decided on a beer garden in the backyard of the facility, which will not be finished at the time of the September soft opening. Schweizer will hold a grand opening whenever the beer garden is finally completed. This garden will include a water feature — bigger than a water fountain — and a patio with a pattern carved into the concrete by hand.

“You want to get a nice, rustic look, and there’s only one way to do that,” he said. “That’s the right way.”

To accomplish getting the beer garden, the community as a whole came together and poured more than $20,000 into a Kickstarter campaign.

“When you start doing this, the people who come out of the woodwork who want to be a part of it is really neat,” he said.

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