Hop & Barrel Brewing fought the law, and they won

Katelyn Regenscheid

Katelyn Regenscheid

Hop & Barrel Brewing had to fight to open its doors.

Not because of archaic statewide prohibition-era laws like Minnesota breweries often combat. They’re in Wisconsin, and every restaurant and coffee shop in the state sells booze.

But in downtown Hudson -- where it was legal to open a distillery the size of Jack Daniel's, or a brewpub -- you couldn’t open a brewery on its own.

The owners of Hop & Barrel -- Justin Terbeest, family law attorney and award-winning homebrewer, and Brian Priefer, commercial brewer from American Sky and Inbound BrewCo -- weren’t letting something simple like the law stop them from opening their brewery. They started the process of changing Hudson’s law on breweries in February, attending more city council meetings than one citizen probably should in a lifetime. They purchased their brewing equipment and signed a lease in April, banking on their efforts to become successful, and they breathed easy in July when the law officially changed. Finally, in December, they opened their doors.

Hop & Barrel is located on Second Street amidst 21 restaurants in the main drag of Downtown Hudson, right along the river. The building is an open space, but it’s distinctly divided into two areas: the more traditional taproom, with bar seating, and the barrel room, where one will find beer-hall-style seating and the fanciest possible version of Big Buck Hunter.

With a name like Hop & Barrel, a barrel aging program is key. But you’ll have to hold onto your hats for a few months, because patience is key in barrel aging, too. Only a dozen or so barrels currently populate the barrel room, but there are plans to change that quickly.

The hop half of the name, though, is something Priefer and Terbeest are already delivering on: four pounds of hops per barrel. The current tap list includes a lineup of 16 beers that are mostly hoppy and dark, and eventually will be barrel aged. Within the next month, several lagers will be on the list as well. Crowd favorites are Minnesconsin, Crooked Grin, and Lactose Panda, which will be the first beers to hit cans.

Terbeest and Priefer are only a month and a half into their brewing operations, but they’re already knee-deep in hard work and good play. Conversation between the two owners quickly flips from a discussion of the upcoming weekend’s taproom events to telling drinking stories like two old fishermen. (The bartender filling crowlers rolls her eyes at them, already knowing their antics all too well.)

Though their office is covered in Star Wars posters and they can’t keep a straight face for more than five minutes at a time, Priefer and Terbeest run a tight ship. In hiring, they focused on creating a staff that’s independent and capable.

Chad Forner runs most of the brewhouse operations, hauling grain and executing the co-founders’ recipes on an eighteen barrel system. His work is complemented by Katie Eells’ in the lab, where she conducts forced diacetyl and forced fermentation tests as well as yeast settle counting and a bacteria check. It’s an impressive operation, especially for a nascent business.

Opening day wasn’t a test for Hop & Barrel by any means. “We opened in growth mode,” says Terbeest. With an experienced production brewer and homebrewer writing recipes, a second experienced production brewer executing them, and a quality assurance lab up and running, it’s clear the brewery meant business from day one. Already, they’re planning to expand storage, and they’re hiring a salesperson to handle their growing account list.

The owners plan to self distribute for as long as possible (in the state of Wisconsin, they can do so until they reach 300,000 barrels annually), and potentially open a production facility in a couple years.

The dreams are big for Hop & Barrel, but only time -- and a few more pints for me -- will tell.

Hop & Barrel Brewing
310 Second St., Hudson, WI 54016