Craft brewery captures the spirit of Geneva Lake
LAKE GENEVA In the 28 years he spent working in the automotive industry, Pat McIntosh never once had a beer at a meeting.
“Three years in the beer industry,” the founder of Geneva Lake Brewing Company said, “I’ve never once not had a beer at a meeting.”
That’s what happens when a beer geek makes his passion his business.
After 28 years in manufacturing and six years making beer at home, McIntosh in 2010 wrote up the business plan for Geneva Lake Brewing.
His company is off and running today, turning out six beers that pay tribute to the vacation spot the brewery takes its name from and flying the flag for Wisconsin’s craft beer scene in Walworth County.
Pat McIntosh and his son, brewmaster Jonathan McIntosh, are the company’s only employees. They brew in an unassuming office park east of downtown Lake Geneva.
The pair work hard, though: They brewed 400 barrels of beer last year and are on pace to make 1,000 in 2013.
For Pat McIntosh, it’s not a bad retirement.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time,” he said. “That’s a good thing when you call that work.”
You can find Geneva Lake Brewing on tap in more than 80 bars around southern Wisconsin, particularly in Madison, Milwaukee and Lake Geneva.
A taproom at the brewery, 750 Veterans Parkway, Suite 107, serves up pints of the beer steps from where it’s made.
“Bombers” (22-ounce bottles) of their beers are on shelves at area liquor stores, as well.
The brews’ names play on life by Geneva Lake, whether through its geography (Cedar Point Amber and a Kolsch called Narrows) or its culture (Weekender Wheat and No Wake pale ale).
They reflect a brewery that, like many others in the craft beer market, is in part defined by its home.
A growing trend
The ranks of brewers like McIntosh are growing.
There were 2,360 craft breweries in the United States in March, up from 1,970 in 2011, according to the Brewers Association, which calls itself “a passionate voice for craft brewers.”
Craft brews accounted for 6.5 percent of the beer sold in 2012, a small but growing piece of the market still dominated by major breweries such as Miller-Coors and Anheuser-Busch.
“Craft brewer” is defined as a brewery that makes fewer than 6 million barrels of beer each year and is not owned by a larger alcoholic beverage industry member.
Here in beer-loving Wisconsin, there were 75 craft breweries as of 2011, good for No. 9 nationally in the association’s list of breweries per capita.
New breweries such as Geneva Lake are popping up each year in towns big and small.
“There’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker,” McIntosh said. “There’s so much variety out there right now.”
When Deb Carey started New Glarus Brewing in 1993, there were fewer than 10 other microbreweries in the state.
Today, Carey’s company makes 100,000 barrels of beer each year and is working on a major expansion.
Carey traces the rise of microbreweries to the way Wisconsinites like to buy local. The same way people might shop from a local farmer or cheese maker—or buy produce straight from the farmer at a market—Carey says they want to drink beer from their communities.
“Wisconsin has always been very parochial in (its) buying habits,” she said.
“Craft brewing goes hand in hand with all of those industries.”
It’s perhaps a surprise, then, that Geneva Lake is the only microbrewery in Walworth County.
There’s a brewpub in Whitewater and a couple of “nanobreweries” (which produce even smaller quantities than micros such as Geneva Lake) in Kenosha County. Still, the closest brewery to Geneva Lake is Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills.
Even without many neighbors nearby, McIntosh said he has enjoyed talking shop with brewers from around the state about their shared passion.
“I haven’t seen even a hint of competition between breweries,” he said.
“It’s really a bunch of beer geeks.”
Coming soon: Cans and new brews
Although Geneva Lake Brewing is 3 years old, it’s still a relative newcomer working to get established in the market.
Even if McIntosh says there isn’t much competition between breweries, the battle for space on bars’ taps and spots on grocery store shelves is crucial for a young brewery.
Still, the company is off to a good start, and is looking to grow from here.
Geneva Lake introduced a sixth beer, a double-India Pale Ale called Implosion, in mid-April.
Implosion is the first of Geneva Lake’s rotating series of seasonal ales.
For the summer, McIntosh said the brewery is working on a raspberry wheat beer and is thinking about darker offerings for the winter.
The taproom also expanded its hours for Lake Geneva’s busier tourist season and will be open six days per week for the summer.
The biggest step for the brewery could be coming at the end of this year or early next, when McIntosh hopes Geneva Lake could start canning its beers.
Most importantly, however, the company’s year-round line of five beers is a solid mix that could prove popular with the craft beer crowd.
Narrows Kolsch is an extremely drinkable beer you can imagine would be perfect for a lazy day on the lake, while Black Point is a smoky stout that pairs well with Wisconsin’s colder weather.
From McIntosh’s perspective, brewing is its own reward.
A few hours before The Gazette visited McIntosh, his brewery had a visitor—the state Secretary of Commerce and member of Wisconsin’s best-known brewing family, Dick Leinenkugel.
At some point in his visit, McIntosh said, Leinenkugel asked him what his plan was going forward.
“I said, ‘You know what? I like making beer, I’m having a lot of fun, and we’re going to see where it goes.’”