You can’t taste it in the craft beer brewed there, but the dust of ages of farming is still alive in the ambience and architecture at Duesterbeck’s Brewing Co.
The craft brewery on County O in rural Elkhorn is in an ersatz barn built as an approximate replica of an older barn that once stood in the same spot on the 150-year-old Duesterbeck farmstead.
Duesterbeck’s opened in late October, just in time for the harvest and the flock of fall orchard tourists.
It’s the area’s newest craft brewery, one of a growing number of microbreweries and brewpubs in Rock and Walworth counties. But as beer bars go, the place has a character all its own.
The taproom sports farm-themed, tongue-in-cheek names for the beers brewed in a seven-barrel system by proprietor Ben Johnson, a Delavan dentist and longtime craft brewer.
Its beer list recently showed eight brews, including Crop Duester, a cream ale. Oatmeal Snout, an oatmeal stout, is an homage to the five-generation farm’s hog-raising history.
The beer list, shown in bright colors on a TV screen above the bar, hangs below a shelf with a stained-glass mural of brewer’s hops and a set of antique trophies from a Walworth County 4-H swine competition.
The new building is a barn in concept rather than function. Inside the red metal-sided structure is a full-fledged microbrewery and taproom with 20 taps. But echoes of the old barn remain in the long, laminated bar; the wall behind the bar, which is artfully constructed of red barn siding; and the tables throughout the tap room.
Other relics from the original barn are there, too. A heavy beam strung with bare light bulbs hangs on a thick chain attached to the vaulted ceiling. Outside the restrooms, a green and white Millard Feed Mill sign is set above a row of coat hooks, where farm hands once hung their barn coats.
“They’ve kept the old barn alive in here, everywhere,” said Cathy Duesterbeck, who on Mondays serves up craft beer and conversation at Duesterbeck’s.
Duesterbeck’s daughter, Laura Johnson, is married to Ben Johnson.
Laura, a horticulturalist, inherited the farmstead where the brewery now stands. She said she conceived the brewery as a way to continue the family farm, and she hopes the new business allows her to pass the property on to her children.
Her father, Dennis Duesterbeck, died two years ago, just as Laura and Ben were planning to build the brewery.
“Dad instilled ‘You love the farm and love the land.’ ... It’s a hard concept to instill in children, the value of the land,” Laura said. “When the barn started to go downhill, we wondered, ‘What are we going to do? I’m going to inherit this land, and I don’t know how I’m going to keep this farm alive.’
“Ben has been brewing for so long. We’ve been here so long. Really, it’s just the business we found that we thought would be able to get our farm to move on.”
On the far wall, visible through three big picture windows, is the brewing room where Ben makes beer. The gleaming silver tanks, boilers, vents and pipes are set off by white dairy barn-style wall boards. In its pastoral setting, the chromed-out brewing room easily could be mistaken for a well-appointed milking parlor.
Ben, 38, has brewed beer since he was 19. As brewmaster at Duesterbeck’s, he hopes to coax local visitors and out-of-town guests to branch out from the beer styles that are in the key of Miller Lite.
Ben said so far his Crop Duester, an easy-drinking cream ale, is the most popular brew at Duesterbeck’s.
The clearing of the old barn and the raising of the new barn/brewery took more than a year, and it involved special zoning approval by Walworth County officials. It’s designated as brewery, not a brewpub, and as far as Ben knows, it was the first time the county allowed a rural property zoned for farming to be used as a brewery.
Ben and Laura consider the brewery an agricultural use. They say they use farm-to-table ingredients for the beer, and they also have planned sustainable agricultural use of their brewing wastewater and grain byproducts.
Ben said although about a half-dozen microbreweries and brewpubs have popped up in the last few years, he doesn’t know of one that operates out of a barn on a historic farmstead.
Laura said it’s been exciting to watch brake lights come on on County O when drivers realize they’re no longer passing a farm. It’s now a brew-farm.
She hopes that niche will give the farm property a solid future.
“When I see my kids run the brewery someday, and we get that farm moved on at least another generation, I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we did this,’” Laura said. “That’s when I’ll know I did my job.”