Can City Leaders Make Room for World-Class Beer?

Nickolas Butler

Conceptual art of The Eau Claire Brewing Project's proposed expansion at 1807 Oxford Avenue
Conceptual rendering of The Eau Claire Brewing Project's proposed expansion at 1807 Oxford Avenue.

Understand this: Will Glass’ The Brewing Projekt is producing world class beer. World Class. By collaborating with the Danish brewer Mikkeller to produce an American Pale Ale for the upcoming Eaux Claires Music Festival, Glass’ beer will soon find distribution in bars and tap-rooms from Copenhagen to Tokyo, Seoul to Reykjavik. Whether or not you’ve heard of Mikkeller or not isn’t important, though, I might recommend reading the 2014 New York Times Magazine feature that essentially crowns Mikkeller as a global tastemaker. And whether you drink beer or not isn’t important. What is important, is that a Chippewa Valley native is operating on a level of creativity and craftsmanship that is commendable on a global stage.

Innovation is the buzzword now in brewing,” says Michael Agnew, a Minneapolis-based beer writer and educator and founder of www.aperfectpint.net. “In the name of innovation, everyone is pushing how much stuff they can put into beer. But not many of them are doing it well. At The Brewing Projekt, innovation is key, but quality comes first.”

Kathy Flanigan, a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel goes a step farther: “Will has a passion for brewing that is so far unchallenged among the many brewers I’ve interviewed as a beer writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The guy clearly loves making beer, otherwise he wouldn’t attempt brewing 50 beers a year. He wouldn’t take risks with ingredients or collaborations like the one he’s doing with Mikkeller Brewing. He would step slowly and roll out one or two beers then rest on the laurels of satisfied customers and empty pint glasses.”

And Glass is hoping to continue his innovation and creativity right where he started, in downtown Eau Claire. But this beer scientist has outgrown his laboratory and he’s in search of new digs.

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This is an entrepreneur who will find a way to succeed. He’s already done it. The question is, do we as a community push him forward? Does that success stay here, in Eau Claire?

More than a year ago, already hard pressed to keep up with surging demand and quickly outgrowing his humble cinder-block space, Will started looking for sites that could better accommodate the Brewing Projekt’s expansion. A natural solution stood literally across the street, at 1807 N. Oxford Ave. At that time, the building was privately owned, but shortly thereafter, in June 2015, the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority purchased the property. The acquisition was part of the RDA’s plan to assemble property to support the redevelopment of the west bank of the Chippewa River north of Madison Street, an area known as the Cannery Redevelopment District. Undeterred by the change in ownership, Will approached the RDA with a proposal to headquarter his growing brewery on the site.

The negotiations, which began in March, are still ongoing, but what seems to be becoming clear are the conflicting visions for the Cannery District. Does it become green space, another park along the riverfront? An office park? Or does it also preserve a part of our history – indeed, does it preserve what original buildings there remain? Is its very name just a New Urbanist gesture, a catchy moniker that motions to a bygone past, like naming a new cul-de-sac sub-division Wilderness Way?

An expanded Brewing Projekt would kick-start the entire district, unifying a vision already in embryonic form with the new Lazy Monk beer hall down the road. It would save, reinvent, and reinvigorate a building in need. It would provide construction jobs, brewing jobs, food service jobs. Aesthetically the neighborhood would be transformed, and from a crime perspective, business and customers alike would naturally “police” an otherwise poorly trafficked and dimly lit corridor of our city. And, it is something that, as a community, we don’t have to wait for, hope for – Glass is poised and ready right now to expand, invest, succeed.

Glass proved himself a dedicated member of the Cannery District long before it became chic to imagine redevelopment along that stretch of the Chippewa River. In so many ways, he has been patient, growing his business from nothing in humble environs. Upon meeting Glass, a person is left no choice but to cheer for him. A big bear of a man with a thick brown beard, he’s engaging, humble, and – despite the more than occasional roadblocks erected before him – always magnanimous, always graceful. This is an entrepreneur who will find a way to succeed. He’s already done it. The question is, do we as a community push him forward? Does that success stay here, in Eau Claire?

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“Honestly, in this new age of craft brewing and local artisanship, I can’t believe we are debating the merits of preserving an old building and offering visitors river views and a destination brewery versus office space,” stated Kevin Revolinski, author of The Best Beer Guide to Wisconsin.

“Look around the state,” he continued. “Clusters of successful breweries in places such as Madison, Green Bay, Wausau, are confirmed tourist magnets. News of Lazy Monk’s recent expansion spread like wildfire on the Internet. And now within walking distance, The Brewing Projekt aims to create another destination brewery. How is this not going to be a boon to tourism for the city? Plus other businesses who want to tap into that steady stream of visitors are going to thrive here as well. It’s synergy.”

Will Glass has created something special. The world is recognizing his work. Will we rally to his side?

Projekt Rally

The Brewing Projekt will be holding a “Projekt Rally” to promote its proposed purchase of a building that would allow it to expand. The rally will be from 5pm to midnight Friday, July 15, at the brewery’s current site, 2000 N. Oxford Ave., Eau Claire, and will include walk-by tours of the proposed new site, 1807 N. Oxford Ave. The event will include live entertainment, food from Tutto Bene Wood Fired Pizza, and (naturally) beer.

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