Bryan Schubert is turning his beer-making hobby into a business and preserving a local landmark at the same time.
He’s the owner of Millpond Brewing & Incubator, a craft brewery that opened Oct. 3 in a former Shell service station in Millstadt. The old gas pumps are gone, but the 1943 building still has its yellow glazed blocks and rounded corners on the outside and exposed brick walls and 16-foot-high ceilings inside.
Garage doors can be raised in warm weather for an open-air experience. One bay is filled with giant stainless-steel tanks and other brewing equipment that customers can see through a glass wall.
“Opening a brewery was definitely about following a dream and turning my passion into a profession,” said Bryan, 39, of Millstadt. “But it was also about preserving this building. It’s been a community icon, but it really wasn’t available for the community to enjoy.”
In recent years, the 3,400-square-foot building had largely been used as a storage facility for old cars, motorcycles and auto parts.
“On the second floor alone, there were 190 engine cranks,” Bryan said. “There were also 140 engine blocks. I was impressed with how much stuff was in here.”
Community gathering place
“Millpond” refers to ponds that were part of mill operations in the old days. They also served as community gathering places, similar to city parks today. Bryan added “incubator” to the business’s name because he plans to allow home-brewers to use his professional equipment to hone their skills.
On Friday night, many of the brewery’s customers were checking it out for the first time.
“We’ve been driving by it, and we were anxious to see what was going on here,” said Dan Minor, 55, of Belleville, who with his wife, Tess, daughters Chelsea and Kelly and Chelsea’s fiance, Greg. “We’ve heard nothing but good things about it — the beer, the atmosphere, the staff ...”
Minor was enjoying a Lawrence German Pilsner, named after Bryan’s father, Larry Schubert, a well-known Millstadt resident who operated a local butcher shop from 1978 to 2015 with his wife, Mabel.
Chelsea and Kelly tried the Eszett with Peaches, a German Weissbier with Eckert’s peaches in it.
“It’s not overly sweet or peachy,” said Chelsea, 28, of Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s just a nice, refreshing wheat beer.”
‘I love the atmosphere’
Tina and Scott Drennan and their son, Sam, also were first-timers at the brewery Friday night. Tina tried the Bridge Lane, a Munich Helles made with a recipe from Bryan’s home-brewing buddies Joe Orsa and Dave Roesch.
Millpond also serves bourbons, ryes, mixed drinks, wines and other beers. That allowed Scott to stick with his old favorite, Stag.
“I love the atmosphere,” said Tina, 54, of Columbia. “I’m so happy that they saved the building and kept it intact. It has so much character, and I think that’s the reason we’ll be back.”
The brewery is furnished with massive wood tables and benches made by Larry, his uncle, Ardel Burns, and Larry’s friend, Mike Esker. Some have resin river designs down the middle.
“We used walnut, boxelder, cherry, cedar, sycamore, you name it,” said Larry, 68, of Millstadt, now retired. “We’re working on one right now that’s sassafras.”
Craftsmanship also can be seen in a repurposed-wood wall in the front room, which used to be retail space for auto parts and now is available for overflow crowds or private parties. The “new” bar is made of yellow glazed blocks that were moved to make way for modern bathrooms.
Service station for decades
The building at 308 E. Washington St. was completed in 1943 and opened as Germann & Kempf Service Station. Larry worked there as a teenager in the 1960s, when you could fill your gas tank and get your windshield washed, oil checked and tires inflated for $2.
“I had some friends who had a race car — it was called ‘Plum Wild’ — and we’d work on it there,” he said. “It was quite the hangout in 1967, ‘68, ‘69 ... Fifty years ago, I swept the floors there, and now 50 years later, I’m sweeping the floors again. Never say ‘never.’”
The building was bought and sold a couple of times before Bryan entered the picture. He had spent 16 years in marketing, only to get laid off by a company that was downsizing. By that time, he had been brewing beer at home for nearly 10 years.
Bryan’s wife, Lizzy, 37, a marketing director for a consumer-electronics company, saw the layoff as a “sign from the universe” that he should open a craft brewery.
“Bryan would have never quit his job to do this because he never would have wanted to put his family in that position,” she said.
The Schuberts have two children, son Gibson, 4, and daughter, Etta, 10 months.
‘We just did it all at once’
Bryan consulted with the Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and other craft breweries in the region before opening Millpond.
Friends and family members helped with cleaning and renovation. Contractors replaced windows and doors and installed new plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems. The service station’s old paint booth was converted into grain storage.
“I think everybody thought we were crazy,” Lizzy said. “We had a 3-year-old, and I was pregnant (when Bryan was finalizing his business plans). We were trying to sell our house. We moved in with his parents. We were renovating a building. We just did it all at once. We were busy.”
Today, the brewery has a cabinet full of board games that customers can play. Crocks of wildflowers decorate tables. Garage doors open to a beer garden. Bryan would like to eventually host live music and sell meat-and-cheese trays, but for now, people can bring their own food or order from local restaurants.
Millpond started the month with 11 house-brewed beers. They cost $5.50 to $6 for 12- to 16-ounce glasses, or you can get a flight of five 5-ounce samples for $10.
“Our goal is to have a few beers that you will always find on tap,” Bryan said. “But mostly it will be a rotating selection, so you can come in and try something different each time you’re here.”
Brewery hours are 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, noon to 11 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 618-476-9933.