Metro-East News

Owner of Waterloo brewery ‘devastated’ after fire, vows to reopen

Hopskeller owner says brewery will reopen

Hopskeller Brewing Company owner Mark Schweizer talks about the damage to his brewery following a fire on Sunday, and says he plans to reopen the business. The brewery is located at 116 E. Third St. in Waterloo.
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Hopskeller Brewing Company owner Mark Schweizer talks about the damage to his brewery following a fire on Sunday, and says he plans to reopen the business. The brewery is located at 116 E. Third St. in Waterloo.

A co-owner of a Waterloo brewery damaged by a fire on Sunday morning vows to reopen.

“We’ll be back one way or another,” co-owner Matt Schweizer said Monday as he surveyed the charred interior of the brewery.

Schweizer was out of town when the fire occurred at Hopskeller Brewing Company, located at 116 E. Third St.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless in my life as I did pacing through the airport in Chicago and getting real-time updates of how things had progressed — and the creeping realization that this was going to be much more serious than a little smoke damage,” Schweizer wrote in a Facebook post.

We were just flying through beer. That’s the only way to put it.

Matt Schweizer, brewmaster for Hopskeller

The brewery had just opened last month and was gaining popularity.

“We were just flying through beer,” said Schweizer, who is the brewmaster for Hopskeller. “That’s the only way to put it.”

Hopskeller was a seven-barrel brewery, specializing in Northwest American and English ales.

Schweizer’s business was not only impacted by the fire but his home as well as he lived above the brewery.

Fire Chief Brett Wiegand previously said firefighters were dispatched about 8:50 a.m. Sunday after the building’s sprinkler system was activated.

No one was inside when the fire started, and there were no injuries reported. A cause has yet to be determined.

Schweizer said he did not yet know how much damage the fire caused but the business has insurance. He does not know when the brewery would reopen but he estimated it would take months to repair the damages.

Am I devastated beyond words over all of this? I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t.

Matt Schweizer, brewmaster for Hopskeller

Schweizer, 31, was in Chicago when the fire started. He and city leaders had attended an awards banquet hosted by Landmarks Illinois Saturday night because the group honored a project Schweizer worked on when he was a history teacher at Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo. Students had researched about 50 historic buildings in Waterloo and then plaques were put on the buildings.

Hopskeller occupies two buildings. The front building dates to 1853 and originally was a private residence, Schweizer said. It was a boarding house in the Great Depression and also was used as office space. Most of the fire damage occurred in a building added onto the 1853 building.

Dozens of people have responded to Schweizer’s post on Facebook about the fire.

“Am I devastated beyond words over all of this? I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t. Beyond the obvious loss, my heart goes out to our amazing staff who simply excelled in the five weeks we were open,” wrote Schweizer, who left his job at Gibault last year to get Hopskeller established. Schweizer said he first started brewing beers at home about 10 years ago.

Schweizer thanked all of the first responders who rushed to the scene on Sunday morning.

The Waterloo Chamber of Commerce at 118 E. Third St. is adjacent to Hopskeller and suffered some smoke and water damage from the fire but was able to be open on Monday.

Jenny Bullock, executive director of the chamber, said her organization was fortunate not to have major damage.

Bullock said the community looks forward to the reopening of Hopskeller to complement the other downtown businesses, including another craft brewer, Stubborn German Brewing Company, which opened in the spring at 119 S. Main St.

“Hopskeller had a huge presence in our community” despite being in business for just over a month, Bullock said. She said there was great anticipation for it to open.

“He’s definitely well known in the St. Louis area for his beer and what he did,” Bullock said of Schweizer. “Downtown has just been alive every night.”

Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith and two other city officials were with Schweizer at the Landmarks Illinois event when they received calls about the fire on Sunday.

“We were with Matt. I just couldn’t believe it,” Smith said.

Smith said Waterloo leaders thought craft brewers could be successful downtown and he and another city official introduced Schweizer to someone who became one of the investors of Hopskeller. Like Bullock, he is excited about the thriving downtown businesses.

“Now people are wanting to be downtown,” he said.

Hopskeller Brewing Company in Waterloo, Illinois, will be closed for several months after an Oct. 23 fire.

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