Metro-East News

Undaunted by fire damage, Waterloo brewery eyes August reopening

Hopskeller Brewing Co. to reopen later this summer

Matt Schweizer is seeing Hopskeller Brewing Company in Waterloo come together after a fire shut the place down in 2016.
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Matt Schweizer is seeing Hopskeller Brewing Company in Waterloo come together after a fire shut the place down in 2016.

Five feet of water filled the basement. An air-conditioning unit caved in through the roof to the first floor. And the brewing equipment was deemed unusable.

That was just some of the damage caused by an October fire at Hopskeller Brewing Co. at 116 E. Third St. on the square in downtown Waterloo.

It was a “little chaotic” in the hours after the fire, but brewmaster Matt Schweizer immediately vowed to rebuild. And that rebuilding process has continued to the point where Hopskeller may be able to reopen in August.

Things are coming together in a really great way.

Matt Schweizer, brewmaster for Hopskeller

New brewing tanks arrived Wednesday from Alpha Brewing Operations in Nebraska and the brewhouse is expected to arrive in July.

“Things are coming together in a really great way,” said Schweizer, who is a co-owner of the business and operating partner for the other owners. “Frankly, even just seeing the tanks again is a huge morale boost.”

Schweizer said “barring something crazy happening,” he expects to make the goal of opening in August.

Birmingham, Mich.-based BELFOR Property Restoration, which has an office in Swansea, is the contractor in charge of repairing Hopskeller. Schweizer declined to release the cost of the renovation.

We’ve been able to save our downtown where people are actually wanting to put a business in downtown.

Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith

Hopskeller had only been open about a month at the time of the fire, which began in the kitchen. No one was injured in the blaze, and the brewery and restaurant was closed when the fire broke out.

Hopskeller opened in September in a building that dates to the 1850s. An addition to the original building dates to the 1880s. The fire was contained in a way that Schweizer was able rebuild in the same building.

053117DH exterior
Renovation work is underway at Hopskeller Brewing Co. in Waterloo. A fire destroyed most of the back half of the building in 2016. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

Mayor Tom Smith said he is “excited about getting Hopskeller open.” He praised Hopskeller and several other businesses that have invested in rehabbing older buildings downtown. One of these businesses includes another craft brewer, the Stubborn German Brewing Co., which opened last year at 119 S. Main St.

“We’ve been able to save our downtown where people are actually wanting to put a business in downtown,” Smith said. “Waterloo’s downtown has really become viable.”

Hopskeller specializes in beers from the Pacific Northwest and English-style ales. And both of these places formed Schweizer’s outlook in brewing.

There are so many people who want to see each of these breweries succeed and to be plugged into that even in a small way, frankly, is a great feeling.

Matt Schweizer

“I learned to appreciate beer in England and learned to make it in Oregon,” Schweizer said.

He began brewing as a hobby and continued that while he taught at Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo. The idea for opening Hopskeller was hatched after he ran a booth featuring his beers at a Gibault fundraiser. He then quit his teaching job in 2015 to focus full time on establishing Hopskeller.

To celebrate the “rebirth” of Hopskeller, Schweizer plans to brew a beer for the occasion but he’s not ready to divulge what he has in mind.

Raspberry wheat, English pale mild, Northern English brown and American amber ale were some of the popular types of beer last year when Hopskeller was in business.

Schweizer said he appreciates being involved in the craft brewery business, which has boomed in the metro-east and across the country in recent years.

“It’s really kind of a left brain, right brain thing,” Schweizer said. “There’s the business end of it, there’s the artistic end of it, both of which I really enjoy. It’s engaging. Plus you are surrounded by so many people who are so, so supportive. There are so many people who want to see each of these breweries succeed and to be plugged into that even in a small way, frankly, is a great feeling.”

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