by Freesia McKee
After leaving Milwaukee for the Northern Wisconsin town of Pembine in 1999, Tim and Toni Eichinger are heading back south to Riverwest. This time, they will be bringing their business, Black Husky Brewing, with them. The brewery will be a larger space than the 9’x15’ area (“about the same size as a good-sized bathroom”) in a log building where Black Husky currently brews about 500 barrels a year. Black Husky’s new, larger location at 909 E. Locust Street is close to the Riverwest Public House and just down the street from Gordon Park.
Black Husky will remain a family business. “We don’t have anybody behind us, we’re not a big corporate chain, we just kind of want that community connection and something that we can own and operate on our own,” Toni said in a recent interview.
“We don’t have investors,” Tim added. “We work ourselves to death, but that way we have control. We’re independent. We don’t get on the latest bandwagon. We do things our way and that seems to work.”
This philosophy has worked well for Black Husky Brewing. Best known for their Sproose II IPA flavored with local spruce tips and for their best-selling Pale Ale, Black Husky has 18 different beers listed on www.beeradvocate.com with an overall rating of nearly 4 out of 5. They self distribute their beer across the state, including to about 50 outlets in the Milwaukee area such as Klinger’s East and Nessum Dorma.
“I do all the beer deliveries,” Tim said. “So I’m seeing the bartenders and the servers and the cooks and the chefs. I’m amazed at the number of people who’ve said, ‘I live three blocks [from your new location].’”
Toni and Tim are excited about joining the neighborhood. “It’s just kind of cool that everybody’s so interested in what’s going on in their neighborhood. You hear so much negativity that people don’t care, but that doesn’t apply to this neighborhood,” Tim said.
The new location will include a taproom and an outdoor biergarten complete with a snow machine in winter. “I want a white Christmas every year,” Tim joked. “People can buy a growler and take it with them and have a beer or two there and play some cribbage or something.” The Eichingers will also slightly upgrade their brewing equipment after the move to have better temperature control and other variables. The new space will have room for barrel aging, and the taproom will allow for more experimentation with different beers since it won’t require bottling.
There may also be an outdoor fire pit, and Toni is thinking about a mural. “There’s a wall on the alley side that you can see from Humboldt. One of my ideas was to see if there is a local kids group that would like to paint a mural on it,” she said.
“The biggest thing for people in the neighborhood to know is that it’s just us,” she added. “Tim and I are going to be the ones at the brewery the majority of the time, meeting and waiting on people. Our son and daughter-in-law and grandson live in town, so they’ll be around too. We’re not trying to rule the world. We just want to do our own thing.”
Toni said that the community and diversity was a big draw for the Eichingers to join the neighborhood. “Up here, it’s pretty isolated,” she said. “We’ve been here for 16 years, but we’re anxious to be part of a community with a lot going on—people interested in their neighborhood and their community.”
When asked about their philosophy toward brewing, Tim said that new brewers shouldn’t be “afraid to make good beer. A lot of people are afraid that’s going to cost too much or people aren’t going to like it. People don’t mind paying 10 to 15 cents more for a better taste.”
“We’ve had people say ‘I only like light beer,’ but then they taste something we make and they like it,” Toni added. “They say, ‘That’s not what I thought.’ We don’t take the approach to dumb down taste so that more people will like it.”
Indeed, it seems that brewing good beer may hold some of the same basic principles as excelling in any other area of life. According to Tim, “You have to be fastidious about your process: find your process, trust your process, and if you don’t trust it, change it. Once you get it down, keep trusting it. And use good ingredients.”