It's possible that Madison could gain another brewery this year.
"My goal is a full-service brewpub, serving both ales and lagers," says Nate Warnke, a lifelong Madison resident and East High graduate, who hopes to be in business by late summer.
Warnke has evaluated about a dozen potential sites in the Madison area, ranging from 1,200-6,500 square feet. Ideally, he'd like enough space to support a modest brew house, seating capacity for around 70, and a kitchen to serve a full menu. "I've narrowed my focus down to a couple of areas with the best market potential," he says, but declines to be more specific. His plan is to have a three-to-seven barrel brewing system.
Warnke holds a B.S. in geology from UW-Madison, and that background inspired the name of Rockhound Brewing, as a tribute to the old fashioned rock hunters in the field. He also has an M.B.A. from UW-Whitewater. Last fall he left his job at American Family Insurance to focus full-time on his dream of opening a brewery. "I don't want to look back and wonder why I didn't try that 30 years ago," he says.
Warnke began homebrewing about ten years ago, though he says it was originally his wife's idea.
Eventually homebrewing grew into an all-consuming hobby for Warnke. "I became a true homebrewer -- that's when you have more homebrewing equipment than anything else in your home," he says.
Warnke is developing recipes for the brewhouse. "My approach is balanced, with hoppier pale ales, IPAs and malty lagers," he says. Among the beers he expects to be his initial standards will be Balanced Rock Rye, made with three different hops and 30% rye malt in the grist. Rockhound Outcrop Oatmeal Ale is a pale ale that's made with four different hops and oatmeal for body. His hoppiest brew, at least initially, will be Mosquito IPA that ends up around 6.5% ABV and an estimated 65 IBUs. He also intends to round out that list with a lighter beer or two.
He also would like to serve what he describes as upscale comfort food. Warnke will be the sole owner is still finalizing his financing.
Warnke's wife, Tracy Harris, is a graphic artist in Madison and is helping out with marketing, logos and other design ideas. Warnke is also quick to credit her for overall support: "She said it was okay for me to leave my job and give this a try."