This Q&A with Public Craft Brewing Company owner Matt Geary originally appeared in the Downtown Kenosha Magazine Vol.13 Issue 4, 2020/21. This is the complete unedited interview with Matt.
Now that you have moved and opened at your new location, Can you tell us how the idea and process went into moving into into the historic Bardens building?
We had looked at the Barden as a possible spot for expansion years ago, but it was just too big a project for me to juggle by myself. Fortunately when the city got involved and attracted developers, the opportunity came up again and the pieces kind of fell into place with Witico, the developer we worked with. I always loved the exterior of the building and thought it had the right character to be the brand new PUBLIC spot. Once we got into design we started to see how we could use the space for all the things we wanted to do, including the kitchen and the separate music venue.
Opening up a whole new location during these uneasy times must not of been easy, how has the support for the community been?
It really is a strange and scary time. We’ve been fortunate right from the beginning of COVID to have customers who wanted to be responsible but still support us by picking up curbside and ordering gift cards. Luckily, we have so much space in the new location, we can really spread people out to maintain some social distance and keep things as safe as possible. The other difference in the new space is that we have the kitchen kicking out amazing tacos that can be packed up for curbside pickup along with our beer. So all those loyal fans get a chance to snag some delicious food to go, too.
How much more beer can you brew at this location, and how many beers do you keep on tap?
Our original brewhouse was a 3.5 barrel system. We’ve moved up to a 15 barrel brewhouse. Most people can’t really picture what a full barrel looks like, but we’ve basically gone from producing 14 quarter barrel kegs to 60 in a single batch. It’s a major upgrade for us that will allow us to focus more on getting PUBLIC beer back into all your favorite local bars, restaurants, liquor stores and beyond! It’s very exciting. We’ve also gone from 9 to 24 taps in the taproom. That means even more variety so we’ve got something for everyone.
What makes Public Craft beer stand out from the rest?
Beer taste is so subjective, it’s hard to know what makes somebody choose one over another, but I’ll say that our goal is always to brew balanced beers that aren’t dominated by a single flavor. Sometimes you try a beer with a particular ingredient, lets say coffee, and when you take a sip, all you can taste is coffee. Our goal is always to incorporate that ingredient in a way that compliments the malt, yeast and hop character we get from the rest of the brewing process. Is everything we brew perfect? Not by a long shot, but over the years lots of people have commented on the balance of flavors in our stuff.
What made you fall in love with brewing?
Before PUBLIC I went to school for art and graphic design and I’ve always surrounded myself with artists, musicians and other creatives. There’s a very similar sense of community among artists as there is among brewers and both groups seem to have an affinity for the other’s work. Brewing has always been a very creative outlet for me and it’s also really rewarding to see people enjoying the results of work you’ve done. Mix that with the social aspect of having a few beers while hanging with friends and I was hooked!
How many batches of beer do you make in a typical month or year?
How many more employees do you have compared to before?
Adding a kitchen and a much larger bar definitely means more staff. We’ve more than doubled our team in the last several weeks. It’s been crazy and exciting to get fresh new creative blood in the doors and grow PUBLIC!
Not only are you a brewery, you are now a full blow restaurant, can you tell us what’s on the menu and what inspired it? And what is your recommendation for the perfect beer and food pairing you offer?
I’m really excited about the restaurant side of things. I was really reluctant to do food in the past. For 8 years we didn’t offer anything but popcorn and pretzels. But we knew we had a unique opportunity to do food given the size of the new space. We finally decided that a creative taco menu would be the focus. That allowed us to approach the food similarly to how we approach beer. Just like any random ingredient or theme could inspire a beer, we thought we could use that same inspiration for a taco. That’s how we ended up with something like a lamb taco with tsatsiki and mint or the seared fish taco with a fennel and orange salsa on top. I also loved, as a beer guy, the idea of a food you could mix and match and do flights of! Then there’s also a few delicious sandwiches, appetizers and probably (I’ll let you guys decide) the best cheese curds in town. Oh, and fresh baked cookies with ice cream!
At the old location, Public Craft was already know as a great place to see live music, and you are continuing that at this location, can you fill us in on the new stage room?
Anyone who knows “old PUBLIC” knows that we love live original music. There’s only a handful of places in town doing that and we’ve always loved being one of those spots. Again, with the new location, we had the opportunity to have a dedicated music space (which we’re calling The Platform) that allows us to offer that chill taproom environment and live music at the same time! If you’ve been in you’ve probably seen the huge doors that let us close off venue from the taproom if we choose. The most exciting part is that we can do some bigger acts for ticketed shows without interfering with everyone who wants to come in for a beer or some tacos. We can’t wait to put COVID behind us and have some big shows!
What are some of the differences you’ve noticed running this new location compared to the previous one up the road?
Well, it’s only been a few weeks, so there’s a lot yet to learn. Having a kitchen is a whole new challenge for us. Also it’s a little bit crazy just how much physically bigger the new building is. One of the funnest differences is the reaction people have when they walk in and see the new space vs the old. People are really blown away with how it’s turned out.
You are now offering brewery tour (super cool), can you tell us what we might expect to see?
Yes! We’ll be doing weekend tours starting in a few weeks (Probably by mid to late November. Stay tuned for a real date.) I don’t want to give too much away but I’d say the broad strokes are beer, brewing, building, beer, bad puns and beer. It’ll be fun, mildly educational and hopefully somewhat entertaining! The whole team is actually very excited to show off what we’ve been working on this whole time.
The only bottling we do right now is in 22oz bomber bottles. These are special release beers like the bourbon barrel aged PUBLIC Indecency, Belgian Tripel or the upcoming red wine barrel aged Belgian Quad, Elizabob. For most beers, canning is a more stable package that preserves the beer with a tighter seal and is light proof. You can expect to see a broader range of cans out around southeastern Wisconsin in the coming year.
How do you and your team come up with your beer flavors?
There are almost as many ways for inspiration to strike as we have beers. Could be an interesting ingredient that we want to brew with, a new style to put a spin on or just a goofy story about a particularly aggressive squirrel. (Ask your beertender about Under Nuttack Peanut Butter Porter.)
After everything you’ve accomplished, I have to ask…. What’s next for you and Public Brewing CO.?
I think what’s next is getting this giant new facility firing on all cylinders and making PUBLIC the regional destination we want to be. We know that we can be a big draw for Kenosha in general and for downtown specifically.
RANDOM FIRE QUESTIONS WITH MATT
Favorite band of all time?
I usually say Princess Bride, but I’m feeling Mallrats today.
How many beers does it take to get the owner of Public hammered?
Like the number of licks to get the center of a tootsie pop, the world will never know 🙂
Favorite beer that’s not your own?
I haven’t been out much between COVID and finishing the new space, so my favorite will be the first beer I get to drink safely with friends like the old days.
Strongest % beer you have ever tried?
I got to try Sam Adams Utopias once. It’s about 28% abv. It’s pretty outrageous.
Will Public come out with a milkshake IPA?
Yeah, we’ve got a couple ideas we’re working on.
Check out the Downtown Kenosha magazine Facebook page.
Interview and photos by Donny Stancato
Edited by Jason Hedman