Brewery with a conscience coming to Madison’s south side
Delta Beer Lab, inspired by science classrooms and nonprofits, plans on serving Greater Madison from the Novation Campus by January 2019.
Madison’s newest craft brewery won’t open until January 2019, but its founder is already hard at work ensuring the venture leaves its mark on the community.
Construction began on Delta Beer Lab’s space at 167 E. Badger Road last week, and according to founder Tim “Pio” Piotrowski, who has a decade of professional brewing and brewery management experience, Delta Beer Lab will actively focus on doing good while doing well; where profit has its place only alongside doing good for the Madison community, the environment, and its employees. Piotrowski’s work has received award-winning recognition from the national Brewers Association, and every stage of his career has been intentional with this specific opportunity in mind.
“Our vision is to be a laboratory for excellence in beer, relationships, and society,” says Piotrowski. “We want to bring people together through quality, local craft beer without barriers to gender, race, or sexual orientation.”
Delta Beer Lab is designed on a relatively small scale, allowing the opportunity to experiment with base recipes from around the world and a bounty of different ingredients — from yeast, to malted barley and hops, to fruits and spices. Ten to 12 types of beer will be available on tap and canned products will be available for purchase alongside various merchandise. Non-alcoholic craft sodas will be available for non-beer drinkers. Future expansion plans include an outdoor beer garden and commercial-grade kitchen for local food truck vendors to operate and serve their goods.
The space is designed to emulate a laboratory on a brewing and social level with white walls, black resin countertops, a two-story chalkboard with recipe notes, and a direct view into the brew house. A designated area will permanently feature ongoing local community initiatives and nonprofit causes, and communal seating with limited electronics was an intentional design to encourage socializing, outreach, and experimentation while sharing beers with friends old and new.
In April 2017, Piotrowski began a five-month trek to hike the 2,189.8 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It was a lifelong dream, and one that mirrors the winding path he took to becoming a brewmaster.
Piotrowski, a Stevens Point native, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UW–Stevens Point, with a minor in youth programming and camp management.
From UWSP, he brought home brewing with him to La Honda, California, where he served as camp and program director for the YMCA of San Francisco for almost five years. Toward the end of those five years, he realized that he wanted a career change and he was falling in love with the science of beer — mash and fermentation temperatures, varying even one degree Fahrenheit, make a big difference in the final beer quality, Piotrowski notes.
“I chose to continue my education with the diploma program offered by the American Brewers Guild,” says Piotrowski. “For much of the six-month correspondence program, I worked during the day and watched lectures, read books, and studied for exams at night. I left California for Colorado to complete my apprenticeship at the end of the program. After my apprenticeship I was hired to stay on with the Oskar Blues Brewery team in Longmont, Colorado on the canning line. After a few months, I was not seeing the career progression I went back to school to attain, so I began searching for my next move.”
For the next three years, Piotrowski worked as an assistant brewer at three Rock Bottom Brewery locations from Boulder to Denver. “There couldn’t have been a better move for me at that point in my career,” he recalls. “I had the opportunity to work at three very different brew houses and learn from three very unique head brewers. I was able to see their philosophies, work styles, approaches to the beer drinker, and so much more. At Rock Bottom, I was able to form my style as a professional.”
Piotrowski began receiving promotion offers, and when a position in Minneapolis became available, he jumped at the opportunity and moved for his first head brewer gig. “I loved my time in the West, but I was slowly working my way back toward Wisconsin,” explains Piotrowski. “Rock Bottom-Minneapolis offered the opportunity — sometimes it forced me — to write new recipes, analyze sales by product, develop a production schedule to maintain quantity and variety, train service staff based on my philosophy, and interact with guests.”
Piotrowski was only at this location for a year when he was recruited by a local restaurant company to develop and manage the brewery portion of its eighth restaurant and only brewpub — The Freehouse. After only three years in business, The Freehouse claimed the largest production volume for brewpubs in Minnesota, according to the Brewers Association (2016 data). At the 2017 Great American Beer Festival, The Freehouse was awarded two silver medals for beers produced by Piotrowski or under his leadership: Barley Wine-Style Ale and Leipzig-Style Gose or Contemporary Gose.
“My career was progressing well, and I had now built a brewery from conception through success,” Piotrowski notes. “Developing my own brewery had been the goal since early in my career, but I certainly didn’t get rich working years as an assistant brewer and I come from a blue-collar family. It would take me longer to realize my dream, but I was dedicated to working my way up in the industry, constantly learning, and stashing away savings where I could. I began writing my business plan several years ago and revised it many times in the year before I left The Freehouse. I started planting the seeds of my fundraising campaign. I visited Madison many times to assess the scene and begin interviewing my team of local professional service partners.”
And then, he left Minnesota to hike the Appalachian Trail, not knowing when he’d again be able to take five months off to hike across the country. Now that he’s back, Piotrowski couldn’t be more excited to get started on his latest journey.
“Madison reflects many of my personal values, which was a big reason for joining this community,” Piotrowski explains. “I also analyzed the craft beer market and believe that my brand will fit well into the already established mix here. I see that my business can have a societal impact in the Greater Madison community.
“As our mission clearly calls out, ‘We want to bring people together through quality, local, craft beer without barriers to gender, race, or sexual orientation,’” Piotrowski continues. “The craft beer industry, and our modern American society, has a lot of work to do on inclusion. In these divisive times, I strive for Delta Beer Lab to show that businesses can choose to do good while working to do well, and this philosophy has stayed with me ever since my early work in the nonprofit sector.
“Mission matters, passion matters, and people matter,” he adds. “Furthermore, we will advocate and financially support our shared environment. Beer requires clean water and relies on agricultural ingredients that we can see, even in modern times, are affected by climate change. Corporate citizenship must not be just a keyword, but an active department of business.”
In the lab
Piotrowski notes everything in Delta Beer Lab is intentional.
Delta is the symbol (Δ) representing “change” in chemistry. “Delta Beer Lab’s brewhouse is the laboratory where we physically change four simple raw ingredients into a vast array of beers, while our taproom is a social laboratory designed for people to come together for conversation, engagement, and action,” states Piotrowski. “Beer has brought people together for hundreds of years, and together we can make changes in our community and the world in innumerable large and small ways.”
The bar design and materials were also selected intentionally. “The chalkboard is an ode to the film, Good Will Hunting; you never know where the next revolutionary idea will come from,” Piotrowski notes. “Nearly all of our taproom tables will be long and communal, a nod to a German-style beer hall. When you join us, sit near someone new while you wait for your friend to arrive, introduce yourself, and see where it goes — share an experience. Our main entertainment provided will be board games, darts, and shuffleboard; play a game and talk to one another. Everyone has a story, and I will share my journey along the Appalachian Trail through developing Delta Beer Lab, with artifacts from the experience. Even our restroom is intentional; just wash your hands.”
In addition, faucets will be laboratory style, the periodic table of elements may make an appearance, and lab glassware will be used artistically and functionally.
“We’re not trying you scare you with flashbacks to Chem 101, just hoping to remind you that you have the tools to make a difference,” Piotrowski says.
Piotrowski’s intentions to do right by Madison also apply to how he plans to run his for-profit business as an engine for social good.
“We won’t have the least expensive beer in town,” he admits. “We’re rolling the costs of fair employment into our prices, and we will not accept tips – you’ll find that going out to Delta Beer Lab will end up costing you pretty much the same when you sign the credit card receipt.
“Instead, we are offering all employees a revenue-sharing program on top of a living wage. We will actively recruit a diverse team. Progressive community programs will be encouraged to highlight their impact and opportunities on a rotating basis. To-go beer will be sold in 16-ounce aluminum cans — did you know that on top of protecting beer from defects caused by oxygen and light ingress better than glass bottles, aluminum is infinitely recyclable. This makes the can a vastly superior package, but you have to recycle!”
Delta Beer Lab is also committed to 1% for the Planet, where 1% of every dollar of revenue the venture receives will be redirected to approved environmentally focused nonprofit partners. “Given the resources that breweries use, we will direct our contributions to local water resources and climate-focused organizations,” notes Piotrowski. “On top of giving 1% of our revenue to serve the environment, once we generate a profit, our business plan calls for 10% of net income to be reinvested in local community organization sponsorships.
“Why is all of this so important to me,” he adds. “As the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota said, ‘We all do better when we all do better.’”
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