Jun 25, 2024

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American Beer Month
A brewpub pioneer

Bob Rowland
Bob Rowland greets a pub regular
Chilton, Wis., has one brewpub, one malt house and one stoplight.

The brewpub has two employees.

"I make the beer," owner Bob Rowland said, beginning to gesture toward his wife, Bonita. "She does the books, and we both tend bar. For us it's a way of life."

They take Mondays off.

When Rowland's Calumet Brewery & Brewpub opened in 1990 there were only about 100 operating brewpubs in the country and none in a town as small as Chilton (population 3,240). The town is best known in the beer business as home to Briess Malting Co., and otherwise famous for its Father's Day Parade.

Rowland's three-barrel brewhouse is smaller than most, particularly for a brewery that makes only lagers. Rowland keeps a sign posted high at one end of the bar that indicates how much beer he has brewed. On April 29, 2000, the number was 2266. Put another way, in 10 years he has brewed about as much beer as Anheuser-Busch's breweries made in 10 minutes in 1999.

"I brew what I like," he told a bar full of visiting beer industry members when they stopped during a bus tour. "I'm not a hop head -- maybe it's the lack of hair."

He was starting to roll. "It's a height problem -- when I was your height," he said to no one in particular, "I had plenty of hair. The taller I got, the less hair I had."

He doesn't necessarily make the best beer in the world. Other brewers who frequent and love the tavern refer to him as "Diacetyl Bob" for the out-of-style buttery taste that is pretty much a house characteristic.

That didn't keep most of the beer industry folks from enjoying one beer, then another. The chatted among themselves or simply sat back and listened to Rowland spin stories and watched him pour beer for regulars who began to drift in on a Saturday afternoon.

It's a Wisconsin tavern. There's a pool table in front of the bar and a classic "Strikes & Spares" bowling game. The walls are literally covered with history, either items saved from the tavern's 63-year history or articles about the brewpub.

The mirror and the back bar are from 1926, and old wood beer boxes are piled on top. Rowland sells a variety of T-shirts, mostly humorous and many with sayings that celebrate drinking beer with flavor.

Bob Rowland is a pioneer.

"I did everything wrong," he told his industry visitors before they headed on to another brewery, "and it still worked out."

The Roll Inn

July 2000