MONROE, Wis. - Nearly three months after a $1 million fire at the Minhas Craft Brewery, the cleanup and recovery continues.
Minhas Brewery is the second oldest brewery in the United States, and is a popular tourist spot. The brewery is also important to Monroe's and the state's economy.
The Nov. 21 fire changed things forever, but the hope is all the remodeling work will be done by early April.
"It's been stressful. You go through a lot of emotions when you get a phone call that says the place is on fire," said Gary Olson, the president of brewery operations. "I realized we were in for some work to get back into production."
Olson said the brewery has started brewing and packaging again.
It took 16 crews from Monroe and other surrounding communities, including Rockford, nine hours to put out the fire.
The exact cause is still being investigated, but it's believed a machine used for restoration work caught fire.
"It started on the stairwell on the second floor and the fire spread up to the roof and sideways. You can see the smoke damage along the edge there. The fire damage is one thing, heat damage is another. We had temperatures of over 1900 degrees," Olson said.
No one was hurt and, fortunately, Olson said an extensive inventory and understanding customers have helped with the shipping delays the experienced after the fire.
"We have had some shortages, so we are hoping to address those but it's not as bad as we thought it would be," Olson said.
Bitter cold days made it hard for clean up, but has helped in other ways.
"Mother nature allowed us to keep our cellars cold because we didn't have any power for refrigeration," Olson said.
Since 1845, the brewery has been a source of pride in Monroe and they hope to come back stronger than ever.
"A lot of people were concerned who had relatives or great grandparents who worked here and they take pride in still having this operational. It could have been a lost worse, where the fire happened and when it happened and was located, we were fortunate because other sections of the building would have been really hard to fight the fire. We were lucky in that respect," Olson said.
They are currently remodeling the gift shop and expanding the beer tasting areas. Olsen said they plan to throw a huge grand opening celebration and a thank you party for all the firefighters.
They are brewing a special beer, "Firehouse Red Ale," to honor the firefighters who helped save the historic landmark. Olson said he hopes it becomes one of their most popular brews.
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