I was in Appleton calling on a couple of accounts and I decided to find someplace to eat lunch before I left town. I thought about a couple places that were brew pubs that I'd been to before, but in doing a search on my smart phone I came across a new place in downtown Appleton that I hadn't been to - Appleton Beer Factory. I put in the address in the GPS and headed there.
Appleton Beer Factory opened in 2013, but the genesis of the brew pub began 30 years before when Jeff Fogle - a pipe-fitter by trade - became interested in brewing beer. He was actually fabricating piping systems for Anheuser-Busch and he became intrigued with the brewing process. Fogle soon realized that he had the tools and materials to build his own brewing apparatus. He started to brew beer with his father, then when his son Ben was old enough, Jeff Fogle began to brew beer with him.
Jeff and Ben Fogle experimented with different styles of beer and about 10 years ago they looked at one another and said, "There's all these micro-breweries that are opening. Why can't we do something like that?" It took some time for the dream to start to grow from a concept to reality.
In 2010, the Fogle's found a building in downtown Appleton that housed an auto parts store since the 1940's. With the help of family and investors (as many as 30 investors are involved in the business), the Fogle's gutted the building. They tore down drywall that covered windows, found old wood in the upper portion of the building that was used to make the bar top, and brought in Amish woodworkers to do much of the craftwork. They built window sills, the bar, put in coffered ceilings, and built table tops.
When Fogel first started the project, the working name of the brewpub was "Das Brewery". However he later found that the name was already trademarked. Since the brewpub was going to have sort of an industrial look, they settled upon Appleton Beer Factory. More financing had to be secured above and beyond the money raised from the group of private investors to finish electrical wiring and plumbing, and it took awhile for permits to be issued and inspectors to sign off on the project. The Fogle's opened the doors to the public - quietly - on November 26, 2013.
It's truly a family affair at the Appleton Beer Factory. Jeff Fogle's wife (Ben's step-mom), Leah, is the head chef and Ben's wife, Mairi, is the marketing manager. Leah and Jeff Fogle were married in the gutted building where the main tap stands today. Leah always had a passion for cooking and went through the culinary arts program at a local community college while the brewpub was being built.
Appleton Beer Factory is located on College Ave. which is the main street into downtown Appleton from the west. (see map) I found a metered parking spot around the corner and went inside. The tap room has a large three-sided bars with brick walls, wooden floors and a maple coffered ceiling. The building's original coal chute and fire doors were preserved and re-installed to give the place more of an old time factory look.
The beer hall is located behind the bar and features a glass-walled look at the four large brewing kettles Appleton Beer Factory uses to make their beers. A skylight lets in natural light in the day time and the room was open and spacious. A third dining area was off to the side of the tap room. When I poked my head in there to take a picture, the room was empty save for a table of six men having a lunch meeting. All of them stopped and looked at me when I entered the room. I figured that I probably didn't need to be in there.
I took a seat at the bar and my server/bartender, Erin, came over to greet me. She gave me a menu and pointed to the seven beers from their microbrewery that they had on tap. They also had "guest beers" on tap from the St. Francis Brewery on the south side of Milwaukee, Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, and the Potosi Brewing Co. in Potosi, WI. (Click here to see the Road Tips entry on the brewpub at Potosi Brewery.) They still had some of their Oktoberfest beer on tap and I took one of those.
The menu isn't extensive at A.B.F. - it features a number of the requisite appetizers with brewery twists on some of the items. They had hop pickled eggs, barley pretzel nuggets with mustard ale dipping sauce, and something called "Beer and Bacon Mac & Cheese Bites" made with Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, a house-brewed American pale ale, applewood smoked bacon, and cavatapi pasta served with a variation of French peasant bread. All the appetizers are designed to be enjoyed with one of the craft beers.
I was thinking about getting one of Appleton Beer Factory's "build-your-own-burger" - a 1/3 pound black angus burger with nearly three dozen toppings as diverse as corned beef hash, Granny Smith apple slices, braised red cabbage and Wisconsin cheddar cheese. That was until I saw Erin come out with the reuben sandwich for another guy seated down the bar from me. "Was that the reuben," I asked her as I looked at the large chunks of corned beef spilling from his sandwich.
She said, "Oh, yeah." I told her that it looked damned good and she said, "It IS very good." I immediately changed my mind and went with the reuben. For a side I got the pub fries.
About 10 minutes after I ordered, Erin brought out the sandwich. I looked on the plate and saw that she brought me out sweet potato fries. I said, "Are these the pub fries? They sure look like sweet potato fries."
She said, "You ordered sweet potato fries."
I said, "Noooo.... My wife likes sweet potato fries and I'll eat them from time to time, but this is not one of those times."
Erin went over to look at the ticket. She said, "Huh! I wrote down pub fries but told him sweet potato fries. I'll get you a plate of the pub fries."
Actually, I almost stopped her because it didn't matter if it were sweet potato fries or pub fries, I probably wasn't going to be eating many - if any - of them. She brought out a plate of pub fries along with an empty plate for me to push the sweet potato fries onto. She was very nice about it.
The corned beef was in large stringy chunks and served on a swirled rye bread. There was a large amount of Swiss cheese on the sandwich and it was topped with 1000 Island dressing along with a little surprise. Normally, a reuben comes with sauerkraut, but this came with sweet red cabbage. I like red cabbage and it went very well with the corned beef.
However, the corned beef was a little dry. It pulled apart easily, but it was a little lacking in moisture. The overall taste of the sandwich was very good, but more than once I found myself having to take a drink of beer to help get the rather dried out corned beef down the gullet. It was really a minor thing because the corned beef had such a good flavor, but I found it somewhat distracting in the quality of the sandwich.
Dried out corned beef, notwithstanding, I was happy enough with my first visit to the Appleton Beer Factory. The sandwich was fine - it would have been better with a more moist and tender corned beef - and the beer I had was actually pretty good. I like a good Oktoberfest beer when it's available and Appleton Beer Factory had a good one. I liked the atmosphere of the place and Erin's service was cheery and efficient. There's now a couple three good brew pubs in Appleton with good beer and good food. Appleton Beer Factory is a welcome addition to the brew pub landscape in that city.