Big changes are in store over at Brixie’s Saloon, 9526 Ogden Ave. in Brookfield. The business’ owner, Chris DiBraccio, plans to convert the longtime tavern into a brew pub later this year, making it the first of its kind in the village.
DiBraccio said he hoped the conversion would be fully realized later this summer after he and his partners are able to get the required federal and state licenses. When the conversion is complete, the building will become the second location of Imperial Oak Brewing, a venture DiBraccio and partners Grant Hamilton and Brett Semenske started in 2014, when they converted a Willow Springs property into their flagship brew pub.
“You’re going to see more and more breweries replacing a lot of craft-beer bars or bars,” said DiBraccio, who has managed Brixie’s with his wife since 2002, taking over from his father-in-law Russell Brixie.
Last year, the couple bought the property from Brixie’s widow. He wants to make Imperial Oak Brewing a Brookfield destination.
“To make yourself different in this society is to have your own beer,” DiBraccio said, “instead of the bar that has Miller Lite and High Life. I can get that down the street. You can’t get this down the street. That’s the point of it.”
Village officials are in the process of amending its code to create a brew pub liquor license, which will allow for the onsite manufacture of beer as well as the sale of a full line of alcoholic beverages.
That new license could be in hand later this month, but the establishment will continue to operate as Brixie’s for the next several months.
“People are not going to see any change until summer when we reopen,” DiBraccio said.
In the meantime, DiBraccio and his Imperial Oak Brewing partners will be working with their architect and contractor to map out the changes in order to convert the space into a working brew pub.
They’ll install a seven-barrel system, which will be capable of producing about 1,200 barrels of beer annually. A barrel, according to DiBraccio, is 31 gallons – for reference, a keg you might get at the liquor store is a half-barrel.
That’s the same brewing system Imperial Oak Brewing operates at its location in Willow Springs, which is a bit larger than the Brookfield location. The Willow Springs location has a tasting room that serves a full range of spirits, including liquor, cider and wine.
That’ll also be the case in Brookfield. The big change is that all of the beer served will be Imperial Oak brews. In Willow Springs, the tasting room features 28 tap handles, all dispensing Imperial Oak products.
Throughout the year, Imperial Oak Brewing produces 50 to 60 styles of beer, according to DiBraccio.
“We mix it up,” he said.
Right now at Imperial Oak Brewing in Willow Springs, for example, they’re serving everything from punch-packing bourbon barrel-aged Double Dee’s Imperial Porter at (10 percent ABV) to their Guava Blanc, a Foeder Aged Berliner Weisse with guava at 4.5 percent ABV.
Once the Brookfield location is ready to be outfitted with the brewing system, the business will close for a time to install the barrels and make other improvements to the space. When it reopens later this year, it’ll have a feel distinct from its Brixie’s roots.
“We’re hoping it’s going to be less than a month,” said DiBraccio. “There will be many upgrades that Brixie’s has needed for a while. We’re going to really try to change the look and not have it look like Brixie’s at all, so people know it’s a new place.”
With the change in concept will be new events, like tap release parties, and an annual anniversary party and Oktoberfest, like the ones they throw every year in Willow Springs.
The Imperial Oak anniversary party every May draws thousands, said DiBraccio.
Brixie’s demise is a big change for Brookfield, DiBraccio acknowledged, but was inevitable given the industry landscape now.
“I saw that changing in 2013 when I decided to open the brewery,” DiBraccio. “The breweries are able to draw so many more people to their own taprooms. The taprooms have become the destination.”