Chris DiBraccio stands before the three fermenting tanks that are part of Imperial Oak Brewery’s seven-barrel system at its Brookfield location on Ogden Avenue, the longtime former home of Brixie’s Saloon. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

Chris DiBraccio will see a long-held dream come true this month when Brookfield’s first brew pub, Imperial Oak Brewing, opens its doors to craft beer enthusiasts at 9526 Ogden Ave., the former home of Brixie’s Saloon.

“It’s a little different, right?” DiBraccio said during an interview at the brewery last week as workers hustled to put the finishing touches on the business. “This is what I really wanted to do here.”

It’s the second location for Imperial Oak, which tapped the first of its signature brews at its brewery in Willow Springs in 2014. The Brookfield location features a seven-barrel system, whose gleaming stainless-steel tanks are on full view for visitors and will produce 800 barrels of beer a year.

The location’s signature brew, in a nod to the building’s history, is the Brixie’s Lager, a crisp, clean Czech-style pilsner with 5-percent alcohol by volume. The lager will be just one of 16 Imperial Oak beers on tap. The brewery will also offer hard cider, wine and a full selection of hard liquor.

As far as the beers go, however, the only ones being served all bear the Imperial Oak label.

“Our beer is what we believe in, so we want them to drink our beer,” DiBraccio said. “The only beer we have is our beer.”

The first impression upon visiting Imperial Oak Brewery is that this is clearly no longer Brixie’s. The glass-paneled overhead garage doors will open out onto a covered outdoor beer garden area, and the inside of the place is brighter, with the brewing system taking center stage.

“We’re a great craft brewery, and I think you’ll come in here and find something you like. I think it’s going to be a plus to the community,” DiBraccio said. “But, if you’re looking for Brixie’s, it’s probably not going to be here.” 

Custom-made mini wood beer barrels shade the lights hanging from the ceiling, and the Imperial Oak logo adorns the walls and tables whose glass covers reveal the barley used by the brewery for its beer. The bar has been extended and, to reinforce Imperial Oak’s focus on its beer, there are a few other differences from the brew pub’s predecessor.

You won’t find any video gambling machines and there’s no kitchen. However, said DiBraccio, the brewery will encourage patrons to bring in food from other Brookfield establishments, particularly those along Ogden Avenue. Imperial Oak will also bring in food trucks to feed hungry beer drinkers.

“We’ll have a menu book and anyone can bring food in,” DiBraccio said. “The places here on Ogden Avenue are getting so much better and you’re hearing so many good things about them.”

DiBraccio estimated he and his business partners have poured about $400,000 into the renovation of the brewery. In addition to the brewing system, new lighting, tables and other décor, there are two new heating and air-conditioning systems and two new ADA-compliant bathrooms.

Imperial Oak’s location in Brookfield will have a different feel than its Willow Springs brewery, where the outdoor space is used for large events and it’s a much more pronounced feature.

The Brookfield brewery has more of a city feel, although DiBraccio said he hopes the brewery can partner with other local businesses on events and said the pandemic has demonstrated just how important outdoor spaces can be.

“Outdoor is key,” said DiBraccio, who added that, for the Willow Springs location, the pandemic has made patrons more open to being outdoors. The outdoor seating is more important than it’s ever been. It’s day to day trying to balance your employees’ safety and the comfort of everybody in the place.”

Imperial Oak, said DiBraccio, will abide by the state’s guidelines for indoor service, including capacity limits, wearing masks when you’re not at your table, limited bar seating and no moving of tables and chairs.

When it opens, according to the Imperial Oak website, the brewery’s hours will be Monday through Thursday from noon to 11 p.m., Friday from noon to 1 a.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.