In the obscure prologue in which Half Acre Beer Company opened up on Lincoln Avenue in a 2009 North Center, I found myself pulled in mysterious intrigue. I was living in what is now known as Malt Row, though at the time no breweries yet existed there. Half Acre, upon its genesis, as the purple raven soars was exactly a stone’s throw away.
With Shakespearean playhouse curtains creakily rising upward under a starlit canopy, Canada and I walked there from my place for the first time. The writings and acts would play out in stanzas over the years establishing an artistic gamut. It would all begin with an enjambment where I find myself under a spotlight in soliloquy, puking that fateful first night.
That, however, is a tale not to be told in quill nor moveable type.
We only assumed there would be a bar to drink at. But there was not. There would not be for three years to come.
In juxtaposition, we found a minimalistic storefront. A jarring surprise. After perusing and chatting, synesthesia set in around a blending of different senses, comforting warmth as everything began to click.
It was there I saw the music. One sense simultaneously stimulating another.
The rich aesthetics at Half Acre helped to establish a new wave of beer branding the world over. The owl and the squid – star-crossed lovers, and Sticky Fat the Bear riding a two-headed donkey through a field of daisies. Coffee bean, and silk screen. The scent of malted grains, production brewing wafting through the portals in the bright shop was alluring.
Oak plank tap handles. Sawdust and workmanship.
The first time I had seen a growler was at this very tasting room. The idea of a sixty-four ounce amber glass jug to fill up and take home and share was course altering. At a certain point instead of a 7-Eleven six-pack of Hoegaarden, I’m riding my bike to your house with a half-gallon of Akari Shogun, mashed, sparged, boiled and fermented just down the street, mere weeks prior. Picking up a growler of Chocolate Camaro to bring to our first ever Dark Lord Day, a memory always buzzworthy for me.
The notion that I could bring the empty jug back to the shop and get a refill? That was monumental in my eyes.
Lead Feather, Over Ale, Gossamer, and Ginger Twin – beers arranged in rainbows of black malt, deep chocolate, twinkling shimmer, and transparent auburn. A playwright’s craft at its most earnest.
Daisy Cutter, one of the first craft beer brands to embrace the aluminum can – not only the can, but the tall boy can, arguably shifted the courtiers of Half Acre’s flagship pale ale to years ahead of their time on multiple fronts.
Grabbing Bad Apple burgers adjacent the brewery happened more times than I can count.
Double Daisy Cutter.
Galactic Double Daisy Cutter.
Double Daisy Cutter Fully Saturated.
Iterations to infinity. Wit, beauty and truth. Pony Pils in Growlers to howlers to bombers to cans. Mutiny & the Mollusk – an oyster stout collaboration with 3Floyds involving ground up oyster shells.
Big Hugs Day had a line that used to stretch northwest, up Lincoln Ave and wrap the corner like a cozy sweater, east down Cullom like a Boss for blocks and blocks. We’d find our place in line during the frigid winter releases and it was there that we would plant ourselves for, well, a really long time.
Barrel aged stout bottle shares took place illegally in the silver snow, and Dark Matter coffee blended and scalding, flowed as freely as euphony. Maple Big Hugs directly from a pitcher.
I recall the time it was unbearable. Hoary-headed frosts fell in the lap of the crimson rose. I couldn’t tell you the year, but I remember running. Crossing Lincoln to Jewel in order to purchase hand warmers, which we promptly converted in to toe warmers, inserting to the front of the shoe in order to thaw the biting chill.
The awkward, mute, anthropomorphic cat at the end of the rainbow was not enough to dull the thrill of holding in your paw, the pot of gold, the new artwork for Big Hugs that year. Continuous vignettes under the conveyance of that other-other, chubby, cartoon, orange feline.
Most years we ended at Sticky Rice for green curry served in a hallowed out coconut. One or two Big Hugs variants sacrificed to the gods of fellowship, and a nap of the unaccountable to follow.
The Rising Action
When the taproom finally opened, Gabriel Magliaro ushered in a new magical era. The second act beers flowed freely to the likes of Vallejo, GoneAway, and my personal obsession: Navaja. I’d hang there for hours in monologue some days. A rotating cast of new friends entering stage left, and familiar faces, stage crew and actors who would stay for a round of colloquy and gracefully bow out.
Skylights carved into cedar plank ceilings allowed for sunrays to illuminate the pints of Deep Space, silhouetting my roasted beet burrito. Above the concrete bar, the decapitated head of none other than Sticky Fat the Bear. True savagery in deep blue tusks, dripping honey sweetness like candy blood.
Tables of Douglas fir, a soft wood, allowing the bruising and blunders as time collected. A glass slammed too roughly on its edge or a vandal leaving his mark with a piece of silverware.
The wall to the north, separating the brewery from the taproom was a one hundred and ten year old reclaimed wooden slab from the inside of a Northern Wisconsin grain elevator. Wisconsin being the very state where Half Acre’s first beers were brewed. The contour in the unevenness of the piece, reverberation of grain slowly eroding the wood, reflects alliteration in artistry between man and nature.
It was there, nestled below the oil paintings of white trash rednecks, and the hop bine yeti where I would sip fresh Lagertown during Oktoberfest. Liquid gourmet bread, malt-forward, translucent burnt orange pie crust, fresh from the brite tanks. It took an American, hop-forward brewery to make lagers click for me. I’ll never apologize for it, and I’ll never forget it.
I’ll hold with me the memory of the twin parents serendipitously and communally placed next to us in a manger. They told us not to worry. They told us not to stress. As angels under the North Star they graced us with good news in the idea that things would be all right. As taco crumbs tumbled over their baby girls’ sleeping heads like fresh frankincense, they presented us comfort that evening. For we ourselves would soon be the parents of twin girls.
The Unsettling Yet Apropos Resolution
As barrel-aged wonders such as Orin and Benthic began to creep about, the Big Hugs celebration was shifted to the Big North. The Balmoral taproom and beer garden evolved together as a dual powerhouse. Big Star was set to take over the kitchen on a permanent basis at Balmoral. But then 2020 really kicked in.
The thick of that year spun everything out of control and curbside pickup was the final option. A yellow, square perimeter around the Lincoln tasting room door to ward off the unclean. A small table outside. In a surreal vision to behold, the workers would call your name. If you signified your presence, they’d place your beer on the small table, swiftly closing the door on you and the rest of the moaning zombies. Among the masked undead, locked out in the wild, awkwardly attempting to stand six feet apart from the other lepers, you would humbly make your way to your order. Survival mode.
This of course was not a unique system to Half Acre, but it really showed the demand.
But that was it; Due to one too many hurdles, I never made it back inside the Half Acre Lincoln taproom-restaurant-bar ever again. In ultraviolet radiowave the announcement to sell the brewery location to Hop Butcher for the World was placed in the stratosphere.
With heavy head still stuffed in grey cumulus, there were and are reasons this denouement isn’t a tragedy. The Big North exists. Not to mention, it’s the closest brewery to my house as of this writing. In a shift over to Hop Butcher – for one, the property isn’t going to some sort of Starbucks or Panda Express, let alone sitting vacant. Any of those options would be the stuff of true night terror.
Half Acre was ready to continue evolving and was prepared for sunset on Lincoln Ave. They would not have just sold it to anyone. Hop Butcher embraces the identical drive in the kindred spirit that Half Acre owned in the beginning in terms of visuals, and passion. All things ramped-up. Though bittersweet, it is poetic. The boil kettle torch has been passed to the upcoming with no flameout in sight.
The final day in which Half Acre Lincoln bottle shop-tasting room was open I was able to break free through one of my ill-fitting, slim dad jean windows of peaceful baby naps, and drive over. I gathered all my growler stamp cards from over the years. Legal tender, relegated to the back of my desk drawer – a stack a foot high if it was an inch. Most of them only bearing one stamp in the idea I could one day combine them. I sought out one final growler. I wanted to utilize all the hard work I put forth in saving those hand-stamped relics through time.
I paralleled for a final time off Lincoln and I sauntered forth, pocket full of growler cards. As I approached I realized I didn’t have my mask. In all sincerity I just simply didn’t have one on at that particular moment.
I scourged my vehicle for a blue surgical or a coffee stained white one perhaps shoved deep in to the glove box or down in to no-man’s-land, the area between the seat and the door where a lint-y fuzzy one may exist. No luck.
I didn’t have the time to go back home to get a mask due to a baby or two waking up from naps. Once that avalanche of chaos ensued, there would be no going back out. I couldn’t come back another day because there were no more days.
One simple glance to the ground, I saw blowing around on the sidewalk, in a tiny twister with a Clif Bar wrapper, a tainted mask. In today’s version of a used condom, most people would never even consider picking a mask off the ground to strap on to their face. These were, after all dire times and in the moment I was fortune’s foe.
It wasn’t in horrible condition. But that didn’t mean it didn’t have Covid on it. I stood for a minute running a calculated risk scenario. The nose wire was barely bent and it looked clean. My guess is that it was worn one single time. We can broach the philosophy of the terms in another essay, or over beers after the apocalypse. I’m here to tell you that even though the math yielded a breakeven scenario, to me, at that very point, I considered it…but I couldn’t do it.
I took a final look at Half Acre Lincoln in dejection and started to crawl back in to my car.
But then I saw it.
Days before I drove to Half Acre I had filled up on gasoline and emptied some car trash. Coffee cups and cigar ash and what have you. My soiled and double strapped, original hardcore, miserable N-95 painters mask from the first months of the pandemic was hanging from the gas tank fuel door. Somehow dangling like Indiana Jones from an airplane, for days on end, ready to fling through, punching about to save the god damn world.
I strapped that wretched fucker on and swiftly entered Half Acre storefront. For one last time, a hot, pitiful, unbreathable mask pressed over my face, providing zero protection by that point mind you – no time for small talk, I procured a growlerful of Daisy Cutter for free, using my stamped cards.
I stepped out on to the sidewalk removing the garbage mask, flinging that bastard in the trash bin for an eternal rest. Breathing in a few heavy doses of fresh air, I victoriously lifted my final growler of Daisy Cutter to the sky like a loaded harquebus. For I had won the Battle of Agincourt that afternoon. I bid adieu to the beloved taproom with a solemn knowing as I carried the Ark of the Covenant back to my chariot.
I drew this gallant head of war,
And cull’d these fiery sprits from the world,
To outlook conquest and to win renown,
Even in the jaws of danger and of death.