31, March 2017: Local craft beer taproom featuring Bent Kettle craft beer is now open every Thursday - Sunday in downtown Fort Atkinson, WI., located in the former 88 Underground / Velvet Lips Lounge.
Bent Kettle Brewing has built a strong local following for its inventive and tasty microbrews sold in cans and bottles. Now this fan base can meet up at the Bent Kettle taproom and enjoy brews together and chat with the founders and master brewer. The taproom is owned by James Jorgenson and brew master Mark Cook.
James Jorgenson, of Fort Atkinson, and Mark Cook, a former Fort Atkinson resident who currently lives in Madison, has been operating their craft brewing venture for a few years. Their craft beers are found on tap at various restaurants and bars all over Wisconsin.
In 2016 they had a vision to locate a brew house/taproom right in their home town of Fort Atkinson. They did just that in January 2017, when the duo opened Bent Kettle Taproom in the former 88 Underground and, previously, Velvet Lips Lounge downtown.
The craft beer taproom operates in a truly unique. The former 88 Underground is a historic basement space. Above it, where once a historic building stood, is Catfish Alley, complete with its signature catfish sculpture hung overhead.
The taproom's address is 10 N. Water Street West, as its entrance is on the side street. "When we learned this place was available, we contacted the owner and were able to work out a deal," said Jorgenson, who serves as taproom operations manager while Cook is brewmaster.
Taproom in Historical Location
"The two buildings that surround it were built in 1888 and 1892, and Jorgenson said that the central building that once was situated there might have been older yet," claims Jorgenson, who serves on the Historical Preservation Committee for the City of Fort Atkinson.
The historic basement of the original building remains, and is decorated with fun wall colors and fabrics, a fireplace, antique furniture, a private poker room, and a 100-year-old pool table that once was enjoyed in the century-old Fort Atkinson Club.
Even the chalkboard on which the menu is written is an antique, having come from a local grade school many years ago. "So it's probably over 100 years old too," Jorgenson said.
Casual Fun Atmosphere
"The atmosphere is really casual, like you are in someone's living room," said Sue Hartwick, who helps out stocking the bar. Mark Cook, the brewmaster, is a semi-retired optometrist of over 30 years, and he continues to practice in that field in his spare time while coming up with creative new craft brew flavors in his full time venture with Bent Kettle.
Now that the Bent Kettle taproom has opened in Fort Atkinson, the beers' reputation is spreading further. A lot of locals come in, as do beer aficionados from the Milwaukee area and farther off.
"On opening night, it was shoulder-to-shoulder," Hartwick said. "It's all about the beer. It just shows how well known the beer already is."
Because the patrons of the Bent Kettle taproom really are interested in taste and not just getting a buzz, Jorgenson said, the taproom doesn't have the same kind of trouble that many regular bars do with drunks and rebellious revelers.
"The people who come here are looking to try something new because they love the taste," he said.
The craft beer taproom also has a modest menu of tasty treats and full dishes that compliment the craft brews. The menu features pulled pork sandwiches, Milwaukee-made Bavarian-style soft pretzels, quesadillas, chips and guacamole, chips and salsa, and a cheese-and-meat platter to name a few of many entrees. "It all goes really great with the beer," Jorgenson said.
"We have kind of a minimal kitchen, but we get some stuff from Scott Arndt, the caterer next door, and he does a really good job," Jorgenson said, referring to the owner of the Soulful Toad.
Craft Brew Choices
As for the beverage list, the first beer they brewed and is still in production is Insolence Double IPA (India Pale Ale), which remains a favorite today. The Velvet Lips, a newer Double IPA, is named after an establishment that formerly occupied the Fort Atkinson taproom space. Jorgenson described it as a New England-style brew, saying, "Oh my goodness, is that stuff good."
More craft beers to choose from include:
Thwack Smoked IPA,
Go Fasters Amber Rye,
Oh Em Gee Porter,
K'Paui Coconut Porter,
Sha-Wing Vanilla Porter,
Making Mischief (oatmeal brown with a hint of Twinkies),
Occam's Razor Belgian style dubbel,
Barrel Aged K'Paui,
Disregarde Bier de Garde,
New craft beer flavors, guest taps and "one-offs" will be offered as they become available. "We are always going to have our Bent Kettle beers here, and also a mix of guest beers," Jorgenson said. "Then we'll have a rotating mix of experimental brews that can only be tried here."
Jorgenson said that even though the taproom is really tucked away, customers have been coming in steadily, alerted through word-of-mouth, publicity through the press and local media and special thanks to positive reviews of the local brews.
Many of Bent Kettle's brews have earned top marks from regional reviewers.
Robin Shepard, beer editor for Madison's Isthmus newspaper, listed Bent Kettle’s K'Paui Coconut Porter as a personal favorite in his Top 10 list for the "Beer Buzz" column.
Chris Drosner, who writes the "Beer Baron" column for the Wisconsin State Journal, also did a lengthy write-up on K'Paui, which has become a favorite dessert beer.
And in March 2017 Bent Kettle's Thwack Smoked IPA was invited to participate in Hop Cat's March Madness IPA competition.
Contact, Location and Hours
Address: 10 N. Water Street West, Fort Atkinson, WI.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, although the proprietors reserve the right to remain open "'til close" if there's a good crowd going. In addition, the taproom offering up its venue for special events and parties.