By Rod Lee
Brian Kretchman began home-brewing beer more than twenty years ago, never imagining at the time that what essentially started as a hobby would lead to the launch of a small brewery with go-to sales by growler only on Thompson Road in Webster in 2012.
Things have taken off from there, as they have for so many craft brewers who have capitalized on the public’s fervor for beer manufactured by hand in small batches. Wormtown in Worcester, Stone Cow in Barre, Wachusett in Westminster—for example. The list goes on and on.
Today, KBC Brewery & Beer Garden is situated in a two-story building at the bottom of Frederick Street in Webster, directly behind the police station and abutting the French River and its river walk.
“I gave up a six-figure job to do this. I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” Mr. Kretchman, a former software engineer, said last Wednesday morning while giving a visitor a tour of the building, which consists of a brewery and tap room downstairs and a theater—called the Wintergarten—on the second floor. There is also an outdoor beer garden.
Mr. Kretchman landed at 9 Frederick St. quite by happenstance. The building’s owner, Joseph Waskiewicz of JV Mechanical Contractors, “came and saw us at our old property. He wanted to rent to someone who would bring his building back and help with the revitalization of downtown Webster,” Mr. Kretchman said. “He is a very good guy. We were a startup. He had that vision and we were in sync. Everything he promised he has come through with.”
The building, which had been empty for a while, has a long and colorful history going back 150 years, Mr. Kretchman said. “It was built as the Falcons Club, probably like a Lions Club, probably Polish. During Prohibition it was a speakeasy. People would come and bring a bucket of beer from home, back and forth. It was different pubs including The Bucket of Blood in the 80s and 90s. It was the Maple Leaf Lounge and then K-Ray’s. It was a dump. Joe began a renovation about ten years ago.
“The first time I saw this room,” he said of the now-beautifully-appointed Wintergarten, “I knew we couldn’t afford it. But I had an idea of what it could be.”
The Wintergarten features a large stage suitable for all sorts of entertainment, a big screen for video presentations, its own pouring station, power recliners to one side, a “Viking ship booth” that seats six, a love seat, chairs and tables that can accommodate up to more than one hundred patrons and a “peace tree” that changes colors.
There are bathrooms on both the first and second floors.
“We just opened this space in May,” Mr. Kretchman said of the Wintergarten. “We’ve had private functions, weddings, a bridal shower, even a kids birthday party with disco and an open soda bar.”
On Saturday, October 28th, the Wintergarten will host the fifth installment of KBC’s “The Beer Show.” Mr. Kretchman described the event—“A Royal Mocktober-Feast,” featuring a catered three-course meal and a beer tasting—as “a real fun time, very interactive.” The script for the production, set in 19th Century Germany, in which “King Ludwig II” attempts to throw a party that is bigger and better than his grandfather had, and that includes a wedding (his), was written by players from the Medieval Manor in Boston.
Tickets are $45 per person and can be purchased at www.kbcbrewing.com.
Mr. Kretchman’s entrepreneurial spirit mirrors that of his great grandfather, who was a glass painter, and his grandfather, who owned parking lots in New York City. He, however, spells his name differently. His grandfather changed the spelling of the family name to Kretschmann “to make it look Jewish” and thus “help get his back on track” amid anti-Germany feeling. The old spelling, Kretschmann, which means “innkeeper,” is maintained in KBC today, as is the moon man logo and family crest “in honor of my family,” Mr. Kretchman said.
His family came to the U.S. around 1908.
In acknowledging that “beer is huge” and so a promising venture, Mr. Kretchman said “it is the foundation of what’s here. Everything else is built on top of that. People will travel for beer,” he noted. He has added American beers to the line of German beers he began with. His “Gateway Lager” was created in response to “lots of locals who kept asking for Budweiser or Bud Light, thinking we’d have that. I kept telling them ʽtry craft beers.’ Then I developed my own version of Bud and it’s become popular.” Customer favorites, meanwhile, include such choices as Café Munich and seasonal stuff—like a light roasted pumpkin ale.
KBC is “different,” Mr. Kretchman said. “We’re smaller. Rather than grow through distribution we have built an atmosphere. So I don’t have to brew a ton of beer and ship it out the door. When you start mass brewing you lose the character. And we are the only brewery around without a food license but with a full liquor license (patrons are allowed to bring or order food in).
Next steps, he said, are “boost sales, increase patronage and better define Wintergarten.”
That may be something that can be mulled over, downstairs, by members of KBC’s “Stein Club.”
Eighty steins on the wall…strength in numbers!
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.