In early October 2006, the Joseph Huber Brewing Co. in Monroe, Wis., just north of the Illinois border, traded hands for an undisclosed sum. The buyer was Huber’s biggest contract-brewing client by far: the Mountain Crest Brewing Co. of Calgary, Canada.
Within three days of the purchase, Mountain Crest’s two founders and owners renamed Huber after themselves, and thus was born the Minhas Craft Brewery, the ninth-biggest such brewery in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association’s 2015 numbers.
Siblings Ravinder and Manjit Minhas own the brewery along with a Wisconsin distillery and other brewing operations in their native Canada (where Manjit is also the star of a Shark Tank-like show called Dragons’ Den).
Brother and sister got into the alcohol business when they were 18 and 19, respectively, launching a marketing company in Alberta for premium spirits using the money from the sale of Manjit’s 1998 Toyota Rav4. (Also, their parents owned a chain of a liquor stores in the province.)
That spirits business led to a Calgary-based brewing company in 2002 called Mountain Crest. That, in turn, led to Huber in Monroe, Wis.
In 2003, the Minhas siblings contracted with Huber to brew Mountain Crest’s beer. By the time of the 2006 takeover, Mountain Crest accounted for about 85 percent of Huber’s production, according to Ravinder Minhas.
It was trade that Huber was likely happy to have. The brewery dated from 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state. It had passed through various owners, as well as various names, and closed briefly in the 1980s, before going bankrupt in the mid-1990s.
Huber’s decline was unremarkable. Like many regionals nationwide, the brewing industry’s consolidation had left it with a dwindling customer base and a lot of debt—hardly the tools to compete with the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, the bigger breweries doing the consolidating.
The turn to contract brewing for Mountain Crest, then, seemed as much as a natural progression as a financial lifeline. The Minhases’ purchase 10 years ago probably saved Huber from final oblivion.
Not only that, but the siblings have since turned around the brewery’s fortunes through expansions in both facilities and offerings. The Monroe brewery now produces 11 beer brands, including Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale, Huber Bock and 1845 Pils, as well as malt liquors, sodas and spiked juices.
The brewery’s sales volume placed Minhas Craft Brewery at No. 9 on the Brewers Association’s most recent list of the 50 biggest “craft” breweries in the U.S., right between Deschutes and Stone. (The brewery produces 5 million cases annually for sale, according to Ravinder Minhas.)
It’s also the second-biggest in the Midwest, behind Bell’s in Michigan. And, if ones goes by its precursor’s 1845 born-on-date, Minhas is also the Midwest’s oldest brewery overall and the entire nation’s second-oldest physical one (behind Yuengling)—not a bad handle for an operation dating from 2006.
Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution and the forthcoming Whiskey Business: How Small-Batch Distillers Are Transforming American Spirits. Reach him on Twitter @tomacitelli.