Laura (nee Duesterbeck) and Ben Johnson are the owners of Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company in Elkhorn. They came up with the idea as a way to restore old buildings on the property, and pass the family farm on to their children and future generations. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Family transitions farm to a new venture

By Heather Ruenz

After nearly 158 years, an area farm family is embarking on a new venture as a microbrewer. At the heart of that leap is the hope that old farm buildings can be restored and that the farm will continue to be passed along to future generations.

Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company, Elkhorn, was an idea born in a conversation among members of the family’s sixth generation – Laura, Leslie and Lindsey.

“The barns had been starting to go down hill for a while and we were wondering what to do. We also wondered how we were going to get our kids to want to take over the farm some day,” Laura (Duesterbeck) Johnson said.

Her husband, Ben Johnson, a dentist in Delavan, has been brewing beer since he was 19 years old.

“I started on a stovetop in my apartment,” Ben said.

He continued to master the craft over the years, now has dedicated space in the basement of their home and opening a commercial brewery has long been a dream of his.

Fast forward several years when Laura got the idea to restore the barns by putting up a brewery featuring Ben’s beer.

Her family members were on board but first, there was a hurdle they had to get past. To keep the brewing company an agriculture business, a definition for microbrewery location had to be created for Walworth County. Once that was taken care of – a process that took two years – it was time to get down to business.

Keeping it in the family

“At that time my dad was still alive so we planned to use the building by fixing it. We soon realized that wasn’t going to work,” Laura said.

The old barn was in such dire need of repair that it would have cost more to try and keep portions of it than to tear it down. The family then connected with Denny Mays, who Laura said helped bring their vision to life.

“We told him we wanted it to look like the other barn and he did (an) amazing (job),” Laura said.

The new building is a sight to see at 47 feet tall, 10 feet more than the original barn. And the shade of red they chose – brighter than “typical” barn red, was chosen to help it stand out, especially in the winter months.

Despite having to take down the old barn, Ben said they were able to salvage a lot of wood and use it in the new building. The reclaimed wood is featured on the wall behind the bar where the tappers are located, the bar top itself, and is used for trim, beams and shelves.

They also found a variety of items at other farms such as lighting fixtures and wheels from a dump rake.

Making this dream a reality has been a family affair, including help from Laura’s mom, Cathy, and sisters Lindsey and Leslie and her husband, Chris Pelnar, along with Ben’s parents, Don and Deb Johnson, and his brothers and sisters-in-law, Adam and Hailey Johnson, and Drew and Robin Johnson.

Ben and Laura, who have six children between the ages of 14 and 3, said once the business is up and running, they plan to step back.

“Family is important and we don’t want to work all the time,” Laura said. “We want to spend time with our kids.”

Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company outside of Elkhorn will feature a variety of beers on tap including seven to 10 semi-regular options and a few seasonal flavors. (Heather Ruenz photo)

The beer is the focus

Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company will feature small-batch, handcrafted, Wisconsin-inspired beers – all of which are Ben’s recipes.

Ben said it’s important that beer is the main focus.

“We want people to come here for the beer. That’s what it’s all about,” he said, adding that it features a seven-barrel system with four fermenters.

In addition to beer, Duesterbeck’s will serve soda and a few flavors of kombucha – but no wine or other alcohol and only the beer will be made on site.

Also in an effort to stay focused on the beer, they plan to keep the food offerings simple.

“We’re talking frozen pizzas and big pretzels to start with. We plan to have food trucks on the weekends in the warmer months and food can be delivered and brought in, so that’s something different,” Laura said.

Other things planned include trivia events and live music but the grand opening is at the top of the list. It was announced this week that the grand opening will be Saturday, Oct. 26 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and in addition to the first eight beers, will feature food trucks throughout the weekend.

Laura’s dad, Dennis, died in January  2017 and she said his guidance, even though he’s not here, has played a role in decisions. “We often ask ourselves, ‘What would dad do?’ and I think it helps,” she said.

One thing she’s pretty sure he would be proud of is that the initial profits from the business will go back to the farm.

“We’ll use it to fix up the buildings and other things. The purpose is to help our children and the farm, so this is part of that,” Laura said.

“They can take the salaries from it later. We want our kids to be able to have something they want to have, and can pass on to future generations,” she added.

More about DBC

Duesterbeck’s Brewing Co. is at N5543 County Rd. O, Elkhorn.

Among the beers planned for the taproom opening include: Crop Duester cream ale; Bentist Candy hazy juicy IPA; Bine Bomb traditional IPA; Roosterbeck amber lager; Muddy Duroc brown ale; and, Oatmeal Snout oatmeal stout.

In addition to gift cards, shirts, growlers and other merchandise, there are memberships available on the website: the Founder’s Club Membership (limited number) for $499, featuring numerous perks including an invitation to the Founder’s Club Grand Opening Party, a custom mug, a special Founder’s Club T-shirt that will never be sold to the public, access to the Founder’s Tap six days before the general public, and voting rights to which beer should be brewed as the next special release. The other memberships are Barn Club for $249 and Brew Club for $95.

Duesterbeck’s also has a space above the brewery called the “Hay Loft,” which can be reserved for a small fee for private events for up to 36 people.

The hours may vary but the initial plan is to be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday.

For more information call 262-729-9771, visit or follow Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company on Facebook.


1 Comment

  1. Duesterbeck is my last name!!!

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