They say beer brings people together. Turns out, it also keeps people connected.
Mike Christenson, owner of Bobtown Brewhouse and Grill in Roberts, Wisconsin (population 1,651), has known Katie Eells since high school, but never thought he’d go into business with her. “We didn’t see each other for years,” he says. “It started over a glass of her beer, I guess.”
The two were living in the Twin Cities when they bumped into each other and got to talking. Christenson, who has experience in the restaurant industry, was thinking about opening a bar or brewery, and told Eells about his plans. After hearing Christenson’s idea, Eells, who was working for Northern Brewer in Minneapolis at the time, made a mental note of his plans and began honing her homebrew recipes to potentially fit into the concept.
When Christenson found out that L&Ms Bar was for sale in Roberts in September 2015, he leapt at the opportunity to buy it and transition the small town bar into a brewpub. He’d wanted to move closer to his family in nearby River Falls, Wisconsin, for a while, and saw the bar as a chance to do that and fulfill his goal all at once. To make the beer part of the brewpub happen, Christenson reached out to Eells to be his partner.
Equidistant between Hudson and River Falls, Roberts is an area ripe for brewery tourism. Also working to his benefit were the steady rush of Wisconsin-resident Twin Cities commuters and the small town residents who had been frequenting the bar for years. While Christenson and Eells have made upgrades to the building’s décor and layout, the changes have been incremental and minimal, Christenson says. “We want to keep that Wisconsin bar feel and add that brewery aspect to it,” he explains. It’s low lit with oak walls, and has a backyard with a horseshoes pit.
“We want to keep it small and make it a Wisconsin bar with good beer that people will come and see. Nothing intimidating, but a fun place for locals and for people from Minneapolis–St. Paul to come experience,” Eells says. The beer, she says, will be the approachable styles she enjoys drinking, brewed on a one-barrel system.
Eells is currently brewing small batches of beer three times a week to have enough for its five house-beer draft lines. The brewery, which is adjacent to the pub, is on full display through a window, and Eells is still getting used to the fishbowl effect. Bobtown has 10 total draft lines that currently pour five house beers and five guest taps from area breweries. Eells says she’s brewing with an emphasis on easy drinking, approachable beer. Each Thursday, they plan to release a 1/6-barrel infusion.
“I like beers I can have a couple pints of and not feel I’ve burned my palate,” Eells says, noting that most of her beers will range between 5–6.5% ABV.
The first house beer debuted at Bobtown in early June 2016. Since then, the brewpub has been slowly ramping up production. Bobtown Brewhouse and Grill is now in full operation, with its entire core line-up available on tap. As the business progresses, Christenson and Eells are hoping to maintain a consistent low-key charm at their nanobrewery. “A lot of breweries that are opening are very industrial and big,” Eells notes. “This space of ours is a cozy Wisconsin bar that happens to have good beer on tap.”
Brewer: Katie Eells
Beer: Lead Off Runner Cream Ale, Without A Doubt Oatmeal Stout, Rally Ale Kentucky Common, Scream Laurie Blonde, Crooked Row Pale Ale
Visit: 220 W Main St, Roberts, Wisconsin, 54023
Hours: Sunday–Monday, 10:30am–11pm; Tuesday–Thursday, 10:30am–12am; Friday–Saturday, 10:30am–2am