Q and A with Jerry Hauck of Monk’s House of Ale Repute

It feels like Monks House of Ale Repute has been serving big beers and supporting local craft beer for decades. In fact, it’s only been about five years since Jerry Hauck opened what was Sioux Falls’ first dedicated craft beer bar. Now, after starting not one but two beer festivals and riding the wave of craft brew’s growth, Jerry is ready to start thinking bigger.

I had the chance to sit down with him for an interview.

So. Why did you start a bar?

Well, I’ve had this building leased since 2003. At the time, I had a furniture business - I built free-form furniture for 20 years - but I obviously didn’t need all of the space. To try to offset some of my costs I put an art gallery. We had that for three years, but just never made any money off of it.

In the meantime, I thought about opening a bar. I had a bar before - No Dogs Allowed in Aberdeen back in the 1970s. I swore I’d never get back in the business, but this was a different concept. I wanted a smoke free bar. There was no point in opening another beer bar that sold what everyone else did, so I took a chance and did something different.

I had become aware of the craft beer industry, having lived in Portland from 89-91 where the craft beer industry was really starting to build. When I moved back to Sioux Falls afterward, I started buying import Belgian beers and was amazed by the difference between that and the typical domestics. I thought the craft beer industry had some momentum, and that it was only a matter of time so I opened the bar.

What was the response?

It was surprising how many people in Sioux Falls were already aware and accepting of the craft beer movement. First of all, the homebrewers were delighted to have an opportunity to get something else. Over time we’ve evolved a really loyal clientele - about 50% of our business is made up of 40 or 50 people who, if they go out, this is where they come.

Who else was doing this when you started.

Nobody. Well, the closest we had was Old Chicago - in fact, the first Dead Guy Ale I ever had was at Old Chicago. And that was pretty much it.

Your beer list is determined by your clientele, and we hadn’t been exposed to a lot of craft brew, yet. Carlson Distributing at the time had Goose Island, and I think Dakota Beverage had Rogue and Summit and Sierra Nevada. But they weren’t bringing in more than a couple beers from all of them, and they weren’t pushing them so the beers weren’t selling well.

When we decided to get started, I got together with the distributers and they agreed to bring in a bunch of Belgian beers. One of the reasons we chose Monks as a name is because of the connection with Belgian beers. Another thing that happened was that Global Distributing had just started business - they were about six months older than we were. We were a godsend for each other - overnight, we were their biggest customer, so we grew along with them.

I’ll always pair you with the legendary Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. What happened with your supply these last few years?

You know, three years ago - 2009 - we bought 20-some cases of Bourbon County Stout, and we went through about 28 kegs of it. We were the third biggest seller of it in the United States. Next year, we didn’t get a keg, and we only got four cases. It’s just been ridiculous.

That said, we were forunate to get the kegs we got for Beervana. Goose Island said when production gets ramped up now that the buy-out is complete, we’d get more. But we’ll be lucky to get a dozen kegs and maybe ten cases.

I talked to John Volker, and he realizes that we’re the ones that put Goose Island on the map in this town, and that they weren’t selling at all before Monks started offering it - the Borbon County especially - so he takes pretty good care of us. But as much as we’d like to have a monopoly on certain beers, it’s not fair for one place to get it all. So I undertsand.

Along that same line, how do you feel about these major brewery acquisitions, like InBev’s purchase of Goose Island?

You know, I don’t care who makes it. I don’t care who distributes it. If it’s a good beer, we’re going to carry it. If we don’t think it’s a good beer, we’re not. It’s just that simple.

There’s a certain element out there that’s convinced that InBev is going to ruin Goose Island. But you know - they paid 40 million dollars for that brewery because it was making money - why would they go and change it? It just doesn’t make sense.

That’s a bit of the snobbish part of the industry. People need to get over it. It’s all about the beer - I don’t care who makes it, who the distributer is - if it’s good, we’ll put it on tap.

Do you feel the same way about the sudden growth of new lines of craft-style beers from Miller or Budweiser like Shock-Top or Blue Moon? Is this good for the industry?

Well, Blue Moon has been around forever, and it’s actually a pretty decent beer. But, yeah - I think it helps. The large breweries are finally admitting that craft beer is worth paying attention to. Five years ago, the CEO of Miller was quoted saying that craft beer would fade - that in five years, it will be gone.

Well, it’s the only part of the industry that’s grown over the past five years.

It’s an admission on their part that it’s here to stay and we’re better off joining them than fighting them. Those people aren’t stupid - they didn’t get where they are by being stupid. They’re adopting and adapting to the system quite well. There will be more buyouts down the road - and it’s getting to the point where Sam Adams and New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, while nowhere near as big as the big three, are getting to be good sized, major breweries.

This might be a ridiculous question, but what’s your all time favorite beer?

No, that’s not a bad question - Sui Generis from Avery Brewing. It was limited edition. I was at Great American Beer Festival three years ago and went to Avery. They had a case of it left, and I kicked myself for not buying it all. I bought a six-pack or two six-packs and brought it back.

In fact, I gave a bottle to Beau from Look’s Meat Market. This past winter during Brrrvana, Beau had kept the bottle and shared it with me. It was as good as I remembered it. If there’s one beer I could get my hands on, that would be it - but as far as I know they never produced it again.

That’s my favorite - but some of my go-to beers down here are typically the Odell IPA to start, and I like Dead Guy quite a bit. I also like Mirror Pond. Those are the three really easy drinking beers. If I’m being serious, I’ll get into the Mikkeller and the Nogne-O and more Belgian beers.

My pallet has adapted - the more beer I drink, the less I like the sweeter beers. I used to drink Abt 12 - it’s the only beer we have on tap that we had when we opened - but the last time I tried one it was a little off-putting to me. It was just a little too sweet.

We’ve talked about the origins of Monks - now what does the future hold?

We’ve had steady growth over the last two years - we’ve grew 25% last year, and are at 30% this year - so I’ve decided to expand to the back of the building.

Initially, six months ago, I was really serious about putting in a production brewery in the back. The more I got into it I realized I’d need a minimum of a 15-barrel system, and if I put it back in the space where the furniture shop used to be it’d be really squeezed in. So I abandoned that plan and decided the best way to go was a two-barrel system. We’ll have guest brewers and get the homebrew club and anyone else involved and just brew for ourselves.

The area will be a way to feature our beers and local brews from Brau Brothers or Crow Peak. There will be a pool table. It will be a little bit of a different environment back there.

Do you have a background in homebrewing?

No! laughs No, I’ve never had the passion for brewing. I just felt that, as the premier beer bar in the region - we started the trend here, after all - I needed to pay attention and stay ahead of the game. The next step is to produce our own beer.

Since we’ve opened there’s been six or eight new bars open that serve primarily craft beer, and everybody in town has at least some craft beer. So I have to stay a step ahead and make sure I don’t lose my clientele.

This is my retirement. It provides a nice retirement. It’s a kind of neighborhood bar and I’ve made dozens of friends here. That’s the environment I want. We’re happy. Thing are definitely working out.