CALMAR — Craig and Sara Neuzil found it hard to integrate into new communities as they moved around the globe during his former career in the U.S. Air Force.
But the brewery and art studio the couple opened a year ago already has forged a quick bond with Calmar and its Winneshiek County neighbors.
PIVO Brewery and Blepta Studios on Saturday will celebrate its first year in business — one that saw Craig’s beer distributed in 24 counties, Sara’s artwork flying off the shelves and the rural Spillville natives reconnecting with their childhood roots.
“We traveled around everywhere, and this is home,” Sara said. “That’s why we wanted to be back here and wanted the place to feel like home.”
Craig said the business enjoyed a good first year, living up to its goals.
“We wanted to create a business that supports the community,” he said. “We wanted to complement what’s going on here with something that brings more business and keeps people here.”
The Neuzils hatched the idea 13 years ago when deciding what to do after Craig’s service as an Air Force communications officer ended. Sara was already invested as an artist, and Craig was home brewing in the garage.
“I thought Winneshiek County could use a brewery,” said Craig, noting this was a year before Toppling Goliath started in Decorah. “Thirteen years later there’s already two (other) breweries here.”
The Neuzils built a new two-story building using reclaimed materials salvaged and collected during the decade they had to plan their project. Doors came from a demolished Ossian church rectory; window frame wood was scrapped from a barn at Craig’s family farm; drop ceiling tiles were wrapped from their grandmothers’ flour sacks.
While stationed at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Craig worked days off at breweries in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I worked at three different breweries cleaning kegs, bottling, whatever they needed,” he said. “It was a chance to learn the business and different styles of breweries.”
It was at one of those breweries where the Neuzils met Richard and Laresche Mar, convincing them move to Iowa and work respectively as the head brewer and taproom manager.
PIVO, Czech for “beer,” has become part of a Winneshiek County craft beer tourism destination.
“We’re in a county with Toppling Goliath, which is internationally known,” Craig said. “That’s great for us because it brings people to the county. But we’re not going to try to make the same beer they’re making.”
Toppling Goliath is well-known for its assertive IPAs, while Pulpit Rock, also in Decorah, is carving out a niche with pastry beers. PIVO, among other things, is known for having an unusually large number of different house brews on tap.
“The term we use a lot with the beer is approachable,” Craig said. “We make some extreme beer too, but we want the majority of our beer to be approachable.
“You have so many Miller Lite and Busch Light drinkers in the state. When they come in, I don’t want to scare them away. But I want them to have something like our Ossian IPA as a stepping stone. Then maybe they’ll say, ‘I can drink an IPA.’”
PIVO names its beer and cider offerings after the nearby cities and towns, such as the Protivin Czech Pilsner, Decorah Nordic Gruit or Festina Rye Saison.
“Home to us is all these little places,” Sara said. “So let’s name a beer after all these little places.”
Craig joked the beer-naming scheme also “avoids lawsuits” as other craft breweries rush to trademark names for their beers.
Blepta Studios occupies the upper floor of the building, where Sara makes Czech, or Ukrainian, eggs out of anything from quail to ostrich eggs. The technique involves hollowing out the egg and decorating the shell with a wax and dye.
She also learned about Azulejo, white-and-blue painted ceramic tiles, while the couple was stationed in Portugal, and has been getting that portion of the business up to speed. Blepta also hosts classes and painting parties that work well with the brewery.
Sara said she was grateful for the way Calmar has welcomed the business over the past year.
“I expected people being excited about us being here,” she said. “What I did not expect was to get thanked on a weekly basis by random people. It’s always a nice surprise.”
The one-year anniversary party runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday in the taproom and will feature live music, bingo, a bags tournament and food specials. All 40 of PIVO’s taps will be set up for house brews, while the brewery unveils its first ever bottle releases: two whiskey-barrel-aged beers and a chardonnay-barrel-aged ale.