A popular Lehigh County wedding venue soon will be going to the dogs and their beer buff human companions.

By early summer, Willow Tree Grove Banquet & Event Center, which has changed hands a few times through the years, is now set to become Retriever Brewing Compound. Owner Matt Andersen bought the 5.5 acre property at 2844 Township Line Road in Lowhill Township last week with a focus on transforming it into a dog-friendly craft brewery.

Andersen’s vision: “Great dogs, better beer,” he said. Retriever Brewing Co. was established in October, named after Andersen’s favorite dog breed, the Labrador retriever. It is the only breed he has owned for the past 25 years and he currently owns two dogs.

“(The) tagline is simple,” Andersen said. “They are historically one of the top dog breeds based on popularity and we hope to make good beer as well.”

The plan is to open the site by late June or early July. Weddings and larger events also can potentially start soon with Andersen wanting to host at least one large gathering annually. Annual membership for the compound will be $65 per person, and potential patrons can register on the business’ website.

Andersen lives in nearby Orefield with his wife, Sally Andersen, and the couple’s son, Jack.

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Bring Fido

Owning a brewpub was always a goal of Andersen and the ambition went hand-in-hand with his experience practicing law.

After graduating Parkland High School in 2008, Andersen earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Penn State University and went on to study law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He served as a clerk for Northampton County Judge Stephen Baratta in 2016 before joining the Allentown-based firm Norris McLaughlin working in the liquor law practice.

Andersen has since helped more than 100 breweries, wineries and distilleries receive licenses.

Guests at Retriever Brewing Compound will be encouraged to bring their leashed pets anywhere throughout the compound marked as “guest-accessible outside areas.” There will be some places not accessible to guests, Andersen noted.

Inside, the 8,000-square-foot main wedding venue now is being transformed into a beer hall and another 2,000-square-foot building that will become the new pub and pool deck. There’s also a 5,000-square-foot garage that will house RBC’s brewing operations and serve as a storage facility.

At the beer hall, which will be the business’ primary location, Andersen is planning to offer at least a dozen taps, along with ciders, wines and cocktails. Guest beers from other regional breweries also will be offered. Andersen wants to partner with area breweries to produce RBC beers with a goal of adding increased onsite production in the coming years.

The brewery will have a one-barrel brewing system for test and small batch brews, Andersen said. He launched one beer so far under Retriever Brewing Compound, which is available for online purchase here. He plans to craft more in coming months.

The pool deck and pub will be used if the beer hall is being rented out to a larger event. Andersen hopes to hold weddings and other milestone events at the hall. The pool itself, Andersen said, won’t be open to brewery guests but open for those renting the site for private events.

Additionally, three outdoor patios will provide outdoor seating attached to the beer hall, as well as the pool deck and beer garden. The beer garden will have picnic tables and fire pits. Leashed dogs also are welcome at the outdoor seating areas.

The beer hall has capacity for 200 people; the pub has capacity for 50 people; and the beer garden has capacity for 50 people. Outdoor patios can hold another 50 people. Current indoor dining restrictions set forth by Gov. Tom Wolf allow for 75% of maximum capacity if the business is self certified. Outdoor restrictions no longer have an occupancy calculation but must follow event guidelines on safe gathering limits released by the Department of Health and are subject to occupancy limits of 50% of the venue size.

Tie the knot

The roots of Willow Tree Grove Banquet & Event Center date back to the 1970s. It’s known for its backdrop of landscaped picturesque grounds for onsite wedding ceremonies and receptions.

In keeping the tradition of the site alive, Andersen said he is keeping the name of the banquet and event center portion of the business. He plans to employ the business’ existing caterer for weddings and other events, as well as prepare food for the beer hall.

The goal is to have the caterer working out of the site’s existing kitchen full-time. Andersen also plan to bring in various food trucks for the beer hall.

Currently, Andersen is having minor cosmetic renovations being performed in anticipation of the summer grand opening. This includes adding new doors, interior and exterior paint, and a new bar-top.

Andersen has future plans to hold live music concerts and other activities at the site. He’s also hiring additional employees. Positions currently are available for bartender; server/runner/busser/host; and beverage director/taproom manager.

Before and after the compound’s opening, Andersen plans to sell beer and merchandise through the business’ shipping program, RBC Direct. Currently, beer can be shipped to customers in Pennsylvania, with more states coming soon, and merchandise can be shipped to patrons in all 50 states.

Hours will be 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; and noon to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday.

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Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at [email protected].

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