“Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”
–Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World
Milwaukee: Beer Capital Of The World?
Home of many of the classic breweries such as Miller, Schlitz, Blatz, and Pabst, Milwaukee has a long and storied past when it comes to beer. However, with consolidation and changes in the beer market, nearly all of those old breweries moved out or closed down, leaving only Miller to brew the pale fizzy drink for the masses.
To be honest, the craft beer craze has been very late to hit this supposed Beer City USA. My wife Sarajo and I visited family there last summer and found a few new breweries that were decent, but I would have still put Milwaukee’s craft beer offerings at where the Twin Cities were about 8-10 years ago. This year we visited the city again for the epic Bead & Button Show for Sj (who is a jewelry maker) and got to try out some more breweries. There were a ton of new breweries to visit and here are my impressions of a few!
Any visit to Milwaukee would be a waste without a visit to the elder statesman of craft beer in the city. Opening in 1987, Lakefront is equivalent to being the Summit Brewing of Milwaukee. We first visited here several years ago when in town for a cousin’s wedding. The brewery hasn’t changed a whole lot itself, but the area around it has dramatically improved. No longer in bombed-out industrial wasteland, the area between the city proper and the brewery is now filled with upscale condos and a beautiful extension to the River Walk. When we arrived along the river, a large crowd of thirsty revelers spread across a new outdoor biergarten. It was pretty windy and hot at the time so we decided to go around to the front of the building and go inside to the classic German Bier Hall. It was crowded in there as well, but much cooler! We tried a couple of very good beers, including the best gluten free beer I’ve ever tried–New Grist. See my review of gluten free beers HERE and HERE. We didn’t do it this time, but Lakefront has one of the best brewery tours you will ever go on–irreverent, nerdy, and very enthusiastic! Well worth a visit for sure.
Mobcraft isn’t exactly new, starting in Madison originally, but has moved to Milwaukee and opened a taproom there last summer. They have a unique shtick where they take recipe submissions from anyone who cares to try it out and brew these beers based on some sort of voting regimen. The taproom has an open floor plan and high ceiling with several garage doors that can open to let light and air into the place and spill out onto the moderately sized patio. Sj and I sat at the pretty dark laminate coated bar. We talked with server Dave and taproom manager Dan and they really knew a lot about the beers! Apparently everyone who works the taproom has Ciccerone training, so I shouldn’t be surprised. While there we encountered a group of guys wearing outrageous vintage suits and tacky clothing (some sort of tradition amongst the group) and Andrew filled us in on the best other places to check out in the area. Overall we really enjoyed the relaxed feel and social aspect of this brewery. Top beers we tried here were: La Mure In The Night, a dark sour with notes of coffee, roast and blackberries; Man-Go Away, a DIPA with wonderful mango flavor; and Hoppy Hoppy Pants Pants, a fruity DIPA.
This is a brand new brewery occupying the circa 1902 Milwaukee Gas Light Building. So new that I could still smell the fresh varnish on the gorgeous wood bartop. The taproom takes up a mere tiny footprint of this old industrial building but has a ton of character–making use of the multicolored brickwork, concrete and steel ceilings, and old woods. We were visiting in the early afternoon and there weren’t a ton of patrons yet, but plenty of servers were around, including our server Josh who did a great job. We got to briefly meet Robin Gohsman, the president of the brewery as well. Open only 4 months, this place has a lot of charm and the beers were some of the best we had in the city. The Lemongrass Wheat was super refreshing for a hot day; and the American Pale Ale made me rethink my current disdain for the style. They have a whopping 30 barrel brew system and tons of room for packaging and canning–these guys are cued up to be a major player in the distribution game for sure.
With a tagline like “Seek The Good” these folks are aiming for the outfield on this new East Side brewery. This is a brewpub with some pretty darn good chow to try while drinking the beers–try the curry fries. Small and busy, this place is comfortable, family friendly, and well balanced. We met my cousin Thor here for some food and drinks after a long day of shopping for beads and trinkets, and this was just what we needed. I didn’t take great notes here due to food and socializing, but the beers were very good overall. My favorites were the solid Motto pale ale, and the En Fleur saison that was fair bursting with Belgian yeast character.
This is brand new brewery located in the Historic Third Ward, nestled in among the other old and somewhat decrepit warehouses. The taproom is pretty minimalistic, just taking up a small amount of space inside (and outside) the larger production facility. They have an upbeat style to their branding and beer names that I find pleasing. Oh, and the beers are quite good. One of my favorite beers from the trip was their well-named Happy Place pale ale (really an IPA) and Sj bought a six-pack of this for me when I was outside taking pictures! That’s Gold kolsch was also a really well done example of the style. I think these folks are going to be quite popular, and I did note their beers on tap all over the city on this trip.
This brewery actually used to be located up north in Pembine, WI (pop ~ 1000). The new brewery is in the Riverwest area and was actually being built during our trip to Milwaukee last year, just blocks from my cousin’s house. I was happy to get to swing by while we were visiting. This area has seen a lot of renovation and renewal recently and is a perfect spot for a local taproom–think Nordeast Minneapolis. The taproom itself is fairly small and no-frills, but has a northwoods pine vibe and seems comfortable. Most of the folks there seemed to be neighborhood regulars and dogs were in abundance on the outside patio area. We also briefly got to meet co-owner/brewer Tim Eichinger while we were there and he was very friendly. I did not have a bad beer here. Everything I had I rated a 4 or above (on a 0-5 scale)! Favorites were the 12-Dog Imperial Stout and the Sproose 2 IPA (stangely made with a ton of spruce!) Well worth a visit here.
This brewpub was one of the first craft options in the city and opened up in 1997. Right on the Riverwalk in a historic saddlery building, this is a really cool spot right in the middle of all the downtown action. Most (if not all) of the beer is now brewed at the MKE Brewing Company‘s 2nd Street production facility these days. They had a pretty extensive food menu and we had an early dinner inside while tasting through 10 or more beer options. Next time I want to visit the production site! My Untappd wasn’t working well (probably due to the solid brick walls) so I didn’t take great notes on the beers, but liked most of them. The Outboard Cream Ale was surprisingly good for a style is pretty bland in general.
OK, this is really something of a tied house from Madison’s Ale Asylum Brewery and doesn’t brew beer on premise. Still the beers are really nice and the location can’t be beat. This is a very easy walk from the Convention Center and is right on the river. I really liked the Velveteen Habit and the Bock’d & Loaded here.
Great Lakes Distillery
OK, this one isn’t a brewery, but we stopped there and had a cocktail! This is one of the older independant craft distilleries in the Midwest and worth a stop. My friend Joe swears their absinthe is the best to be found in America…I’ll take his word for it! This is an easy walk from the convention center and worth a visit if you like spirits.
I am amazed by how many new breweries have opened in the past 1-2 years here! I didn’t even get to all the places I wanted to as many were in the suburbs and not as easily accessible without driving more. Additionally, the quality of these new breweries is well above average, showing that competition seems to be spurring them on to greatness. Milwaukee has been a craft beer void, which now seems to be filling in nicely. In just one year I feel that the brewing scene in the city has matured and is now only a couple of years behind the Twin Cities–an epic feat for such a short time! I’m excited to visit for next year’s Bead & Button show…