Think beer. Think Milwaukee.

The 1840s sees the advent of the beer business in Milwaukee, since it is the beverage of choice preferred by the influx of German immigrants to the city — while most of the earlier Yankee settlers preferred whiskey. It helps that most saloonkeepers lay out a free lunch of sausage and cheese. In 1860, Wisconsin has almost 200 commercial breweries, some 40 in Milwaukee alone. Milwaukee eventually becomes home to four of the world’s largest breweries: Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. Here are a few important dates along that way to beer fame.


Brew Town Revival 


What goes around, comes around. Especially when it pertains to Milwaukee’s brewing scene. In the early 1800s, numerous taverns and restaurants produced their own froth, often in the basement cellar and hauled upstairs to slake the thirst of discerning patrons. As these entrepreneurs expanded operations, they built larger facilities, hired more workers, developed marketing programs and, ein prosit!, Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, Gettelman and other brands seemingly were everywhere drinkers gathered.

That process is being repeated, with the appearance of numerous excellent microbreweries and brew pubs popping up around the metro Milwaukee area. New faces appear almost monthly. Mike Brenner, a brewing entrepreneur, is just back from Chicago after 12 weeks in the Windy City enrolled in the Siebel Institute of Technology’s Master Brewer program.

“It was a dream come true. Brewery tours, malting facility visits, local cuisine and Chicago’s amazing beer bars made it a life-changing experience,” Brenner says. The program included three weeks of hands-on training at the Doemens Academy in Munich, where Brenner learned even more of the finer points of brewing, bottling and filtering.
Brenner’s path is much the same as that taken generations earlier by many of the city’s famed brewers, such as Jos. Schlitz president Joseph Uihlein, who studied brewing at the Alfred Jorgensen fermentation laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark.

So belly up to the bar and try something new. The following are some best places to start a local beer trek.

Delafield Brewhaus

The friendly lights of the Brewhaus have been seen on the south side of I-94 since it opened in 1999. The restaurant has seven to 10 different house brews on tap, with its own Dock Light, Delafield Amber, Pewaukee Porter and Sommerzeit Hefe Weizenn, always available. Look for seasonals that include a spring release of its pale Naga-Wicked Pale Ale and the autumn’s Dragonfly Lager, along with summer’s berry beers. These latter are growing in popularity, even with macho bikers.

“Folks are excited about the range of beers we can offer,” says brewmaster John Harrison. “You walk in our front door and immediately see the brewing process. I call it ‘in your face’ brewing. So you know you are getting a fresh, good brew made right here. It’s part of the lure,” says Harrison. For the Brewhaus’ May 3 anniversary blowout, Harrison is preparing a dynamite Russian Imperial Stout aged in 55-gallon rye whiskey barrels. “That’s a rich, deep, thick stout we serve in a brandy snifter,” he says.

3832 Hillside Drive, Delafield  •  (262) 646-7821


Water Street Brewery

Since 1987, Water Street has been a fixture on Milwaukee’s trendy lower East Side bar ’hood. The company opened a Delafield restaurant in 1999 and Grafton in 2010. Water Street offers a honey lager, Bavarian and raspberry weiss, a pale ale and the always-fabulous Water Street amber for a nod to its original site. A wide range of intriguing brewery memorabilia, from beer trays to tappers, can be admired at all three brew pub locales. As they say at Water Street, “Come for the beer, but stay for the food.”

“People love variety and being able to try new brews. Microbrews offer an array of different flavors and styles, offering a beer for everyone,” says Tina Lukowitz, the brewery’s marketing manager, pointing out that Water Street Brewery was Milwaukee’s first brew pub and one of the first 50 brew pubs in America. With its latest facilities in Lake Country and Grafton, she adds “Our guests love being able to get a meal, in a great atmosphere, with a variety of microbrews brewed on premise.”

1101 N. Water St., Milwaukee  •  (414) 272-1195
3191 Golf Road, Delafield  •  (262) 646-7878
2615 Washington St., Grafton  •  (262) 375-2222


St. Francis Brewery and Restaurant

The brewery has a mellow golden ale with a smooth crisp taste; a Bohemian-style Pilsner; a filtered amber ale dazzled with four different styles of hops; and an English-inspired, medium bodied nut brown ale. Hearty drinkers love the brewmaster Scott Hettig’s oatmeal stout that is still surprisingly light despite its chocolatey flavor; while his weissbeir is made in the traditional Bavarian mode with banana and clove flavors for that special punch.

“People are really looking for something different. That’s why they come here,” says general manager Sue DeGeorge. “We have 212 people in our Mug Club, with 150 on the waiting list. Whenever (brewmaster) Scott (Hettig) comes up with a new beer, they get to sample it before everyone else.”

3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., St. Francis  •  (414) 744-4448


Big Bay Brewing Co

After launching its first brews in November of last year, Big Bay’s grand opening of its Oakland Avenue tasting room is finally set for March 20 to coincide with the spring equinox. In addition to this new outlet, fans of the brewery’s Boatilla amber ale and Wavehopper can still get their beverages at North Star Bistro and many Sendik’s outlets, as well as other area liquor stores such as Otto’s Wine & Spirits. Big Bay is brewed under license with the Milwaukee Brewing Co.

“We’re sort of the new guy on the block,” says owner Jeff Garwood. “But there’s a great opportunity to be a small brewer in Wisconsin and particularly in Milwaukee.” According to Garwood, everyone has a “go-to-beer” they drink regularly, but many drinkers like to branch out and try something new on occasion. “They want to see what’s out there and to have fun with it.”

4517 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood  •   (888) 9OH-BUOY (964-2869)


The Horny Goat Hideaway/Brewing Co.
2011 S. 1st St., Milwaukee     (414) 482-4628 

The Horny Goat has one of the largest outdoor patios in the area, perfect for views of the Kinnickinnic River. Opened 2009, the brew pub offers several popular labels made under contract with Stevens Point Brewery. The selections include Exposed, a light-colored farmhouse-style ale brewed with wheat, oats and malted barley; and Hopped Up ‘n Horny, an American pale ale with a great malt bite. The Goat also produces a Belgian witbier, accented by orange peel. The Horny Blonde is a light-bodied lager, while the Horny Goat Red Vixen offers a reddish-amber hue and a foamy head. Stacked Milk Stout is made as a traditional English stout that is more creamy than an Irish stout. Among the brewery’s seasonal presentations is a Munich-style Octoberfest amber and the Nutcracker, similar to a Bavarian wheat bock.

“People are looking for higher quality items these days,” says Horny Goat owner Jim Sorenson. “That’s why there’s the rise in the microbrewery business. And if you are going to build a brewery in any city, it has to be Milwaukee, especially with its history. The more microbreweries you have, the better it is.”

 Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce St., Milwaukee
     (414) 372-8800 

Launched in 1987, Lakefront produces a great range of beers from its home in the former Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. power plant on the west bank of the Milwaukee River. For its tours, guests have a beverage first, unlike some other facilities where the drink comes last. The brewery makes several ales: Wheat Monkey, Cream City pale, Organic Extra Special Bitter (E.S.B.), Fuel Cafe Stout and an India pale. Among its lagers are Riverwest Stein, Eastside Dark and Klisch Pilsner. It also has a variety of seasonals, including a Pumpkin Lager, made in conjunction with Great Lakes Distillery; and its “Pure Milwaukee Genius Series,” with a special reserve and American red ales among others. Its New Grist gluten-free beer is made from sorghum and rice.

“In the last 20 to 30 years, the customer has become better educated about the different craft beer styles,” says Russ Klisch, co-owner of Lakefront. “The desire of Americans in general to want more taste, flavor and variety in all their foods including beer, and the amount of different ingredients that are available to craft brewers to create new innovative tasty styles of beer, has caused the craft beer market to grow in double digits,” he adds.

 Milwaukee Ale House
233 N. Water St., Milwaukee        (414) 276-BEER (2337)
1208 13th Ave., Grafton
     (262) 375-BEER (2337) 

Taking over the century-old Saddlery Building in the Third Ward in 1997, the Ale House is one of the granddaddies of the city’s brew pub scene. Its fresh beers capitalize on Milwaukee’s heritage, with the Solomon Juneau Extra Pale Ale (E.P.A.), Louie’s Demise amber, Pull Chain pail ale, the robust Sheepshead Irish-style stout and Ulao, a straw-colored Belgian punched up with hints of ginger, orange peel and cracked coriander. It also serves several seasonals. In addition to its beer selection, the Ale House is noted for its music and restaurant, with views overlooking the Milwaukee River and its six boat slips.

 Silver Creek Brewing Co.
N57 W6172 Portland Road, Cedarburg   •  (262) 375-4444  

A Pacific Coast light-bodied lager, India pale, weiss and Silver Creek porter with its dynamite clean finish have put this brew pub on the North Shore beverage map. Fans also come here for the variety of tappers, including Big Skye Moose Drool Brown Ale and a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, along with bottled specialty beers with nifty titles such as MacQueen’s Nessie Whiskey Scotch Ale. The company is located in the venerable Cedarburg Mill, dating from 1855 in downtown Cedarburg. For value added on Thursday nights, patrons can purchase a Silver Creek logo pint, with beer, for $5 and get refills for a buck discount.

 Sprecher Brewing Co.
701 W. Glendale Ave., Milwaukee
     (414) 964-7837

When Randy Sprecher launched his brewery in 1985, few drinkers around Milwaukee really knew much about microbrews. Sprecher was the first to start up a small brewery here since Prohibition punched out the lights on Milwaukee’s beer and spirits industry. It’s a different world now, particularly when the Sprecher operation continues to pull in awards, including eight top medals at the 2010 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. The firm presents one of the heftiest lineups of beers in the region, ranging from Russian Imperial Stout to an India pale ale once favored by British troops on the Subcontinent. It also produces enough seasonals to overflow a beer wagon.
“Do I like beer? Of course; it’s my life!” says Randy Sprecher. “My favorite is our Black Bavarian, and others based on weather and mood. Am I a beer-a-day guy? Sure, it’s an occupational hazard. My new fun is developing the newer markets that find Sprecher to their liking.”

 Stonefly Brewing Co
735 E. Center St., Milwaukee
    (414) 264-3630

One can hardly get any more local than Stonefly, located in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, The labels alone are worth a try: Mustache Ride pale ale, Six-finger IAP, Four Wolves English Ale, Brass Knuckle Blonde, Brewtown Brown, Pierce Street Port, an oatmeal stout and its Simon Bagley Stout. “Make beer, not war,” is the company’s common-sense suggestion. This is the place to hang out for music by the likes of Animals in Human Attire and Ex Fabula. “Drinkers appreciate the greater complexity of craft beers, no disrespect to the Millers and Buds,” asserts Julia LaLoggia, co-owner of Stonefly, adding that “all have their place.” As people develop their palates in food and drink, they are growing to enjoy the varieties of microbrews, she adds.

Beer Lover’s Paradise

There aren’t a lot of places around Beertown where a dedicated drinker can imbibe a Southern Tier Krampus Imperial Helles Lager from New York or a Gubna Imperial India Pale from the Oska Blues brewery in Colorado, much less a Zywiec lager from Poland. But beer lovers in the know make the pilgrimage to Roman’s Pub on Kinnickinnic Avenue where they can imbibe in brews they may not be able to find in the local liquor store.

Owner Mike Romans loves his beer and history. The pub is located in a historic 1885 building that was once a stagecoach stop and roadhouse.
A great neighborhood saloon, this long-ago speakeasy features a regularly rotating roster of brews. In fact, Romans has up to 30 often hard-to-find new draft micros on a regular basis.

The pub was owned by the same family from 1919 until purchased in 1978 by Romans, 57. He began specializing in craft beers from around the world in the mid-1990s, then added cigars and wines to his stock. He has no problem with the state’s smoke-free legislation, either. Puffers can sit out on his heated back deck and order beverages through a window, “just like Dairy Queen,” the bar owner chuckles. Only peanuts, chips and assorted snacks are available, but Roman allows carry-ins and even provides paper plates.
Décor is eclectic, with loads of beer memorabilia, old advertising and drinking-related paraphernalia. Although the building can be easily missed on a quick drive-by, look
for the elaborate Paulaner Munchen bracket with its Romans’ Pub sign above the entrance.

Romans personally favors Goose Island Pale Ale, with his place being the Chicago brewery’s No. 1 tavern in its 17-state distribution range. “I go through about five barrels a month; they say I drink half of it,” he laughs.

To find his beers, Romans searches the Internet and relies on his distributors for new tastes. “Knowing what’s good comes from the experience of being in this business for so long,” he asserts.