Our Summer Brewery Tour of Wisconsin began with a visit to Madison, then the small town of New Glarus, next it was time to move on to one of the USA’s original major brewing cities, Milwaukee, which has seen the likes of Leinenkugel, Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, as well as many others.
The drive from New Glarus took less than two hours and after checking into our hotel it was time for something to eat and a beer so we called into Mo’s Irish Pub on the corner of the same block. The food was great and here was our choice of beers:
- Franziskaner Hefe-weissbier – a tall 23oz glass of this superb Weissbier is perfect on a summer’s day.
- New Glarus Serendipity – $4.75 for a small wine glass was rather steep when you can buy a 750ml bottle for $8.99.
- New Glarus Totally Naked – a very drinkable light lager.
- Hinterland Luna Coffee Stout – the beer was nice but $9.50 for a 500ml bottle was tough to swallow.
Once we had refuelled it was time to start our brewery visits beginning with Lakefront Brewery which we had booked online for $7 each. This brewery is located by the river which runs parallel to Water Street and is great to walk along to avoid the busy roads.
Inside resembles a German beer hall and is very modern considering the building was originally a city-owned power plant. We were directed to the Gift Shop and handed over our tickets in exchange for four tokens and a plastic glass. We could exchange each token for a 6oz draft beer or 2 tokens for a 12oz bottled beer before, during and after the tour.
Below are the beers that we drank during our visit together with tasting notes and a rating out of five:
- Riverwest Stein (Vienna Lager – 5.6% ABV): malty and fruity – 3.5
- Wisconsinite Summer Weiss (Weissbier – 4.4% ABV): very citrusy – 3.5
- Fuel Café Organic Coffee Stout (Stout on Nitro – 6.4% ABV): smooth and roasty with a creamy tan head – 3.5
- Klisch Pilsner (Bohemian or Czech Pilsner – 5.6% ABV): slightly sweet and highly carbonated – 3.0
- Beer Line Organic Barley Wine (American Barleywine – 12.5% ABV): plenty of caramel and body – 4.0*
* denotes our favorite from the above beers.
At 5pm we went on our tour which comprised of a talk explaining about the history of the brewery and brewing in general. We then had an opportunity to refill our glasses before continuing the tour with a brief walk through the brewery which smelled great as they were brewing their Pumpkin Ale so spices were in the air. This was followed by a talk in the loading dock about bottling and kegging beer.
Key points raised during the tour were the following:
- Brewery opened in 1987 using converted diary equipment.
- In their first year they brewed 11 barrels of beer but only sold one.
- Moved location in 1997 to the current building which was bought for $1 from the city.
- The three sculptures at the front of the brewery are made from the original old fermenter tanks.
- In 2013 43k barrels (BBL) were brewed and they expect to produce about 48k in 2014.
- New Grist is their gluten-free Pilsner with a 5.1% ABV which uses sorghum and rice extract instead of barley.
- Pelletized hops are used for brewing rather than whole flower hops.
- Yeast is reused 10-15 generations.
- Ales are fermented for 2-4 weeks whilst lagers take 3-6 weeks, these times include ageing.
- 1/3 of beer is kegged whilst 2/3 is bottled.
- Bottling line fills at a rate of 180 bottles per minute with only around a case of miss-fills per day.
- Kegging is carried out by cleaning with caustic, sanitizing with iodine, flushing with CO2, then filling with beer.
- Bottled beer is generally best consumed within 6 months.
- Distribution covers 39 states and internationally including Canada, Brazil, China, Israel (as their beer is kosher).
- The brewhouse is 50 BBLs in size.
Once the brewery tour was over we exchanged our plastic glasses for Lakefront pint glasses and were also given a voucher for a Lakefront beer the same day at any one of 11 other city locations. Before leaving Milwaukee we managed to pick up 2 4-packs of their Barley Wine as well as getting a 6-pack of their Eastside Dark Ale to try.
Sprecher Beer Garden
Earlier the same day we had walked past a sign advertising a Beer Garden that was going to different locations within Milwaukee and was being run by Sprecher Brewing in conjunction with the County Parks service.
After leaving Lakefront Brewery we decided to check it out as it was on the way back to our hotel. The bar was being run out of an old converted fire truck and there were benches and tables setup outside the front of Starbucks which gave everyone access to rest-room facilities.
There were a selection of 12 different beers on tap covering a variety of styles and you could purchase them as 5 x 5oz samplers for $7.75 (with a $20 refundable deposit on the glasses), $5.50 for a pint (keep the glass) and $4.50 for a refill, plus there was the option of a 1 liter Mass.
We opted for a sampler and selected the following beers (left to right in the photo):
- Abbey Triple (Belgian Triple – 8.5% ABV): plenty of banana and fruity – 4.0*
- Black Bavarian (Schwartzbier – 6.0%): roasty and malty with slight coffee – 3.5
- Pub Brown Ale (English Brown Ale – 4.5% ABV): fruity and caramel – 3.5
- Oktoberfest (Marzen – 5.5% ABV): smooth, clean, subtle malt – 3.5
- Hefe Weiss (Weissbier – 4.2% ABV): banana and cloves – 4.0*
* denotes our favorites from the above sampler.
The overall quality of the beers were very good, the weather was great and there was a nice atmosphere as people seemed to be enjoying this event. As an added bonus there was free Root Beer available.
The following evening we made a return visit and in addition to the Hefe Weiss and Abbey Triple we also had an Oktoberfest but this time by the pint which gave us three glasses to take home and reduced price refills.
Whilst walking along the river we had noticed in the distance up on the hill a large Pabst sign in amongst a group of old buildings which looked very much like a brewery so we searched online and found Best Place at the historical Pabst brewery so the next day we decided to go and check it out.
Best Place turned out to be located in what was originally a school house that was later purchased by the Pabst Brewery and turned into offices and Blue Ribbon Hall which has been featured in a number of TV commercials.
Entry was $8 and included a pint of PBR or Schlitz or for an additional $1 you could have a pint of anything else on draft. The tour comprised of a 45 minute talk accompanied by a number of video clips and presentation then a walk around the building which is gradually being turned into a function hall.
Key points picked up on the tour include:
- Jacob Best, a German immigrant, setup Best Brewing Company in 1844 making Best Beer.
- The brewery eventually changed its name to Pabst which means ‘Pope’ in German.
- Milwaukee’s growth was largely due to the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 which destroyed all of its breweries and during the rebuilding the workers needed beer so were supplied by breweries located in Milwaukee 90 miles due north.
- Pabst Select won a medal at the 1883 World Fair held in Chicago which had a silk blue ribbon attached to the neck of each bottle. Eventually the beer was renamed to Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) but had the letter ‘B’ incorporated into the logo to honor the brewery’s origins of being called Best Brewing.
- Pabst survived Prohibition (1920-1933) by making fruit juice, cheese, and selling malt extract. The cheese rights were eventually sold to Kraft who still make it today under the brand name ‘Velveeta’.
- Pabst was at its height of production in 1977 with 18m barrels being sold per year but declined in the 1980’s with the breweries being closed in the 1990’s.
- Pabst is the largest US-owned brewery with MillerCoors being owned by SAB (South African Breweries) and Anheuser-Busch being owned by InBev (from Belgium).
It turns out that Pabst no longer own any breweries but instead contract brew at various locations around the country so Best Place is in effect turning itself into a museum to try and preserve what it can of Pabst’s history as once being the biggest brewery in the world.
At the end of the tour we finished up in the Best Place Tavern which has a courtyard for enjoying a beer outside if so desired.
The Pabst brewery comprised of 28 buildings of which 14 remain and are being converted into offices, housing, student accommodation and one has been turned into The Brewhouse Inn & Suites which has retained the very impressive 6 original copper Brew Kettles as its centrepiece on the 2nd floor.
Water Street Brewery – Downtown
Next stop after our trip up on the hill was to the Water Street Brewery who have two brewing locations and an additional two restaurants. Inside you could see the brewery behind a glass wall and in one of the rooms there are three walls of beer cans – a very impressive collection.
Whilst here we enjoyed the following sampler (top-left to bottom-right in photo):
- Honey Light Lager (American Light Lager – 4.2% ABV, 6.6 IBU’s): honey aroma and flavor – 3.0
- Maibock (6.7% ABV, 20 IBU’s): sweet malty flavor – 4.0*
- Bavarian Weiss (Weissbier – 4.6% ABV, 5 IBU’s): some banana and a lot of cloves – 3.0
- Raspberry Weiss (Fruit Beer – 4.2% ABV, 5 IBU’s): raspberry aroma and tart flavor – 3.5
- Black Eye PA (Black IPA – 6.7% ABV, 60 IBU’s): made with midnight wheat, bitter, malty and hoppy) – 3.0
- Oktoberfest (Marzen – 5.0% ABV, 17 IBU’s): malty, caramel and full body – 3.0
- Victory Amber (American Amber Ale – 4.5% ABV, 20 IBU’s): subtle caramel but little maltiness – 2.5
- Punch You In The Eye PA (American IPA – 6.5% ABV, 65 IBU’s): bittered with Magnum, dry-hopped with Willamette and Chinook, grapefruit flavor – 3.5
- Peche Sour: uses the Bavarian Weiss recipe with peach extract giving a perfume peach aroma – 3.0
- Medium Cider: brewed for the State Fair – 3.5
* denotes our favorite in the above sampler.
Rock Bottom Brewery
Next up on our tour of Milwaukee was the Rock Bottom Brewery, we visited one whilst in Denver and were pleased with their beers and food so decided this location would make a great stop for dinner especially with it being located right next to the river.
We sat outside and selected the following sampler (left to right in photo):
- Liquid Sun (American Light Lager – 4.0% ABV, 13 IBU’s): light and smooth – 3.0
- Minger Weiss (Weissbier – 5.2% ABV, 13 IBU’s): color is off-putting, lots of banana with no clove – 2.5
- Naughty Scot (Strong Scotch Ale – 7.2% ABV, 20 IBU’s): smooth, toffee and good mouth-feel) – 4.0*
- Schwartz Hacker Dark Ale (Schwartzbier – 5.7% ABV, 20 IBU’s): light roast and malty – 4.0*
- Summer Honey Ale (American Premium Lager – 5.5% ABV, 24 IBU’s): could not detect the honey – 3.0
- North Star Amber Ale (Altbier – 6.2% ABV, 24 IBU’s): malty with slight caramel aroma, some bitterness – 3.5
* denotes our favorites in the above sampler.
If you have any comments or questions on this article please leave them below. Our next article covers our remaining day in Milwaukee which probably turned out to be the most enjoyable.