Milwaukee is a beer city. For some time, it was pretty much Beerville U.S.A., thanks to the Miller Brewing Company’s operations there. It’s still a robust beer-drinking town, with plenty of great bars, pioneering craft breweries like Sprecher, Lakefront and Milwaukee Brewing Company, and of course, a professional baseball team named for beer makers. But this year, Milwaukee’s seen a noticeable bump in breweries and bars, with at least nine new or coming-soon breweries and bars dotting the city. Why now? “We’ve been brewing in this city for 150 years, and we’ve had a few craft breweries for about 25 years. What it didn’t have until this year was the startup, newer, smaller breweries,” says brewer Kevin Wright, who plans to open Third Space Brewing this summer. “The population here loves beer and loves local. I think a lot of people over the last few years saw the same chance I did.” Broken Bat co-founder Tim Pauly echoes his sentiment: “A lot of people were intimidated by the tower of Miller being in Milwaukee, but there’s a lot of beer drinkers and a lot of room for new breweries. We want to create a town where you could hit up four or five nearby breweries in a day.” Here’s where to drink in the results of that beer boom:
Urban Harvest Brewing Company [open]
Open since April 9, Urban Harvest is a brewery and taproom that’s the culmination of founder Steve Pribek’s 17 years of homebrewing experience. A few years ago, he and his father attended a homebrew festival in Milwaukee and set up a tent with a dozen or so of their brews; attendees asked them which liquor stores carried the beers, or where their brewery was. Pribek was encouraged and decided to go pro, finally finding a 3,600-square-foot industrial space in the Walker’s Point neighborhood. It now houses the two-barrel brewing system, a taproom and a 50-seat theater (the building was, at one point, a theater) for special events. A quasi-anniversary event on July 15 will celebrate a year since Urban Harvest received the keys to the building; look for a rerelease of a blood orange wit, an espresso amber and core brews including Black Puppy Pale Ale and Corkscrew IPA, a dry-hopped IPA brewed with cabernet-soaked oak chips.
Third Space Brewing [coming soon]
Milwaukee native Kevin Wright attended brewing school at U.C. Davis and became director of brewing and production at Redlands, California’s Hangar 24, but he knew he eventually wanted to come home. He teamed up with his best friend since childhood, now a corporate attorney, to make his plan work. The two plan to open their brewery, Third Space, in a 100-year-old building in The Menomonee Valley by the end of August. It will include a 30-barrel brewing system (visible from the taproom), a rear beer garden and hopefully a packaging line by early 2017. Third Space is a term coined by a sociologist in the 1980s to describe the community centers where people congregate: not work, not home, but a third space. As for the beers, Wright describes his style as “West Coast-inspired, but with Midwest balance,” and he says he’s focused primarily on consistent quality and drinkability. Look for the beers at the taproom as well as around town in a small self-distribution footprint soon after opening.
Black Husky Brewing [coming soon]
When Pembine, Wisconsin’s Black Husky Brewing outgrew the repurposed dairy equipment it was using to brew about 300 barrels of beer annually, the owners felt it was time for a move to Milwaukee. They found a new spot in the River West district in a 1920s-era former auto garage, which will allow it to expand to about 2,000 barrels of yearly production with a taproom, growler sales and a modest beer garden (owners have their eyes on a fire pit for the garden, stay tuned). Core brews will remain the same, led by hop-forward beers including the Simcoe-heavy Pale Ale and Sproose IPA, brewed with, yeah, spruce. Look for a grand opening before the end of June.
Good City Brewing [open]
A trio with varying backgrounds in the beer industry—one, a founder of a brewery crowdfunding platform called CraftFund; one, a real estate developer who’d worked with breweries; one, a brewer, formerly of Goose Island and Lakefront—are behind this brewery that opened at the tail end of June on Milwaukee’s East Side. They converted the former Crank Daddy’s Bicycle Shop building into a 120-seat taproom, pub and brewery with a maximum annual output of 10,000 barrels. Guy Davies, former executive chef at The Rumpus Room, has come on board to handle the food menu; beers range from hop-heavy stuff like a Mosaic pale ale and a session IPA to a pilsner, a porter and a coming-soon imperial stout. Crowlers are available now, and Good City hopes to add a canning line shortly.
Broken Bat Brewery [coming soon]
Two Milwaukee natives (and best friends) are behind this coming-soon brewery that plans to open in the Third Ward neighborhood by April 2017. Actually, the team is shooting for Major League Baseball’s opening day next year, since “heavily baseball-themed” is how co-founder Tim Pauly describes the brewery. Pauly says they’re ready to answer the call for popular styles like IPAs and sour beers, but also want to create a well-rounded, easy-drinking lineup that, naturally, is a go-to stop before or after a ballgame. Initially, Broken Bat will focus distribution in Milwaukee, but may make a push to minor league and independent league ballparks around the Midwest. The pipe dream, though? “A booth in Miller Park, obviously,” Pauly says.
The Explorium brewpub [coming soon]
Mike Doble’s parents and two brothers are all in the brewing business (his parents and one brother at Florida’s Tampa Bay Brewing Co., his other brother at North Carolina’s Aviator Brewing Co.), so Doble’s had a lot of guidance in planning The Explorium brewpub, which he hopes to open by year’s end in Greendale, Wisconsin, a small village 20 minutes’ drive southwest of Milwaukee. Located inside the Southridge Mall, The Explorium will brew its own beer as well as serve a menu of dishes that make use of the beer, including Scotch ale and cheese dip and shepherd’s pie topped with stout gravy. The brew line-up includes a spectrum from lighter styles (blonde ale, golden lager, wheat beer) to darker, more intense styles (IPA, imperial porter, barleywine). Brewery tours are also in the mix.
Lost Valley Cider Co. [open]
Cider and mead aren’t left out of the beer wave crashing over Milwaukee right now; Lost Valley, a cider bar and bottle shop, opened June 1 in Walker’s Point with more than 20 ciders on tap, three draft meads and a 100-plus-bottle retail area selling both cider and mead. The draft menu divides ciders into four categories: apple-focused; fruit-focused; herb and spice ciders; and international ciders; with a range from dry to sweet within each category. Lost Valley doesn’t have a full kitchen, but it does offer cider-friendly snacks such as locally made Clock Shadow Creamery cheese boards. The bar’s small size allows it to pick up interesting ciders from self-distributing cider houses, says owner Stuart Rudolph, citing favorites including Madison, Wisconsin’s Restoration Cider and Mineral Point, Wisconsin’s Cider Farm. Sunday cider appreciation classes have proven popular; sign up for those via Lost Valley’s website.
MobCraft Beer [open]
The formerly Madison, Wisconsin-based brewery, known for its crowdsourced beer ideas, moved to Milwaukee and quietly opened a Walker’s Point taproom in early July (expect a true grand opening in August). MobCraft plans to offer those crowdsourced beers, as well as specialties and flagships, with potential for food and events down the road. Keep up with updates via Twitter and Facebook.
City Lights Brewing Company [coming soon]
The Milwaukee Gas Light Company is a red-bricked former coal gasification plant with a memorable tower; soon it will be home to the aptly named City Lights Brewing Co., which hopes to open at the beginning of November. Cofounders Jimmy Graham and his father previously run Sand Creek Brewing Co., which through a contract brewing agreement produced the 4 Brothers Blended Beer Co. line of beers. Jimmy has since completed the American Brewers Guild intensive brewing science and engineering program and has a totally new line-up of beers planned for City Lights, including a core IPA, session IPA, amber and brown ale. City Lights plans to open a taproom as well as a beer garden on the brewing campus (notably, the buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright mentor Alexander Eschweiler).