ILLUSTRATIONS BY MELISSA LEE JOHNSON
16 BEERS ON TAP!
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Even though it’s a month until October, Oktoberfest in Wisconsin begins in September, and wherever there is Oktoberfest, there will be beer! Milwaukee was once touted as “the City that Means Beer,” and while that distinction was lost in the late 20th century, the new millennium saw an explosion of craft beer and places that serve it. This issue of Drink looks at a bunch of them and includes a guide to some of the most prominent multi-day Oktoberfests in the greater Milwaukee area.
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Organized by United Donauschwaben of Milwaukee, traditional German dancers, music, beer and food are the name of the game at this Oktoberfest celebration, which also features live German bands Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Be sure to check out the biergarten. Free admission.
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!"#$#%&'%(#)#*$+&#%,-&'*#$.#/&%0123%45%64)7+8-## ::BY SUSAN HARPT GRIMES t’s not just the colors of leaves and the scent and taste of pumpkin spice that signal the arrival of autumn in Wisconsin. Among the popular harvest festivals in the area, more and more folks are raising a stein to celebrate the much-beloved German tradition of Oktoberfest. What exactly is Oktoberfest, you ask? Back in 1810, the crown prince of Bavaria was married on October 12. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in a weeklong celebration with lots of music, dancing, food and drink. People enjoyed it so much, in fact, that it became an annual affair that has endured and spread to far-flung corners of the world like Brazil, Australia and China. In and around Milwaukee, there are several opportunities to experience the fun. So brush up on your German drinking songs and enjoy a frosty mug at one of the many multi-day Oktoberfest near you. Prost!
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For 60 years, happy crowds have gathered to drink beer, enjoy German food, listen to live music and generally revel in all things German at Heidelberg Park. One of the longest running Oktoberfests in the area, it’s popular with young and old alike. Admission is $10; parking is free.
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Combining the best parts of any church festival (Friday fish fry!) with the gemütlichkeit of an Oktoberfest celebration works well at St. Joe’s in Wauwatosa. While the
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face painting, bounce houses and scarecrow making will keep the kids happy, adults will love the stein-holding competition, homebrew competition and live, awardwinning polka band. Free admission.
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Waukesha’s third-annual Oktoberfest features all of the German beer and food you would expect but sets itself apart with unique events like the Wurst Bier Walk/ Run Biathlon (yes, it’s exercise, which also involves eating a brat and drinking a beer), living bronze statues and a multi-tiered Oktoberfest Cake, of which 400 slices are handed out to festival attendees on Saturday. Admission is free, but a $2 wristband (proceeds to charity) is required to buy or consume alcohol.
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If anyone knows how to throw a German-inspired party, it’s going to be the people of Germantown! This festival features a Dachshund Dash, authentic German food and music, a classic car display, a Wisconsin Power Reunion Exhibit, lots of activities for the kids, and, of course, great beer. Admission is free.
The family friendly Milwaukee Oktoberfest celebrates its ninth year—and its first in the radiant shadow of the brand-new Fiserv Forum. Entertainment features wiener dog races, cornhole competitions, live music, Germanthemed food, beer and other activities. Admission is free.
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Family friendly activities that visitors of all ages will enjoy are the highlights of this Oktoberfest. German music, food and drink will all be available, but so will bounce houses, pony rides and hayrides. Visit craft stands and local giftshops or stroll to the lakefront to rejoice in the beautiful fall colors along the shore. Admission is free.
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The charming downtown area of Cedarburg is a perfect backdrop for this Oktoberfest celebration. Consume delicious German beer and traditional foods or dance a polka on a wooden floor. Take in the live glockenspiel show or watch/compete in a German spelling bee or sauerkraut-eating contest. A local merchant marketplace and daily German car shows mean there’s a little something for everyone. Free admission.
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While Milwaukee’s always been known as Brew City, a recent surge in the number of new craft breweries is reiterating the nickname. There are now more than two dozen breweries in the immediate vicinity of Milwaukee, giving you a choice of almost any type of beer you can imagine. Take a tour and head to the taprooms of these breweries or stop at one of the bars on the list known for their commitment to local craft brews.
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With a name paying homage to the year brewing was first done in the city, 1840 doesn’t actually brew on premises. Instead, they purchase their wort—that’s beer before it’s fermented—from local breweries and then ferment and age it, adding unique flavors like fresh raspberries or oak from the barrels. That means the brewery looks more like a bourbon distillery than a brewery with all the barrels holding beer at any given time. Their taproom, which is in a farmhouse, rustic style, is worth a visit for anyone who appreciates unique brews.
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The Bavarian Bierhaus is located in the old Bavarian Inn complex in Glendale. When they
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moved there in 2016, they added a brewery in the back of the main beer hall. The fermentation tanks and brewing equipment lend an appropriate backdrop for the raucous beer hall that often includes live polka music and Green Bay Packers games on a huge big screen. Beers are served in traditional, heavy, German, liter and half-liter glass mugs, and some beers make a showing on the food menu, like in beer cheese sauce for pretzel dipping, too.
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Enjoy a beer at Big Head, and you’ll probably feel like you’re at your best friend’s house. That’s the whole appeal here. The taproom is about as chill as they come with an old piano, beer pong house rules on the wall, hammerschlagen log, a couple of pinball machines, a stack of board games and some makeshift cornhole tourneys. You’ll be drinking in the same room the eclectic mix of beers are brewed, including anything from saison to IPA.
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Inspired by German beer halls, the taproom at Biloba is upscale chic with lots of stained wood, exposed brick, a no-frills bar and large outdoor patio. There are up to a dozen of their beers on tap at any one time, including a selection that are aged in bourbon or wine barrels. Customers are encouraged to bring their own food into the taproom or order delivery, but it’s also a regular occurrence for food trucks to pull up so you can plan to hang out for the evening.
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Started as a homebrew operation in far Northern Wisconsin, Black Husky Brewing moved to Riverwest in 2016. The company is named after the owner’s beloved husky, Howler (you’ll see his picture right behind the bar), and all their beers are named after sled dogs from their son’s kennel. Given that knowledge, it’s unsurprising that the taproom is dog friendly, so bring your pup and enjoy a Sproose double IPA brewed with spruce or their flagship Black Husky pale ale alongside them.
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After recently experiencing a flood in their basement level space which forced them to close for 10 weeks, Broken Bat is back. As the name suggests, the brewery is baseball themed, from the beer names to the baseball cards that line the walls of the restrooms. There
are also TVs above the bar, making it a great place to catch a Brewers game. Their signature brews include an apricot pale ale, cherry hefeweizen, farmhouse ale and Mexican lager.
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Burnhearts is known for being a hipster bar, but everyone feels welcome here, whether you have a perfectly groomed beard and flannel shirt or not. The tap list is pretty legendary and will definitely have a couple things you’ve never heard of before. Check the crowded chalk board tap list behind the bar, because the tap handles are hard to see when it’s crowded. And, unlike most beer bars, this is also a great place to drink a cocktail.
Camino’s specializes in elevated bar food and American craft beers, with 20 rotating selections on tap. You can find customary bar fare such as burgers and chicken wings, but Camino’s staff holds these dishes to the highest standard. The beef for the burgers is brought in fresh four times a week and is ground in house. They also took their time in creating interesting menu items like the Beet Reuben that comes with everything you would find on a traditional Reuben, except the meat is replaced with roasted beets.
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City Lights occupies the former home of the Milwaukee Gas Light Company, a building commissioned in 1902 and designed by local architect Alexander C. Eschweiler. On their brewery tours, you’ll get just as much flavor of the historic building as you do the beer. An amber ale, pale ale, coconut porter and IPA are their signature brews, and you can sip them while munching on a full food menu. There’s even a doggie menu with things like plain hamburger patties that your pup can enjoy on the patio.
Eagle Park recently outgrew their original confines and moved into a new, larger space. Founded by two brothers who both share the hobby of playing music together in a band and brewing beer, their taproom is now large and modern. There are 18 beers on tap, including Set List IPA, a strawberry and Meyer lemon cream ale and an American red ale. There’s also a full food menu with items like duck confit pierogies and smoked brisket sandwich.
lakefront Brewery is the stalwart craft brewery in Milwaukee’s beer scene; taking a hilarious brewery tour at Lakefront is practically a rite of passage for anyone over the age of 21. You’re likely to find at least one of their brews at every bar in the city, especially the Riverwest Stein and Lakefront IPA. Their huge beer hall/taproom offers great food, especially the cheese curds and Friday fish fry, when there’s also live polka music keeping the space hopping.
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Known almost as much for being a restaurant as a brewery, Company Brewing has the full-on, relaxed, Riverwest vibe. There’s live music on the regular here, so between dinner, music and plenty of beer, you’ve got a full night. Most of the taps are the brewery’s own, including Bounce House Session Wheater and Riverwest Radio Red IPA, but you can also get some ciders, mead and kombucha on tap, as well. Don’t miss the Wednesday fried chicken night specials.
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One of the newest breweries on this list, Component started when Eagle Park moved locations. The owner of Eagle Park asked his cousin if he wanted to buy the old brewery equipment and move into the space, and that’s exactly what happened. They started with just four beers but have added to the list quickly, including a Hazy Pineapple IPA, a sour goose, German pils and coffee imperial stout. The taproom is not large, but it’s got plenty of personality.
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“D14” often flies under the radar in Milwaukee, but it’s got some of the most unique brews. Nearly every week, there’s a new beer on tap brewed by the owner. Some are a little out there, like a beer brewed with 30 lbs. of Nerds candy, but some are tamer like a sour blonde aged in a chardonnay barrel. There’s a lot of collaboration with other local breweries, and it’s a little bit mad scientisty, but it’s definitely fun and energetic.
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One of the smallest breweries in the state, Enlightened is located in the industrial Lincoln Warehouse. The taproom isn’t fancy (unless you count the vintage painting of Abraham Lincoln) but, considering the brewing takes place in the same room behind the bar, at least there’s a nice view. Check the chalkboard for the tap list, which sometimes includes a cream ale, porter and amber ale. Order a flight, and your beers will be served in scientific beakers!
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You wouldn’t think to look for a brewery in a mall, but there’s great beer and food coming out of Southridge at Explorium. The brewing is done on site, and there’s a ton of taps to choose from, including Livingstone’s porter, Doc Rae Scotch ale, and a number of rotating seasonals. Pizzas made with beer crust, mussels and fish fry are the food specialties. Head to the outdoor bar and massive patio with fire pit, live music and beer garden seating for a respite from the mall.
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The taproom of Gathering Place is an expansive space with soaring ceilings, mosaic wood walls, basketball court bar top and plenty of seating. The beers are unique and rooted in tradition using local ingredients, like Kickapoo Coffee in the Murdered by Crows stout. Some, like the Josaphat pale ale, are named for local spots. And, to be a productive community member, at least 1% of sales each quarter are donated to local non-profit organizations.
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Milwaukee Brewing has two brewing locations: a small, original location on Second Street and a brand new, much larger space in the former Pabst distribution building. Head to Second Street for intimate brewery tours or go to the new brewery in The 42 for a much sleeker operation with plenty of space. There’s also a full restaurant and bar with a great river walk patio at the MKE Ale House. At any location, sample some of their most popular brews, like the O-Gii wit brewed with Rishi tea and Louie’s Demise amber.
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MobCraft decides what beers to brew by crowdsourcing. That means that anyone can submit ideas for a beer (within reason!), and anyone can vote on which beers they want brewed. That means beer names tend to be silly and flavor combinations unique, like the Liquid Dessert barrel-aged stout with peanuts and maple. Tour the brewery on Fridays and Saturdays, then spend some quality time in the taproom playing foosball and ping pong.
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One of Milwaukee’s best-known “dive bars,” Palm Tavern is also a go-to spot for craft beer drinkers. The dim surrounds hold 25 international tap beers, along with over 120 bottled (not to mention the hundreds of whiskeys and bourbons). It’s an intimate space that people of all walks of life love to hang out in, and it’s been recognized by plenty of publications as one of the best bars in the country.
Good City has been one of the most popular breweries in Milwaukee since opening a few years ago. They’ve expanded their taproom to the vacant space next door and added a rooftop patio where you can sip their Motto mosaic pale ale and Risk IPA. They are also working on a second location at the new Fiserv Forum entertainment space where they’re planning a sour and experimental brewing along with taproom and event space.
Raised Grain’s taproom is the place to be to watch Wisconsin sporting events while drinking one of the 13 beers on tap, like Door Jam Cherry IPA with Door County cherries or Six Stone Scotch ale. The brewery also has its own food truck, serving during most taproom hours with a menu of specialty pizzas like the Notorious P.I.G. with candied bacon and smoked jalapeño. Tours of the brewery are available every Saturday afternoon.
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Third Space is a playful, energetic brewery, thanks mostly to its owners who believe that helping other small brewers benefits the whole community. Their Happy Place Midwest pale ale has quickly become a local favorite. Tour the brewery on most Saturdays (one of the owners will probably be your tour guide) and then hang out in the large taproom and dog-friendly beer garden. There’s usually a food truck hanging out too, so check the schedule on their website.
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Located in a building dating back to 1885, Romans’ was once a hub for bootleggers during Prohibition. Now it’s known as a microbrew bar, thanks to owner Mike Romans deciding to make that switch back in the 1990s. There are 30+ taps, and Romans will be happy to tell you all about any of them. Groups like bachelor parties and pub crawls are not permitted, and you can either see that as a curmudgeonly policy or a way to be sure Romans’ is a respite for serious beer drinkers.
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Beers are brewed in super-small batches a few times a week at Urban Harvest, so you know the beer you’re drinking in the inviting, industrial taproom is fresh. There are 16 taps, including signatures 414 golden ale and Black Puppy pale ale. Since it’s so small, tours and tastings take place in the on-site theater. They are only offered on the second and fourth Saturday of each month and focus on either seasonal beer or their signature brews, so plan ahead.
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St. Francis Brewery employs a vaguely religious theme, and that includes their beer names. Lust is a Weiss bier, Sloth is a brown ale and Envy is an IPA. They run a full restaurant and bar with the usual pub foods, steaks, seafood, pizza and salads. They’re also the operators of the Craft Beer Garden at Humboldt Park, where they pour their brews, serve sausages, pizza and snacks and host events like trivia night and pig roasts.
Vennture is a brand new, well, venture, that combines a brewery and a coffee shop into one place. The beer is brewed downstairs and right now includes eight options—from Gregory, an oatmeal coffee stout, to Cat Shirts, a sour IPA with hints of tangerine and pineapple. On the coffee side, there’s pour over, cold brew, espresso and tea, with coffee beans sourced from all over. Belly up to the bar for either coffee or beer or find a table near the open garage doors in summer.
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There are 53 taps available at Stubby’s, so no matter what you’re taste, you’re going to find something you like and probably have never had before. If you’re having trouble deciding on a beer, check out the staff picks on the chalkboards above the bar. Take advantage of the weekday happy hour, when every tap will be at least $1 off, with some being half price. And, if all that beer makes you hungry, grab a burger from their full menu.
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Westallion is the first craft brewery in West Allis, and, like its city, is a little bit industrial and down-to-earth. The beer names, too, are an homage to ‘Stallis, including the Western Days Vienna lager (remember that festival?) and the Harvey’s Wallbangin’ Wee Heavy Scottish ale. The taproom, which is sparse but welcoming, hosts live music and a shuffleboard table. Tours are offered every Saturday afternoon and include unlimited samples.
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