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Modern-day Bavaria
As the city shifts its focus to craft beer, local taverns, brew lovers and even studio artists adapt and thrive

Photos by Matt Haas

October 2015


Ever since Louis Trayer opened his Zum Deuschen Little Tavern at State and Water streets in 1837, Milwaukeeans have taken their beer drinking seriously. As early as 1843, pioneer historian James Buck recorded 138 taverns in the city — an average of one per 40 residents. Covering three full pages of the 1873 city directory were 501 drinking establishments. Currently, there are around 300 licensees for Milwaukee proper and its almost 600,000 residents.

Add that number to the growing number of bars in outlying environs, including the new Beer Snobs Ale and Eats in Hartland and Germantown’s Von Rothenburg Bier Stube, and the thirsty can be accommodated just about anywhere in the area. That is, except for River Hills, a beverage stand-alone with no bars.

Wisconsin remains among the top five states with the most consumption of suds — state residents supposedly down about 36 gallons per person per year, according to professional beer counters who know these sorts of things.

Over the past few decades, the expanding craft beer and import business has Milwaukee going gangbusters with good pours and hearty varieties. The following are among the many great places to find beer, and lots of it.

The Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln Ave., offers 60 American craft beers on draft. Call (414) 481-2393 to get the latest staff picks.

World of Beer, 418 N. Mayfair Road, (262) 770-3902. What better place to down a power-packed Fascist Pig amber ale from Finch’s Beer Co.?

Draft and Vessel, 4417 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 533-5599. Pick up a 32-ounce growler of Capital Jobu Rum Barrel Aged Brown Ale for a mere $19.

Cafe Centraal, 2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 755-0378. More than 100 "biers" await here, from A (Achel 8 Blonde from Belgium’s Brouwerij der Trappistenabdij De Achelse Kluis) to Y (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout from Bedford, England).

Roman’s Pub, 3475 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 481-3396. Imbibe Magazine calls Roman’s one of the best places in the country to drink beer. Of course, it was the Metropolitan Heliostat Zwickel Lager and the Bells Consecrator Doppelbock that helped Roman’s make the cut.

A Family Affair

Weissgerber heir on preserving his heritage

It doesn’t take much for Milwaukee biermeister Hans Weissgerber III to talk about his appreciation of malt and hops, enthusing, "Why wouldn’t one love beer? It’s glorious."

Weissgerber, scion of a proper Milwaukee German family, is managing director of HB Milwaukee Inc., owner of the Old German Beer Hall and instrumental in helping kick off Milwaukee County’s beer garden program.

As for history, Weissgerber points out that the city firmly established its place in the world as a brewing leader in the mid-1800s. Despite the demise of many of the city’s legendary breweries a century later, he says, "Our thirst for beer has kept Milwaukee in the forefront of the beer world."

Growing up in a Teutonic clan that owned and operated local restaurants over several generations, Weissgerber was 6 or 7 years old when he tasted his first beer. "Beer and wine were always part of our dining and social rituals. My sister and I had 2-ounce glasses for toasts at family gatherings. It was never a big deal for us. It was just an everyday thing," he explains.

After visiting Bavaria and the Munich Hofbräuhaus as a teenager, Weissgerber realized that there was a universal element of fun and frivolity in his heritage. "As I got older and to a point where I could do my own thing, I wanted to share the Gemütlichkeit," he emphasizes. "Yet it seemed like Milwaukee’s legendary German restaurants and bars kept closing, and there was another Irish pub or Italian restaurant opening all the time."

So he felt compelled to create a snapshot of a modern day German beer hall with traditions rooted in the history of both Bavaria and Milwaukee and subsequently opened his popular Old German Beer Hall at 1009 N. Old World Third St.

Naturally, it’s the beer, always the beer. "Milwaukee’s craft brewing scene is very respectable," according to Weissgerber. "Sprecher, Lakefront and Milwaukee Brewing Co. have shown that Milwaukee can sustain actual stand-alone breweries and not just brewpubs," he adds.

"When it comes to social life in Milwaukee, the tavern is iconic. I have yet to find another city in America that has the proliferation and diversity of local drinking establishments that Milwaukee and Wisconsin does," says Weissgerber. "And while we are known to love our drinks, I really think it has more to do with our love of each other."

Erin Anderson (left) and Natalie Coulthurst are two of the founders of Barley’s Angels.

Women Beer Lovers Unite

For female brew aficionados wanting to better understand beer, for those who simply love homebrewing or for women learning to pair craft beer with food, the Greater Milwaukee Area chapter of Barley’s Angels is the be-all of beer-alls.

The Angels is a national club encouraging women to enjoy great beer of all varieties. Local meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at beer-related locations, including Brenner Brewing, Whole Foods and The Historic Miller Caves. Gatherings kick off around 6 p.m., with an official meeting off and running around 7 p.m. These sessions usually involve tastings, brewing lessons and other malt-related topics. A small fee is collected at each meeting, which averages 20 to 35 attendees.

The local branch came together at the World of Beer festival in June 2012, when confirmed beer fans and longtime pals Erin Anderson, Natalie Coulthurst and Meagan O’Brien shared phone numbers. They met at Roman’s Pub to plan a women-only group.

What interests Anderson, self-described as Chief Angel Wrangler, about beer is the amount of varieties available. "I can always find something new to try to expand my palate or dive deeper into a specific style. There’s so much to learn," she says, suggesting pairing beer and chocolate.

For co-founder/treasurer and skilled homebrewer Coulthurst, the best thing she learned at an Angels meeting was the expanding number of fantastic food/beer pairings and cooking options.

"I think Barley’s Angels is a great opportunity to get out with others who have the same interest as you, and the requirement to join isn’t predicated on specific knowledge or industry work," Coulthurst indicates. "You love drinking craft beer? Join the fun!"

Beer has been a passion for O’Brien since her university years working at a craft beer bar. "I realized there was a lot more out there than the domestics I would see at parties and college bars. This led to homebrewing, going to craft beer events and on to my job as Upper Midwest beer ambassador for New Holland Brewing Co.

"The craft beer industry is such an amazing way to bring people together," concludes O’Brien.

Hand-crafted beer tappers

Stately, quirky, statuesque, often hilarious beer pulls are standard issue at every tavern. They are functional objects, albeit often overlooked. Yet among the best displays in Greater Milwaukee for admiring fancy tappers are the hundreds showcased at Stubby’s Pub & Grub, 2060 N. Humboldt Ave., and those at the Rumpus Room, 1030 N. Water St.

It’s sculptor Mark Hargarten’s job to design and create an eye-catching tapper that results in a beer sale. Hargarten, who owns Replica Masters Studios, has tapped into a fun, fulfilling a business adventure that still satisfies his creativity. The fact that his entrepreneurship also allows him to sample beer is a value-added perk.

Some six years ago, Hargarten and Sprecher Brewing Co. President Jeff Hamilton met at a social gathering. When Hamilton learned that Hargarten was a sculptor, he asked if the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design grad could make tappers for each Sprecher variety. And there have been dozens.

Hargarten first doodles up a look on paper, shows it to Hamilton and gets a go-ahead or request for a redo. He then crafts the design in clay in his Cedarburg art studio, makes a mold and casts the tapper in a resin. Each piece is hand painted.

"I never run out of ideas," Hargarten enthuses, happy to be constantly playing around with shapes, sizes and the look of each new tapper. "I’m glad I found this job."

New Beer Festival Comes to Milwaukee

Get ready! Get set! All together now! Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!

Malted beverage lovers will have much to rejoice about while attending the inaugural Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival at the Harley-Davidson Museum Oct. 23 and 24. It promises to be a grand weekend celebration of barrels, kegs, growlers, pints and mugs of brew.

Beer gurus Randy Mosher, John Palmer, Stan Hieronymus and Dr. Brad Smith will lead tasting sessions, as well as host workshops ranging from how to design great beer recipes to maximizing hops’ flavor. Discounted accommodations are available at the nearby Iron Horse Hotel and the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

Breweries attending from around the country include Perennial Artisan Ales of St. Louis, Mo., Jester King Brewery from Austin, Texas, and Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company. Locals need not worry — plenty of pours will be available from Wisconsin’s top crafters like the Delafield Brewhaus and the ever-tasty offerings from Sand Creek Brewing Company of Black River Falls.


This story ran in the October 2015 issue of: