sit at a table and at the bar in the taproom at Like
Minds Brewery in Milwaukee on May 24, 2017.
— It took only a couple of hours to hear the inevitable.
do you have that tastes like Miller Lite?"
city made famous by pale and mostly bland beer, I was
surprised it took so long.
question arrived early on a Saturday evening at Good City
Brewing, which opened less than a year ago near Milwaukee’s
handsome, weathered downtown. During a wave of brewery
openings in a city most familiar with the classic brands
made there — Miller, Schlitz and Pabst — Good City has
been particularly popular. But the sudden diversity of
beer choice can leave some drinkers befuddled.
bartender was surprisingly thrown by the question. He
briefly wore a pained expression while calculating the
options. Ten beers were on tap, five of which were
bitter-meets-fruity pale ales, IPAs and double IPA. Those
wouldn’t work. The most obvious choice, a Pilsner, was
probably too robust, he said.
woman said she wanted something "light" and
the bartender handed her a 1-ounce taste of En Fleur,
described by Good City as a "session saison." It
was a light, yet heavily herbal Belgian-style beer
clocking in at just 3.8 percent alcohol — even less than
a Miller Lite. The woman smiled.
like that," she said. "I’ll have one."
history is as beer-drenched as any city’s in the nation
— its baseball team is the Brewers for heaven’s sake
— but it has been curiously late to the national rise of
small and local breweries. During the last decade, the
number of breweries in the U.S. has climbed from 1,500 to
more than 5,300. Craft beer’s share of sales rose from
less than 4 percent of the industry to more than 12
Milwaukee’s craft beer scene had remained largely
static, highlighted by Lakefront Brewery, which opened in
1988 and began leading lively, beer-swilling tours long
before such things were common.
during the last 14 months, a better-late-than-never
renaissance has arrived. At least a dozen new breweries
have opened in and around Milwaukee, including Good City,
which seems to have been assembled from the modern
build-a-brewery playbook: concrete floor, exposed brick
wall, Edison bulbs glowing above a blond wood bar and
fermentation tanks churning out waves of hoppy beer.
City had grown quickly since its June opening last year.
It began distributing kegs to local bars a month later and
followed by packaging its beer in bottles and cans in
December. An eager audience has led Good City to already
expand once, putting it on pace to produce a healthy 5,000
barrels of beer by 2018.
city made famous by Miller, Schlitz and Pabst has
rediscovered what else beer can be.
had enough of seeing the good things going on in other
places," Good City co-founder Dan Katt said. "We
felt driven to do something here, especially a taproom
similar to what we’ve seen in Western Michigan, or what
Revolution has going on in Chicago, or what’s happening
in Asheville or Portland."
newcomers include Third Space Brewing, which launched a
taproom and production brewery along an industrial strip
beside the Menomonee River; City Lights Brewing, which
opened a few months later less than a mile from Third
Space; Black Husky Brewing, which started in 2010 in the
tiny town of Pembine but moved to Milwaukee’s Riverwest
neighborhood in August; MobCraft Beer, the "world’s
first crowd-sourced brewery," which launched a
taproom and brewery last June after four years in Madison;
Urban Harvest Brewing, a tiny spot started by a longtime
home brewer; Enlightened Brewing, which moved into an
expanded production space and opened a new taproom last
summer; Broken Bat Brewing, which opened in April; good
old Pabst, which is trying to redefine itself under new
ownership as a quasi-craft brewery; and, specializing in
some of the most elegant sour and funky beers imaginable,
Like Minds Brewing, which opened in October.
18 months, Like Minds was a Chicago brewery. Brewer and
co-founder John Lavelle commuted from his home in
Milwaukee to launch Like Minds in Chicago but sold his
Near West Side brewery in recent months. The pub in his
hometown, initially a secondary outpost, is now his base
Chicago, Like Minds was a familiar example of boundary
pushing; Lavelle’s beers echoed the type of barrel aging
that Goose Island began doing more than 10 years ago. In
Milwaukee, Lavelle spends far more time explaining his
beer. But audiences are increasingly receptive to the
menu, which on a recent Saturday included one of the best
beers I’ve had in ages: Marron Peche, a sour brown ale
aged eight months in bourbon barrels, infused with fresh
peaches, then aged eight more months in wine barrels.
he launched Like Minds in summer 2015, much of Milwaukee
probably wasn’t ready for his beer. But the wave of new
openings has helped carve a place for Like Minds.
beer nerds have already been ready, but the overall beer
market is maturing," Lavelle said. "These new
breweries are pushing boundaries and the edges. In
Milwaukee, where everyone — myself included — is bred
on Miller, it’s been unusual but good to see."
breweries in many cities are playgrounds for the cool —
the bearded, the flanneled and the trucker-hatted. Not so
in Milwaukee. In true Midwestern style, the taprooms I
visited attracted robust, varied and down-to-earth crowds.
Until dinnertime, families with kids were more likely to
be present than not. Each taproom had at least a few
Black Husky, appropriately enough, an occasionally barking
dog sat at the bar. And by 8:15 on a Saturday night, in
the cavernous Third Space taproom, a broad cross section
of people cradled beer: people wearing trendy clothing
labels, a family gathered for a reunion, and even a dozen
women at a bachelorette party with the future bride
wearing white lace in her hair. Patrons seemed to revel in
discovering their new world of beer options.
locals in their 40s and 50s joined my eight-top table and
spent the next 30 minutes passing around their glasses to
figure out what they liked. Among the beers was It Was All
a Dream, aptly described on the menu as a "juicy
IPA," Acres Edge, a "toasted oatmeal
stout," and That’s Gold, an approachable
German-style kolsch ale.
one woman nursing a glass of water wasn’t having any of
it. Though she was game to try.
is fruity though," a man told her, passing over the
juicy IPA. "You might like it; it’s very
shook her head.
that group of drinkers left, five bar-hopping buddies took
their place. Nate Voelz, who works in furniture repair, is
a lifelong Milwaukee resident who is cautiously optimistic
about the beer renaissance in his hometown.
going on is huge," Voelz said. "But I don’t
know if all these new breweries can survive."
City’s Katt believes there’s enough variation among
the new breweries that any operation with a solid business
plan will be just fine.
an ‘old school versus new school’ mentality going on,
depending on who you’re talking to," Katt said.
"The old school would say there’s too many new
breweries and they can’t pay attention to all
the new school?
people who have been waiting for it," he said.
"Especially considering our great beer history, we
owe this to ourselves."
is rife with breweries and taprooms that have opened
during the last year. Among those worth a visit:
Husky Brewing (909 E. Locust St., 414-509-8855) spent
years 200 miles north of Milwaukee but selling most of its
beer to the city. Finally, it made the move south, and it
has quickly won a loyal following. The beers I tried were
largely pitch perfect. Be sure to try Sproose, a double
IPA made with spruce tips.
Brewing (2018 S. First St., 414-364-6225) has one of the
coolest taprooms you’ll ever see: a rustic space with no
separation to the brewery, which sits raised immediately
behind the taps. The epitome of the scrappy craft brewery.
Be sure to try Prototypical Porter, a rich, but
City Brewing (2108 N. Farwell Ave., 414-539-4343) distills
all the pieces of modern craft brewing into one brewery
and taproom. Opening a new roof deck July 1. There were
plenty of hoppy beers on the menu, but I found them hit
and miss, so the recommendation here is Detail, another
Minds Brewing (823 E. Hamilton St., 414-239-8587) is a
must for anyone who enjoys wood-aged beers with
interesting flavor profiles, whether sour or merely funky.
Due to Like Minds’ small batch sizes, the 12 taps are
forever changing, but for those who enjoy sour and funky
beer, you generally can’t go wrong.
Space Brewing (1505 W. St. Paul Ave., 414-909-2337) opts
for a rustic-meets-industrial motif in a fun, laid-back
taproom. There are plenty of quality IPAs out there, and
Upward Spiral is one of them.