In Wisconsin, sipping an ale isn’t just a way to welcome the weekend. It’s an homage to the state’s German heritage, from the brewing barons that shaped Milwaukee to the beer gardens cropping up throughout the state. Though the first biergartens sprouted in Munich, Germany, in the 1800s, it didn’t take long for immigrants to cultivate these open-air wonderlands in Wisconsin. Prohibition forced many such establishments to close, but they’re experiencing a revival thanks to modern craft brewers and the public’s nostalgia for simpler times. Here are six that embody Gemütlichkeit, a word signifying coziness, good cheer, and togetherness.
Estabrook Bier Garden
4600 Estabrook Dr., Milwaukee
Milwaukee has led Wisconsin’s beer garden renaissance, thanks in part to this Bavarian-style spot in a county park. Estabrook’s beers hail from one of Munich’s most famous gardens, the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus, but its views are as Milwaukee as can be. Located on the bluffs of the Milwaukee River, near a waterfall, Estabrook attracts bikers, kayakers, and other nature explorers. Half-liter pours of beer (including guest brews and a gluten-free option), giant pretzels, and landjaeger sausages are served from a cottage-like building ﬂanked by picnic tables and grassy areas perfect for blankets, lawn chairs, and dogs on leashes.
The garden occasionally hosts beer enthusiast events like Milwaukee Maifest, but it’s truly a place for the whole family. Kids can check out the adjacent playground, learn to polka on live-music nights, and try to decode the Gothic-lettered signs, which beckon patrons in German.
Hubbard Park Beer Garden
3536 N. Morris Ave., Shorewood
With a forest-canopy ceiling and a woodchip ﬂoor, this two-year-old garden is paradise for tree lovers and beer lovers. Picnic tables encourage new acquaintances to split pitchers of locally brewed suds, while snack bar offerings—including German delicacies like apple strudel—are so tasty you might not want to share them. In the spirit of Gemütlichkeit, bring a treat for the table (bratwurst nachos, anyone?), or marshmallows to toast over the ﬁ re pit.
Fur babies aren’t allowed in the beer garden, but human children are welcome. Challenge the kids to a beanbag-toss game, splash together in the Milwaukee River, or dance to live music, which happens regularly at the garden and elsewhere in the park for Shorewood’s Summer Sounds concert series. Make a day of Milwaukee’s park-based beer gardens by heading south to the new South Shore Terrace, which serves Miller products beside Lake Michigan, and the Humboldt Park Beer Garden, which has pig roasts and beers from St. Francis Brewing.
7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton
With a stage, a dance ﬂ oor, and more than 40 picnic tables, the green tent behind Capital Brewery always seems ready for a party. An open-air bar attracts admirers of award-winning beers made on the premises, including German-style lagers and IPAs. These brews, plus limited-edition releases and seasonal specialties, can also be sampled on a $7 tour that includes a branded pint glass. Food trucks often stop by, or you can bring takeout from area restaurants.
You’ll need fuel if you visit when musicians do; the beer garden regularly hosts acts ranging from rock ’n’ rollers to old-time string bands. Dogs are welcome when concerts aren’t happening, and kids will enjoy the Sprecher root beer and nearby skatepark.
Wisconsin Brewing Company
1079 American Way, Verona
With a dozen locally produced beers and huge windows framing an impressive array of brewing equipment, Wisconsin Brewing Company’s taproom draws drinkers year-round. Summertime, however, caters to all of the senses. In addition to savoring the ﬂavor, scent, and bite of brews like the PsycHOPs pale ale, guests soak up sunshine on the beer garden/outdoor patio, to the tune of live music on Friday nights. There’s plenty of space for children and dogs to cavort; bartenders often trot out water bowls for the pups and bag-toss games for the kids. The brewery also lets visitors bring their own snacks and yard games. Plus, guests of all ages can learn about the brewing process—and the stories behind the brews—at a free tour.
Stone Cellar Brewpub
1004 S. Olde Oneida St., Appleton
Though this establishment is known for its pizza, don’t be fooled: Beer is its heart and soul. In the 1850s, shortly after arriving in Appleton, German immigrant Anton Fischer scrambled to build a brewery. When Carl Muench, an employee of Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewing, bought it in 1860, he quickly added a beer garden. In 1918 the site became Walter Brewery Company, which launched Adler Brau, a longtime local favorite. The spot then became Stone Cellar in 2004, brewing carefully crafted batches of beer 217 gallons at a time. Stone Cellar also bottles its own suds, selling six-packs of Vanishing Vanilla Stout and more at the bar. There’s even a miniature beer-history museum at the entrance to the shopping center that houses the pub and brewing facility.
In the beer garden, vines creep across brick walls, toward seating for 70 people and a bar stocked with beers that inspire the brewing team. You’ll also find lush flowers and views of Appleton’s historic industrial buildings. Pets aren’t allowed, but they’ll forgive you if you bring home a doggie bag of bison burgers. Live music draws singles, couples, and families to the garden on Tuesday nights and selected Saturday afternoons. Artists often visit from Appleton’s Mile of Music Festival, which showcases Americana acts like Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons.
Otto’s Beer & Brat Garden
509 Oneida St., Minocqua
Teutonic through and through, this eatery and its 200-seat beer garden are the perfect place to shout “Prost,” German for “toast.” A mural of a lederhosen-clad German family decorates one wall as the scent of bratwurst drifts through the garden’s pines. The taps fl ow with beer from Spaten and Hacker-Pschorr, which operate some of Munich’s most fabled beer gardens, but there’s a healthy selection of Wisconsin suds, too, including Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing. If that’s not enough to get your glass raised, the vibrant crowds that come for live music Thursday through Sunday are sure to do that and more. (Think dancing on the tables and singing with strangers.) Pets aren’t allowed, but there’s room for kids to get a little wild. Quieter entertainment options also abound, including crayons, checkers, and shuffleboard.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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