Cities across America count increasing numbers of craft breweries, but only Milwaukee holds the historic title of “Brew City, USA.” For decades, brewery tours have drawn tourists to truly educate their palates.
Start your trip by booking a room at the Brewhouse Inn & Suites. Not only will you share the atrium with the gorgeous copper brew kettles at the former Pabst brewhouse, you can walk to your first tour, at Best Place.
The Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery features hand-renovated rooms rescued from dereliction by Jim Haertel and his family. This is not a tour about making beer, but takes first place on your itinerary thanks to the comprehensive history of beer and brewing in Milwaukee. Captain Pabst’s courtyard is a popular stop for a photo op with statues of King Gambrinus (returned to Best Place in 2011) and a lifelike bronze of Captain Frederick Pabst. Draft Pabst is served, as well as a choice of local options such as Lakefront’s IPA. The gift shop is full of quirky and fun items such as Schlitz bowling shirts and vintage memorabilia.
It’s a quick cab ride or a 30-minute walk down Juneau Avenue and along Water Street to reach the Lakefront Brewery on Commerce, across the Milwaukee River. Lakefront Brewery, founded in 1987 by brothers Russ and Jim Klisch, offers a rambunctious and humorous tour of brewing and beer appreciation, open to adults and families. There’s also a classic Friday fish fry with polka music and beer hall dining at shared tables. As of May 2014, the brewery holds a Sunday morning technical tour, geared toward home brewers and beer geeks, highlighting both history and sustainable brewing. The 90-minute tour concludes with tastings of Lakefront beer with Wisconsin cheese and chocolate. The technical tours are for adults 21 or older only, at $30 per person, and sell out quickly. Closed toed shoes are required.
In the heart of Walker’s Point, just south of downtown, the Milwaukee Brewing Co. Second Street brewery offers a detailed tour including discussion of the solar and energy efficient installations. Tours are offered on Fridays and Saturdays only, as they are “Beer in Hand,” meaning you get a beer upon arrival and can drink during the tour. Each tour runs just over an hour, and the newly expanded tasting area features bar seating. Tour guides get kudos for blending intelligence, humor and reverence for beer.
Around the corner, just north on 5th off National Avenue, the Brenner Brewing Co. has just opened its million-dollar brewhouse and barrel-aging room, along with a tasting area and tours. Mike Brenner, who studied brewing at the Siebel Institute and Doemens Academy in Germany, also hosts an online resource for beer tourism, MilwaukeeBreweryTours. com.
Drive north along the Milwaukee River and in summer, stop at the Estabrook Park for a relaxing stein at the seasonal Biergarten, operated by the Weissgerber hospitality group. Just a few blocks west of Estabrook Park is the Sprecher Brewery in Glendale, tucked into a residential neighborhood. The brewery’s tour is open to families and features unlimited soda samples for the kids and the young at heart. The tours take about an hour to complete, and the reserve tasting is geared toward adult palates, with samples of limited release beers and pairings with Wisconsin cheese.
The biggest brewery tour in Milwaukee happens to be free and takes place at the biggest and longest operating brewery: the Miller Brewery of SAB/MillerCoors. Located on the near west side of Milwaukee, the Miller Brewery tour begins at the Visitors Center; tickets are available at the well stocked gift shop. After a glitzy video about Miller’s history and its brands, a guide walks the group through the old brew house and enormous distribution warehouse. If conditions permit, visitors get a brief peek into the Miller Caves, where the beer once lagered in cold storage with blocks of ice insulated by bricks.
The tour takes just over an hour, and the samples at the Miller Valley Inn are free as well — but no refills, so don’t plan on lingering.
Linger you may at the Rock Bottom Brewery along the Riverwalk in downtown Milwaukee. Brewer David Bass conducts tastings and tours once weekly, and the monthly firkin night is a special treat for people who enjoy real ale from the cask. Rock Bottom is part of a larger chain, but the Milwaukee pub features “brewmaster’s choice” limited releases in addition to a full bar and food menu.
If you have a group and want to experience more of Milwaukee, contact Untapped Tours. The three-hour Milwaukee tour ($38) includes a ride past the stately mansions along Lake Michigan, sights of the Milwaukee Art Museum, North Point Lighthouse, Miller Park, and samples of cheese at the Clock Shadow Creamery and a beer or soda tasting at Lakefront Brewery. It’s a jolly excursion with some of the “wurst” puns you’ll ever hear.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 fall/winter 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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