By Kristine Hansen | Photo courtesy Travel Wisconsin
It’s no secret Wisconsin’s linked to craft beer — both then and now. At last count, the state was home to around 200 breweries, from nationally known brands like Miller/Coors and Leinenkugel’s to small-batch, neighborhood-focused breweries such as Dead Bird Brewing Co. just north of Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum where the Sunday brunch menu is entirely plant-based and the beer selections on heavy rotation. Nearly every city in the state boasts a handful of craft- or micro-breweries as a source for local beer as well as a spot to hang out with live music and food (pint in hand).
Brewing History in Wisconsin
The first documented commercial brewery in the state was Owens Brewery in downtown Milwaukee, which debuted in 1840 from a trio of Welsh immigrants, including Richard G. Owens. But according to the Wisconsin Historical Society two other breweries may have been in production before this: in Elk Grove and Mineral Point. Regardless, the 1840s is when a wave of German immigrants first came to Wisconsin, bringing with them their skilled knowledge in making beer. Some examples of beer brands rooted in Milwaukee that went on to become household names are Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee, and Miller. By the end of the 19th century, Wisconsin’s largest city was known as the beer capital of the world, and during the early 1900s was home to four of the world’s largest breweries (again, Blatz, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz).
Local Brewery Tours
Even if your drink of choice is not always beer, the experience of touring a brewery folds in stories about its history, branding, architecture, community collaborations, smart business decisions and more. One such example is Leinie Lodge in Chippewa Falls, part of Leinenkugel’s, a brewery founded in 1867 by German immigrants and now on its sixth generation of ownership. Three differently themed tours depart from the lodge daily, with vintage photos and brewing equipment on display, along with swag for sale.
Then, in Milwaukee, instead of touring Miller/Coors, for a quirkier version, a tour of Lakefront Brewery’s Milwaukee headquarters (dubbed “Our Famous Tour”) is a 45-minute jaunt promising “facts, lore, jokes and beer.” Two 16-ounce pours are included in the $12-$13 tour cost.
Urban breweries in Milwaukee, Green Bay, the Fox Cities, Sheboygan and Madison — as well as in Door County — that lack a kitchen and where there are chefs in abundance often partner with food trucks and food start-ups to offer grub with their suds. Some, like at Door County Brewing Co. in Baileys Harbor, boast their own kitchen: pair BBQ Mac and Cheese or a smoked brat on a pretzel roll with the latest beer release, then roast s’mores over the outdoor fire pit. You can even do downward dogs and sun salutations — like at Third Space Brewing’s Sunday-morning yoga classes (Milwaukee) or 3 Sheeps Brewing Company’s classes the last Wednesday evening of the month (Sheboygan) — just in case you desire a little Zen with your locally crafted beer.