Milwaukee: Brew City's Beer Making Roots

Here, the historical scoop on Milwaukee's nickname. Drink up!
By: Kristine Hansen
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Brew City is more than a nickname for Milwaukee -- it’s also a nod to the city’s industrial roots.

There are at least half a dozen microbreweries that call Milwaukee home, but large-scale brewers like Pabst Brewing Company, Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company, Blatz Beer and Miller Brewing Company made beer here as far back as the 19th century. There’s even Brewer's Hill, a neighborhood just north of downtown and filled with historic mansions where many of the beer barons lived, that's conveniently located within walking distance of the beer-making facilities.

Today, only one of those large breweries continues to produce beer in Milwaukee: Miller, now the country’s second-largest brewer. Beers under the Blatz label, which was the first Milwaukee brewer to market beer nationally, are now made by Miller, under contract with Pabst.

Even so, there are a number of microbreweries with tasting rooms where visitors can drop by for a comprehensive tour, including beer samplings afterward.

Lakefront Brewery, in business for over 20 years, has a tasting room on the East Side that doubles as a spot for one of the city’s best fish fries (Friday nights only). Mission-style lanterns and a location snug along the Milwaukee River -- complete with a patio -- make this a fabulous place to hang out long after the tour is over. Co-owners Jim and Russ Klisch inserted a bit of nostalgia in the tour: Keep your ears open for the Laverne & Shirley reference. The tour costs $6 and is offered daily; you get to try four beers and keep a souvenir glass. 

Up in the northern suburb of Glendale, Sprecher Brewing Company not only makes ginger ale and root beer that’s celebrated by locals, but beers too. Seasonal ales, premium-reserve beers and five year-round beers are made in Glendale, where a tour of the aging cellar, bottling line and warehouse -- as well as a tasting of four beers and a souvenir glass -- is offered on Fridays and Saturdays for $4.

Two independently owned gastropubs also call Milwaukee home. Milwaukee Ale House, on bustling Water Street in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood, is the place to be come summer because of its two-level deck along the Milwaukee River. Ales and lagers are brewed on-site and the operation is visible behind glass walls. Stonefly Brewery is in the Riverwest neighborhood and brews eight beers, such as Brewtown Brown and Six Finger IPA.

For nostalgia, take in a free factory tour at Miller where more than 200,000 cases of beer are packaged each day. The factory is just west of downtown and is responsible for outputting 8.5 million barrels of beer each year. At the end of the tour, participants are able to sample products and browse a gift shop.

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