While Chicago has too many breweries (joking, it’s not possible to have too many breweries), nearly all of them are under 20 years old. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a few breweries, in gorgeous, century-plus-old buildings. With the end of the summer effectively here, there’s no better time to head north for a few brews in some very historic structures.
The beer capital of the world looks a bit different from when it first claimed that title. PBR is gone, and the beer that made Milwaukee famous hasn’t been in Milwaukee since 1982 (the original Schlitz brewery is now a UMB Fund Services office). But the city is unparalleled in the depth of its hops history, and it continues to produce fantastic beers (FYI, we’re living in the best time ever for craft beer). Here’s where to go.
Pabst isn’t exactly a Milwaukee beer anymore: It’s now based in Los Angeles and contract-brewed by six breweries across the United States. Best Place is located in The Brewery District, the former corporate headquarters of the Pabst Brewing Company and an excellent place to bathe in PBR Americana on a Pabst Beer History Tour. The former brewing complex now houses offices, apartments, restaurants, a hotel and some craft breweries (more on that later).
This pick piggybacks on Best Place. Central Waters is a relatively new brewery, which opened its Milwaukee outpost just two years ago — but it’s housed within the former Captain Pabst Pilot House, which has been around since 1872. Originally the First German Methodist Episcopal Church, Pabst purchased it in 1896, turning it into a theater and training space. PBR brought their brand back to Milwaukee at 1037 W. Juneau Ave. in 2016 and operated it until the pandemic. Since October 2021 Central Waters has been using it as their taproom and brewery, maintaining both its grandeur and utility.
11 Chicagoland Breweries Worth the DriveThey’re located outside city limits, but that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to get to
Lakefront has been a fan favorite since its product has been readily available. The brewery, housed in the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company’s once coal-fired power plant (built in 1908) just looks fantastic. It’s a smart, and popular, use of a space that was doomed for demolition; 80,000 people tour the brewery every year. The 35-year-old brewer is also proud of its state. They introduced the first beer in the US made from 100 percent Wisconsin ingredients (barley, hops, wheat and yeast). Lakefront is also the first certified organic brewery, makes the country’s oldest certified organic beer and the first government-certified gluten-free beer. Pretty good use of an out-of-service power plant.
Wear your walking shoes for the Miller The Brewery tour. It’s an indoor and outdoor walking tour covering 165 years of the company’s history: You’ll learn about Fredrick Miller’s arrival to the brewery process and the tech used today. Similar to Lakefront, Miller offers the chance to share some beer while you “learn.” The real standout attractions here are the underground caves and the historic, Bavarian-style Miller Inn. We’d be remiss to not mention the special events at Miller The Brewery: I want to go to a beer pairing dinner in a cave. Unfortunately I have not enjoyed any meals centered around beer in a cave (as yet).
This may be cheating, since Sprecher isn’t in Milwaukee proper, but Sprecher has, hands down, the best brewery tour in the greater Milwaukee area. We know Lakefront is the more popular tour, but do they have craft sodas? They do not. Sprecher has all-you-can-drink soda on their tours, and the sodas alone are worth the trip. (You’ll also enjoy four beer samples on the tour.) Sprecher also paved the way for the current wave of independent brewers. The first Milwaukee-area brewery since Prohibition, Randy Sprecher started Sprecher in 1985 with $40,000 and a hand-built brew kettle after working as supervisor of brewing operations at Pabst’s Milwaukee brewery. Nearly 40 years later, the brewery still uses fire brewing to make its craft beers and sodas — including a root beer that ranks as the best root beer, according to The New York Times.
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