Brewery Travels #2: Milwaukee (Downtown)

Welcome back to the 2nd installment of Brewery Travels! After looking at the Northside of Milwaukee, we will head Downtown and look into four breweries. Milwaukee as a city is currently experiencing many positive changes, and the brewery scene is a part of that. Whether you are visiting one of the originals, such as Lakefront, or popping into newly opened Broken Bat Brewing, you are sure to enjoy your time. Below are the four breweries that we will profile today:

  1. Lakefront Brewery
  2. Water Street Brewery
  3. Rock Bottom Brewery
  4. Broken Bat Brewery

Lakefront Brewery

Lakefront may be the best-known craft beer in Milwaukee, and is one of the oldest. Started in 1987, it began because of sibling rivalry between brothers Russ and Jim Klisch, who essentially wanted to brew a better beer than the other. Family and friends thankfully convinced them to turn it into a business.

Before diving into the beer (which is good), I want to address the tour. Lakefront is easily the best brewery tour I’ve been on, and is the #4 brewery tour in America according to Trip Advisor. You can bring under aged kids along, but forewarning, there is fairly extensive inappropriate jokes and language (which of course I thoroughly enjoyed). The tour perfectly executes being both informative and hilarious, and of course sampling the beer along the way is a great plus. As with most tours, you get a great behind the scenes look, and they do a nice job explaining the whole process. If you only have time to really spend extended time at one brewery in the Milwaukee area, Lakefront is a must.

As for their beer, there are several popular options. Personally, my favorite was their Pumpkin. Of course, this is a seasonal beer, but it is one of the best pumpkin beers I’ve had. It perfectly mixes the spices without over-powering the beer.  Interestingly, two of their popular year-round offerings are organic brews. Fuel Cafe, a coffee stout, has recently won several awards, and White, their take on a Belgian white, has also been award within the organic beer community. Another choice many folks go for is their amber lager, Riverwest Stein.

No matter your choice of beer, I highly recommend visiting Lakefront AND taking the tour.

Water Street Brewery

Similarly to Lakefront, Water Street opened in 1987. Unlike Lakefront, Water Street has multiple locations throughout the Milwaukee Metro Area, and also serves some killer food at each. An interesting note, is that all four locations have brewed beer. Besides their main downtown location, they also have three restaurant/pubs in three suburbs; Grafton to the north, Delafield to the west, and Oak Creek to the south. Besides stopping into the downtown location, I have also visited the Grafton location, and if the other two are similar (which I believe they are), you cannot go wrong popping into any of them.

The beer itself is solid. The raspberry Weiss was delicious, providing a wonderful tart finish.  Their Baltic Porter is a stronger option, coming in with an ABV of 7.7%. The expected chocolate flavors are complemented by toffee, a great brew in the colder months. If a lighter option is your thing, I definitely recommend trying the Honey Lager Light, a refreshing drink brewed with clover honey from Wisconsin.

As mentioned, the food menu is great. They are certainly full-fledged restaurants, and if you are going I would suggest making a meal out of it. A long list of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, and a variety of other options are available. Great place for a date night!

Rock Bottom Brewery

Yes, I know Rock Bottom is a chain, with 30 locations stretching from coast to coast, BUT these locations brew their own beer. This review is of course pertaining to the Milwaukee location, and speaking of location, this may be the best spot to sip a beer in the city (if the weather is nice). Located right on the Milwaukee River amongst the skyscrapers of downtown, the outdoor patio is my favorite spot to drink. As you can see in the picture below, the views are incredible, and being right on the river on a cool summer evening cannot be beat.

It may have to do with the warm weather while I was there, but the Kolsch was incredibly refreshing and became my favorite. They also have a solid Wheat Ale option, and while it was not big with me, several people complimented the IPA. As you may know, Rock Bottom also works as a restaurant, and while I have not had a meal there yet, from what I saw they have a large menu.

No, this is not the same as going to a small local brewery, but in terms of an atmosphere, it’s hard to beat this spot.

Broken Bat Brewery

Broken Bat literally just opened on April 7th. I went there for ‘opening day’, and this baseball themed brewery is a ‘home run’ in my book (oh there are so many puns). Located in a basement downtown, it’s a little difficult to see it just driving by, but it is worth finding. Walking in and seeing the brew kettles is a great look, and of course pretty much all the décor revolves around baseball, from the ball diamond dart board, to the Hank Aaron jersey framed by the bar (see pictures).

For opening weekend, they had four beers on tap, with plans to release two more in the near future. My favorite was surprising their Straight Chedd, which is an incredible Apricot IPA. This is not your traditional IPA, so don’t come in expecting a super hoppy beer. The apricot nose follows through into the taste, and the sweeter finish is unique for an IPA. Climb the Wall is the farmhouse ale, and that is exactly what you get, a really nice farmhouse ale. The other beer worth mentioning is their Mint Condition, which is a porter brewed with, yep, mint leaves. I was honestly expecting a little more punch from the mint, but it was still a solid option.

I am excited to see what Broken Bat has in store, and will be making a return trip at some point to sample their other two beers (a wheat ale and another IPA). I seriously love when a brewery has a theme, and as a sports fan, Broken Bat knocks it out of the park.

Conclusion

Downtown Milwaukee now has a nice mix of established breweries and newcomers, offering options for any kind of taste. As I said, it’s tough to beat Lakefront’s tour, but each of these options offers a unique niche that can be enjoyed. If you have enough time in the city (or if you live here), make sure to check out all four!

Next Article

For the next article, we will head to the southside of Milwaukee. There are too many breweries to cram them into one write-up (8 of them), so I will break them down into two parts. For a little hint, one of the beers we will discuss tastes somewhat like bacon (yes, bacon). Don’t forget to follow the Brewery Travels twitter!

Joel Geier

Joel Geier

Hi all! My name is Joel, and I LOVE traveling to craft breweries. My goal is to visit as many as possible as I tag along with my travel nurse wife. Follow @brewerytravels on Twitter for updates! I'll be posting articles discussing my adventures here!
Joel Geier

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