A Brews Cruise of Milwaukee
Nine ways and two days to experience the city's diverse and historic beer culture
Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery offers ever-popular brewery tours.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKEFRONT BREWERY
TOAST OF THE TOWN
Kick off your trip with a walk into the city’s beer history. A tour of the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, a Flemish Renaissance Revival mansion completed in 1892, reveals in beautiful detail what life was like for the sea captain turned beer baron and his family during the Gilded Age. A one-hour group tour takes you through entertaining spaces, bedrooms, service areas and more, with stops to delve into stories about the family, the Pabst Brewing Company and turn-of-the-century Milwaukee.
For a festive lunch or afternoon reprieve, head to the Estabrook Park Beer Garden. Located within the scenic, fifty-acre county park on a bluff running alongside the Milwaukee River, the gathering space opened in 2012, modeled after biergartens in Munich, Germany. Order up a brat or giant pretzel, pick a Hofbräu brew—perhaps a lager, amber, bock or wheat served in a heavy glass mug—and take a seat at one of the picnic tables set beneath shady trees. Stick around to enjoy the live music that starts in the late afternoon and continues into the evening.
Best known for its root beer, Sprecher Brewery also turns out European-style beers. A family-friendly tour moves from the brew house to the aging cellar to bottling room to the sampling tent. But beer lovers should upgrade to a reserve tasting. You’re ushered off to a private room, where you stand at small tables while a guide leads you through samples of ten of Sprecher’s brews paired with artisan cheeses. You’ll soak up a lot of beer knowledge—along with some tasty premier suds.
The most raucous brewery tour in the city is at Lakefront Brewery, also renowned for its green and local efforts and diverse array of brews (including organic and gluten-free varieties). A gregarious guide has you laughing out loud as you pass through the expansive facility, pausing at six different stops for samples. Afterward, continue sipping in the beer hall or, if you’re here on a Friday, make the weekly fish fry your dinner. Just be prepared to abandon your beer-battered cod for a spin on the dance floor when the Brew Haus Polka Kings get things hopping.
For a one-of-a-kind pub crawl, consider the Milwaukee Pedal Tavern both your transportation and entertainment for the night. The sixteen-person, bicycle-powered cart tours a handful of bars in the city’s Historic Third Ward or Walker’s Point neighborhoods. With music blasting, your legs pumping and the cart whizzing down a street, you’re almost disappointed when you have to stop—that is, until you enter a tiny dive, belly up to the bar and ask for an old-school Miller High Life or PBR.
A beer-themed trip deserves beer-themed accommodations, and you’ll find just that at the Brewhouse Inn & Suites. Set in the historic brew house of the Pabst Brewery, which shut its doors in 1996, the ninety-room, all-suite boutique hotel opened last spring. Rooms are airy and modern, with an industrial, steampunk edge. But a highlight is opening your door and looking down into the atrium, which houses five giant copper brew kettles original to the building.
Rise and shine the next day with brunch at Café Benelux, a sprawling yet charming eatery in the Historic Third Ward. Named for the intersection of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the café boasts a hearty morning menu featuring beignets, omelets, cinnamon streusel French toast, quiche Lorraine and more. If you’re ready to imbibe, five beers are recommended for brunch, as is the bier mosa made of fresh-squeezed orange juice and High Speed Wit beer from Lowlands Brewing. Nab a spot on the rooftop patio and ease your way into the day.
Cool, creative and nonconformist—these words describe the beers crafted at the Milwaukee Brewing Company as well as their signature “beer in hand” tours. Sip and sample as a friendly guide walks you through the brewery on this casual tour, explaining the processes and passion that go into Booyah, Louie’s Demise, Hop Happy and Polish Moon. You may get to sample what they’ve literally got brewing that day—perhaps something unique like the O-Gii collaboration beer with Milwaukee’s Rishi Tea.
Grab a beer in the most scenic way—via a cruise along the Milwaukee River courtesy of RiverWalk Boat Tours. Enjoy a pint at the local outpost of Rock Bottom Brewery before boarding an open-air boat that deposits you at the Milwaukee Ale House (a three-brewery tour also makes a stop at Lakefront). Order a brew and lounge on the two-story deck, watching boats and passersby strolling the RiverWalk, before your cruise back to Rock Bottom.
Katie Vaughn is managing editor of Madison Magazine.