1872 N. Commerce St., Milwaukee, WI 53212
[Editor’s note: This review ended up being longer than usual so we decided to break it up into two parts.]
Part One – The Tour
So I happen to be in the greater Milwaukee area, with a day to myself and nothing to do. Well, I’m always up for a Brew Tour. I have to assume there are plenty of tours available, I mean the city’s baseball team is the Brewers. I’m a craft beer lover, so the MillerCoors tour is out. Let’s see, the Milwaukee Brewing Company sounds intriguing, but it’s a Thursday and they only offer tours on Fridays and Saturdays. Lakefront has a tour at 1PM today, perfect! That gives me enough time to shower and head over to the brewery, hopefully there are still some walk-up tickets available.
Lakefront has tours Monday-Thursday every hour on the hour, from 1PM to 7PM. The tour capacity is 60 people. They allow up to 45 tickets to be ordered in advance online, while 15 tickets are reserved for walk-ups. I showed up at 12:55PM and had no trouble getting a ticket for the 1PM tour. During the week the tours are usually not too crowded. Fridays – Sundays, I was told, the tours get very crowded and you’ll want to get tickets in advance. For Saturday tours all tickets are sold online.
The Monday- Thursday tours are not as in depth as the brewery is in production. The Weekend tours generally go through the entire brewery, so you get to see more of the brewery up close.
The Lakefront tours are “beer-in-hand” tours, which apparently they pioneered. About 2 mins before hand Mike, our tour guide, made an announcement for all 1PM tour participants to get a fresh beer. The cost of the tour is $8. You are given a plastic Lakefront cup and 4 tokens. Each token is good for a 6 oz pour. I started off the tour with a Fuel Cafe Stout, I love me a good coffee beer.
Mike then led us up some steps and into a room with a wooden bar and a couple of taps. The back of the bar had plenty of old ribbons that the Lakefront brewery had won over the years. Once we had all gathered in the room, there were about 25-30 of us on this tour, Mike started us off with a Cheers! We all held up our cups and took a sip. Best possible way to start a brewery tour.
Mike proceeded to ask where everyone was from and then moved into a brief history of Lakefront Brewery. Brothers Jim and Russ Klisch started off as basement beer brewers. They enjoyed their beers and quickly others did too. They made more and more and then had the crazy idea1 to launch a brewery and in 1987 Lakefront Brewery was started.
They initially set up operations in a house in the River West Neighborhood of Milwaukee. They had three small tanks to make their beers. The government came in, as they do whenever alcohol is involved, and stipulated that the tanks had to be named. The brothers, 3 Stooges fans, named the tanks Larry, Moe, and Curly, which surprisingly the government was okay with. The brothers outgrew the house turned brewery and in 1998 bought and moved into their current location. They brought the 3 Stooges tanks with them, they couldn’t just throw out the first tanks that got them started. For awhile these tanks just sat out back. At one point with the help of a local artist, they adorned the front of the brewery with these tanks, turned art pieces
After this background info, Mike got into the wonderful details of how beer is made. Lakefront abides by the Bavarian Purity laws, using only yeast, hops, barley and water to brew their beers. They have a few exceptions including the Fuel Cafe Stout, the Cherry Lager, their Winter Spice beer, and their Pumpkin Ale.
Mike passed around some samples of barley and hops for everyone to smell and then told us the best analogy I’ve ever heard of how yeast works. I will not be doing justice to the way Mike tells it, but I’ll do my best to recreate it.
Yeast is a lot like a male College Freshman. They both eat, fart, poop, play with themselves and then fall asleep. Yeast eats sugar, farts out CO2, poops out alcohol, multiplies itself, and then, exhausted, sinks down to the bottom of the fermenters.
If that isn’t the most creative and best illustration of what yeast does, please write in the comments a better analogy.
Lakefront will then scoop out the yeast after it has sunk to the bottom and reuse it up to 12 times. The more I learn about yeast the more I’m in awe of these amazing microorganisms.
After his great analogy Mike, along with a helper, had us line up and get another beer from the two taps at the bar. No one else was getting in line so I went right up to the taps, started the line, and got a Cherry Lager. After everyone had a fresh 6 oz pour, Mike led us down stairs through part of the brewery operation and down to the bottling line. Along the way we got to see the BAS (Big Ass Silo), where the malt is stored. Lakefront goes through 38,000 lbs of malt per month which is why that Silo is so big. We were able to see some of their 23 fermentation tanks, coming in two sizes, 100bbl and 200bbl. In these tanks is where Lakefront makes 25 different beers each year, give or take. Just under 45,000 bbls of these various beers are expected to be produced this year.
Once all this great beer is finished being brewed it needs to be bottled or kegged. 40% of all Lakefront beer goes into kegs. The rest is bottled. The new Lakefront bottling machine at max speed can bottle 200 beer bottles per minute. That’s a lot of beer bottles to keep up with along the line. My picture doesn’t show how much manual labor is required to keep up with the bottling line.
Lakefront has about 100 employees. 45 of them are kept busy full time making the beer. I personally applaud each and every member of the Lakefront team, keep up the great work!
This year Lakefront started using “Best Buy Dates” on their beer bottles. Their beers are available in 40 U.S. states, the newest ones being Texas and North Dakota. They are also big in Canada, not surprising, Japan and Israel, which are surprising (at least to me). They have a Rabbi come in twice a year to certify that Lakefront beer is Kosher, which is essential for sales in Israel.
The two founding brothers of Lakefront are still hard at work with their business and passion. Each of them actually still gives tours. Russ is a tour guide for a tour on Fridays and Jim is a tour guide for one on Mondays.
To learn about the other Lakefront beers I tried and a bonus tour gift that they don’t mention on the Lakefront Website, check out Part Two – The Tasting.
- Unlike today when new breweries are popping up left and right, starting a brewery back then was truly a crazy idea. ↩