Feature photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
The storied history of brewing in Wisconsin began thirteen years before it became a state (1848, but you already knew that) and a year before it even became a territory. By the late 1890’s nearly every community in Wisconsin had at least one operating brewery.
In 1919 the passage of Prohibition virtually sounded the death toll for all but the most diverse breweries. A few struggled and survived by producing near beer or soft drinks. Legitimate brewing didn’t resume until 1933 when the 18th Amendment was repealed. But even then, people were still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, which of itself had devastated both the coffers and hopes of many of the earlier breweries.
Today, we’re in the midst of a brewing renaissance. By mixing old-school brewing techniques with local ingredients, innovative new artisans are creating some of the most highly-regarded beers in the country—as well as popular tourist attractions. Today you’ll find some of the country’s best breweries—old and new—right here in Wisconsin. Here are a few of our favorites to tour, and of course, sample.
Capital Brewery (Middleton)
Capital Brewery brewed their first batch of beer, a pilsner, in the spring of 1986 and was founded to brew traditional German-style lager beer in America. It has branched out to include American style ales, barrel-aged beers, and several distinct IPA’s.
The Capital Brewery Bier Garten is open April through October and often hosts live music as well as numerous public and private events. It is known as ‘Middleton’s Backyard’ and typically attracts over 1500 patrons on Fridays, May through September.
The Capital Brewery Tour & Tasting is a 30-45 minute BREW-VENTURE and includes a tour of the Capital Brewery facility, a commemorative glass, and 4 samples OR one pint of our award-winning beer. Learn more.
Central Waters Brewing Co. (Amherst)
In 1996, two friends, Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel, bought an old brick building on Highway 10 in Junction City, Wisconsin. The building, built around 1920, was originally a Model-A Ford dealership. Subsequently, the building housed a barbershop, followed by a liquidator of second-hand goods, before being vacated in 1988. Mike and Jerome purchased the building in 1996 and spent the next two years thoroughly cleaning and restoring it. When the facility was ready for its first beer production, the friends put together the funds to purchase some used dairy equipment. This equipment was retrofitted to ultimately become the brewery’s first brew house. Months later, Central Waters came to be.
Free tours are available Fridays at 5pm and Saturdays at 3pm. Tours last approximately one hour but can vary by group size. No reservations are needed, and you do not need to sign up for the tour. A bartender will ring a bell by the main bar and make an announcement pointing out the tour guide when the tour is about to start. Learn more.
City Lights Brewing Company (Milwaukee)
City Lights Brewing Company is comprised of a collection of passionate individuals whose mission is to deliver an experience to their customers that matches the incredible, iconic building on our campus. Though we brew in state-of-the-art equipment, our commitment to exceeding expectations is as old fashioned as our 115-year-old buildings. Meet our team.
Witness first-hand the magic of the art and science of brewing world-class beers. And then taste them for yourself. Learn more.
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. (Chippewa Falls)
In May 1867, the Leinenkugel family brewery was founded in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin by Jacob Leinenkugel. He was a family man driven by an iron work ethic, and he knew that his German family heritage would play an integral part of his brewery’s success. Today, the sixth generation of Leinenkugels continues to brew some of the same family-inspired recipes that Jacob poured his heart and soul into. Over the years, the family has grown and so has the brewery, but the Leinenkugel history and heritage remain at the forefront.
Take a tour of the historic brewery and let one of the guides introduce you to nearly 150 years of beer brewing and six generations of Leinenkugel family history. All tours start at the Leinie Lodge, which is filled with historic photos, vintage brewing equipment and plenty of Leinie’s wearables and collectibles to take home. Relax with friends and family, sample the award-winning beers and get the full flavor of all things Leinenkugel’s. Learn more.
Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee)
According to Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch, the whole brewery started with his brother, Jim. Near his birthday, Jim expressed interest in beer making, and Russ humored him by giving him a homebrewing book. To Russ’ surprise, Jim read the book and brewed a beer. By Russ’ account, Jim was no gourmet cook, but he made a pretty good beer. Impressed, Russ decided he could brew one better. In short, sibling rivalry and common interest lead both brothers to begin entering homebrewing contests and winning awards. It wasn’t long before family and friends encouraged them to turn their hobby into a business.
The Klisch family has roots in the beer industry: their grandfather worked for Schlitz, driving a delivery truck and also worked as a chauffeur for the Uihlein’s. Russ remembers his grandfather bringing home short fills to his dad: “it was a cool job if you got to bring beer home at night.” Several family members also owned taverns. With that family history and their common interest in beer making, the brothers started their business. They decided to start small and chose a location within walking distance of their home: an old bakery building in Riverwest, at 818 East Chambers Street. They began brewing with 55-gallon stainless steel drums and used dairy equipment. On December 2, 1987, they sold their first barrel of beer to the Gordon Park Pub. With the brewery up and running, the infamous tour started soon after.
The folks at Lakefront Brewery believe that there is a direct correlation between the amount of beer that you can drink during your tour and how much you enjoy it. Trip Advisor agrees. They named the Lakefront Brewery tour #4 in America. Learn more.
Milwaukee Brewing Company (Milwaukee)
Milwaukee Brewing was founded on principles of crafting and creating beers using the best local ingredients and suppliers in a sustainable, creative and innovative environment. MKE Brewing started as Milwaukee Ale House, a brewpub with a custom 15bbl brewery. Founder Jim McCabe applied engineering experience and home brewing momentum to design a very functional and robust brewery, built by W.M. Sprinkman in Franksville Wisconsin. The first beer was produced in October 1997 at a time when Milwaukee was a still a lager town.
MKE Brewing says “Our goal on the tour of our 2nd Street Brewery is to share our passion for crafting and creating beers using the best local ingredients and suppliers in a sustainable, creative and innovative environment.” The tour includes samples of the year-round staple flavors, current seasonal offerings, and most likely a treat or two from the ABV series or the brewery scoundrel’s stash.
In July 2017, MKE Brewing began construction of their new destination brewery located in downtown Milwaukee. The former Pabst Brewing building also known as, “Building 42,” was previously used as a transport hub for Pabst, and will serve as the perfect solution to MKE Brewing’s expansion needs thanks to the building’s heavy-duty structure. Once complete, Building 42 will include a tasting room, rooftop-patio bar, retail store, and will be on pace to produce 30,000 barrels a year. Just a few blocks from the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, the rooftop bar will feature breathtaking views of the Milwaukee skyline and Lake Michigan. The project aims to be operations in the first half of 2018. Learn more.
MobCraft turns ideas into beer. Submit your idea, vote on what’s next. In 2011, MobCraft founders Henry Schwartz and Andrew Gierczak dreamt up an idea for a crowdsourced brewery where the people decide what’s brewed. They quickly outgrew their space in Madison and made a move to Milwaukee in 2016.
What is Crowdsourcing? Each month MobCraft leverages the power of the crowd to generate ideas for unique craft beers. Beer fans across the US submit ideas ranging from a couple flavors to tried and true homebrew recipes. The ideas go up for a vote each month on MobCraftBeer.com. Votes are cast by placing a pre-order for the beer you would like to see brewed. The beer with the most pre-orders wins and is brewed, packaged and shipped straight to your door through an online retailer or available for pickup at the brewery.
Learn about MobCraft’s history, how they brew beer, their unique crowdsourced model, the Wild & Sour Program and more! Enjoy a 30-45 minute tour of the brewery and taproom, includes two complimentary pints of MobCraft Beer per ticket from the Taproom. Learn more.
New Glarus Brewing Co. (New Glarus)
As the story goes, in 1993 Deb Carey drew a circle on a map and told her husband that he could pick a spot for a brewery within the circle. Dan picked New Glarus, and the rest is history. The quaint little brewery nestled on the outskirts of New Glarus and they’re hell-bent on not taking over the world. When they say “Keep it Local,” they really mean it. Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel, Two Women, and Moon Man just to name a few. You’re not going to find these treasures anywhere but Wisconsin.
New Glarus says “Stop on by our little brewery next time you’re in the area. While you’re here, you can visit our gift shop. New Glarus Brewing Company’s Gift Shop offers a wide variety of merchandise from clothing to glassware to keychains and stickers. We have something for everyone. All of our delicious brews can be purchased in the Hilltop Brewery Beer Depot. Learn more.
Potosi Brewing Company (Potosi)
In January of 2001, the original Potosi Brewery building was generously donated by its owners to the Potosi Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Following an exhaustive restoration process, the foundation reopened the brewery in 2008.
As the sole owner of The Potosi Brewing Company, The Potosi Foundation’s mission is to spur economic opportunity in and around Potosi, brew only the finest craft beer and to channel all profits into its markets served to support historical and educational initiatives and other charitable causes.
The unique Potosi experience includes a guided tour through their state-of-the-art production facility, four 5-oz beer samples in the Brewery Tasting Room accompanied by an informational video, a Potosi pint glass from the gift shop and one pint of the Potosi tap beer of your choice from the Brewpub. As an added bonus, tour-goers will also receive a year-long pass to the National Brewery Museum & Library. Learn more.
Sprecher Brewing Co. (Milwaukee)
Sprecher Brewing Co. was founded in 1985 by Randal Sprecher, formerly a brewing supervisor at Pabst Brewing Company in Milwaukee. From 1985 to 1994, the brewery was located at 730 W. Oregon Street in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point area. Through the first ten years the company grew steadily as more and more people found out about Sprecher’s high quality beers and sodas. Finally, the company had outgrown its original facility and began looking for a new location to continue its growth. In 1994, Sprecher purchased its current building, located at 701 W. Glendale Ave., a former elevator car factory. The new, larger brewery enabled the company to continue growing, and allowed more people to enjoy all of Sprecher’s fine products.
Visit the brew house and discover how Sprecher is reviving the Old World brewing traditions that once made Milwaukee famous. Travel through the lager cellar and see the Bavarian murals on display on our bottling room wall. After the brewery tour, the next best thing to Munich is Sprecher’s indoor beer garden, with music and samples from any of up to 20 beers and 10 sodas on draught. Learn more.
Stevens Point Brewery (Stevens Point)
Point Brewery was founded in 1857 by George Ruder and Frank Wahle. In 1864, the company provided its beer to the troops during the American Civil War. The brewery was subsequently sold to Andrew and Jacob Lutz in 1867. The Lutz family continued operations until it was sold to Gustav Kuenzel in 1897. The company was then organized as the Gustav Kuenzel Brewing Company in 1901. The following year, it was renamed the Stevens Point Brewing Company.
Visit the third-oldest continuously operating, privately owned brewery in the United States. Get up close and personal with those dancing cans and bottles while you’re shown first hand how Point has brewed exceptional beer for over 160 years. Led by beer experts, the walking tour includes a history of the brewery, a trip around the brewing, aging, packaging, and warehouse facilities, and a sampling of Point’s award-winning products. Learn more.