On the outer edge of the imposing, sterile shadow cast by the behemoth macro-brewer and namesake of Miller Valley there sits another brewery. This one, Big Head Brewing Company (6204 W. State St., Wauwatosa) isn’t nearly as big, both in terms of size and output. I’d wager Miller will spill more beer by the end of this sentence than Big Head has ever brewed. I even missed the new microbrewery on my first pass down State Street. But once I got arrived, I found a welcome addition to the already stacked roster of Milwaukee-area brewers.
After locating the nondescript warehouse—that, truth be told, I expected to be more of a brew pub than anything else—at the corner of State and 62nd streets, I entered and immediately spotted a cluster of empty picnic tables. I turned and was welcomed by one of two employees on staff standing behind an elevated wooden counter. The room seemed like a smaller Lakefront Brewery ballroom. “Was I going to be offered a brewery tour?” I thought.
Since I saw no mention of it online, I sided with caution and forwent looking stupid and asking about tours and, instead, decided the best way to get the full scope of Big Head’s line of beers (and save a few bucks while doing so) was to order a five-sample flight for just $5.
If samples aren’t on your agenda, Big Head also sells by the pint ($4) as well as pitchers ($12). Root beer and Woodchuck cider are on tap, too. Knowing my friend Steve was more interested in the in-house items than cider or root beer, I took the liberty of procuring another for my pal while I waited for him to arrive. Before Steve’s fifth sample was poured, and before I could fully finish taking stock of the spacious yet confusing interior, he’d arrived.
While Big Head Brewing Company has only been serving since the end of September, the young beer purveyor seems to have the process down pat. We clinked our diminutive glasses together and moved down the tap line from right to left, starting with the amber. As our own Dan Murphy can attest, the amber is a bolder and hoppier take on the variety compared to most of its kin. It was my favorite. The brown ale and “Smash” varieties were also present in their malt bill and both were enjoyable. Admittedly, I’m far from a hefe fan. Yet Big Head’s rendition left me even more nonplused than the majority of hefeweizen’s I’ve stubbornly consumed. That said, immediately chasing the overly sweet and barely carbonated beer immediately after taking down three murky and satisfying beer-cooler neighbors may have let in some bias.
With four mini beers in us in quick fashion—even accounting that the quartet clocked in around one pint total—we decided to step away from our final sample and survey the rest of the bar, er, brewery… or whatever.
Past the front picnic tables strewn with board games, playing cards and to-go menus (patrons are permitted to order in food), we walked through a corridor with an offset kitchen table to the left. Past that, there was what looked to be an open area with brewery equipment and extra storage space, which dog-legged into a place with beanbag toss games.
The bar—as I’ve now brazenly declared it to be—doesn’t seem to be complete in terms of its layout, furnishing and interior décor. A mishmash of Big Head signage, framed renderings of wildlife and a smattering of sports memorabilia hung haphazardly amid the cold emptiness of the beige cinder block walls. It’s nothing a specific theme and a few days of work can’t fix (maybe when they’re closed Sundays through Wednesdays?) and, fortunately, its beer deserves the primary draw.
My flight had a smooth landing in the form of a true-to-form pale ale with delightfully light fruity notes. I don’t get to Wauwatosa often, but I’m glad to know the next time I make the trek I’ll find a tasty ‘Tosa take on the beverage that made Milwaukee famous.
Image by Tyler Maas.