Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Best Campfire Brew
It can get chilly in Wisconsin, even in the summer, which makes for cold nights around campfires for outdoorsy types. Turn to Sprecher’s RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT if you need a warm-up. It’s dark, filled with rich, roasted malt flavor and has an alcohol content of 8.5 percent (that’ll warm your bones). Plus, it goes great with toasted marshmallows.
Best Beer on a Boat
Not only does Big Bay's WAVEHOPPER have the perfect name for consumption while skimming along in a Bayliner, but the Kölsch-style ale is also refreshing and crisp, perfect for balmy summer days. Just don’t imbibe if you’re piloting the ship.
Beer Making Headlines
Smooth, dark Sprecher’s BLACK BAVARIAN has had its share of recent media coverage. Billed as one of Men’s Journal’s top beers in America, it also earned a mention from respected beer aficionado Ashley Routson (aka The Beer Wench) on craftbeer.com and was named one of the top 10 craft beers of 2011 by Washington Times Communities writer Bryan Kolesar. The combo of a tasty roasted malt flavor and a reasonable 5.9 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) makes it easy to drink. So go ahead, believe the hype.
Beers That Make Winter Manageable
Lakefront Brewery has nailed the whole holiday beer thing. The cinnamon and nutmeg flavor of HOLIDAY SPICE has made it as big a part of the holidays as overeating. The 11 percent ABV is also a winter warmer. PUMPKIN LAGER is another seasonal hit that goes perfectly well with Thanksgiving dinner (and preps you for Black Friday shopping melees). The smooth, spiced flavor with hints of pumpkin is a fall favorite and a fine substitute for pumpkin pie.
Brewpub Beer for the Light Drinker
Not every beer consumer enjoys the punch in the face provided by hops or the distinct taste of dark-roasted malts. Sometimes, an easy-drinker like Water Street Brewery’s HONEY LAGER LIGHT fits the bill. The crisp lager with a hint of honey is a staple at the oldest brewpub in town.
Best Beer Brewed by a Tax Guy
“My Turn Series” lets Lakefront employees join the brewing process. The first, DAN MADE A BALTIC PORTER, was released at the end of 2011. And it’s obvious that Dan, the tax and compliance/transportation manager at Lakefront, knows more than numbers and logistics. The black, complex beer mixes roasted malt flavor with a touch of hops and hints of coffee. Clearly, Dan’s a good guy to have managing the books.
The Award for Barley Altruism
In spring, Rock Bottom Brewery (740 N. Plankinton Ave., 414-276-3030) serves up FIRE CHIEF ALE. The red ale has a roasted malt flavor, but that’s not the important part. A portion of the proceeds from Fire Chief sales are donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Best Use of Picnic Leftovers
Horny Goat Brewery’s WATERMELON WHEAT sounds strange, but brewmaster Dave Reese’s concoction works. The popular brew isn’t too sweet and has a dry, slightly tart finish that makes it a good choice for a hot summer day on the massive riverside patio at Horny Goat Hideaway (2011 S. First St., 414-482-4628). The watermelon flavor isn’t overwhelming, and as an added bonus, Watermelon Wheat is seedless.
The On, Wisconsin! Keeping It Local Award
Lakefront Brewery took buying local to a new level with WISCONSINITE SUMMER WEISS, which debuted in May. Every ingredient in the hazy beer is from the state, including a brewing yeast strain that’s believed to be the first one native to Wisconsin. The malted barley is from Milwaukee, the water from Lake Michigan, wheat courtesy of Chilton, and the hops from Mazomanie. Wisconsinite is the first 100 percent “all local” beer made in the United States. So drink up, proud Badger Staters.
Best Brewpub Tap, Far West
The Delafield Brewhaus (3832 Hillside Dr., Delafield, 262-646-7821) won a silver medal at the 2011 World Beer Championships for its OKTOBERFEST. The dark, toasted malt brew earned the Vienna Marzen a score of 89. Translation: It’s pretty darn good.
Beer for the Third-Base Side in the Sun
The fruity BOOYAH from Milwaukee Brewing Co. is a solid addition to Miller Park’s beer menu (which has a slew of new craft beer choices). The slightly sweet and citrusy farmhouse ale is a nice way to combat the hot sun, and drinking a local beer gives new meaning to “root, root, root for the home team.”
Best Craft Brew Impersonation
Leinenkugel might be under the MillerCoors banner, but the Leinie’s Big Eddy series is no assembly line beer. Choices such as the deep, dark RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT and the malty brown WEE HEAVY SCOTCH ALE are brewed at the small Tenth Street Brewery (1515 N. 10th St.). The beers are complex and flavorful enough to earn begrudging praise from even die-hard beer snobs.
Best Beer/Label Combination
Lakefront Brewery's BRIDGE BURNER SPECIAL RESERVE ALE is a complex combination of hops and caramel malts wrapped into an 8 percent ABV sipper. The beer is excellent, and it gives Lakefront’s graphics department some props. The image of the lone fist holding a blazing torch (among silhouettes of similar fists sans fire in front of an industrial background) is downright iconic and so very Milwaukee.
Best Grilling Companion
SPECIAL AMBER is the patriarch of Sprecher Brewery, a refreshing choice that combines malts with a slight, pleasing bitterness. It also comes in a 16-ounce bottle, giving it a leg up in the grilling department with a little extra beer to work with. Use those bonus ounces to top off boiling brats or simply have peace of mind knowing you’ve got plenty of beer for a longer-than-normal grilling session. Well played, Randy Sprecher, well played.
Best for Spicy Barbecue
If you prefer grilled items on the spicy side, laugh in the face of ghost peppers and find Tabasco’s heat an insult, then Buffalo Water Brewing’s BISON BLONDE is for you. The lager’s slightly bitter bite and citrusy undertones pair wonderfully with hot and spicy foods.
Best Bet for Summer in the Suburbs
The banana and clove flavors of the HEFE-WEISS at Silver Creek Brewing Co. (N57 W6172 Portland Rd., Cedarburg) pair well with summer, especially while sitting in the brewery’s rustic beer garden outside of the old grist mill (built in 1855) alongside Cedar Creek. Toss a lemon into your beer for added citrus taste, and you’ve got a glass full of summer refreshment in a living Currier and Ives scene.
Hot Town, Summer in the City Urban Beer Award
Tipping a Milwaukee Brewing Co. ULAO BELGIAN WIT (or any other beer) on the massive back deck of the Milwaukee Ale House (233 N. Water St., 414-276-2337) is a summer rite of passage. Ulao’s citrus flavor and hint of ginger are ideal for a summer day of watching big boats (and the occasional garbage clump) float by in the Milwaukee River.
Mad Scientist Award
WEEKEND AT LOUIE’S by Milwaukee Brewing Co. is a combination of Louie’s Demise ale and Rishi’s blueberry rooibos and hibiscus tea. Huh? That’s right. After the tea is filtered out, the beer is left with a tart blueberry finish, a low 4 percent ABV and a crisp, clean flavor with a hint of tea.
Adult Kool-Aid Award for Outstanding Berry Use
BERRY WEISS, a mix of crisp wheat beer with a hint of fruit, is an excellent summer thirst-quencher. The folks at Riverside Brewery (255 S. Main St., West Bend, 262-334-2739) have upped the ante by offering a different featured berry each month in their Bent River Berry Weiss. Cherry, strawberry and blackberry are just a few Riverside options.
Best Hipster Beer That Isn’t PBR
Riverwesters, put down the Pabst tallboy and pick up a MOUSTACHE RIDE PALE ALE by Stonefly Brewing Co. (735 E. Center St., 414-264-3630). The suggestively named brew offers mild hops and a respectable 6 percent ABV. It’s an easy-drinker and makes the transition from Blue Ribbon easy.
Horrible Hair, Good Brew
Thankfully, the mullet is nearly eradicated (State Fair excluded), even for Mark Duchow, the brewmaster at Sweet Mullets Brewery & Pub (N58 W39800 Industrial Rd., Oconomowoc, 262-456-2843). But he brews the tasty 501 RED ALE. The moderately hoppy flavor and smooth finish make it a standout at Oconomowoc’s only brewpub.
Older-Than-Dirt Retro Beer Award
The modern incarnation of the West Bend Lithia Beer Co. is rooted in the West Bend Brewing Co., founded in 1848. That brewery is long gone, but Lithia beer isn’t. LITHIA’S REGNER RED and BUCKY BLONDE are contract-brewed at Sprecher, and you can even find the pre-Prohibition recipe Bucky Blonde at Miller Park. It’s an old-school brew, right down to the cool script logo.
Best Brewpub Tap, South Side
The deep brown SOUTH SHORE STOUT at St. Francis Brewery and Restaurant (3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-744-4448) is lightly hopped for a nice touch of bitterness. And it’s not too heavy, which is good news for drinkers wanting more than one.