Sure, with approximately 800 bands performing on 12 stages for 11 days, Summerfest is a music festival first. However, as an event that occurs both in Milwaukee and during some of the hottest days of summer, the festival is also a cause for liquid celebration. Fortunately, Summerfest has attendees covered in the beverage department. Miller Lite is the event’s official beer—stage sponsorship and all. But if the prospect of “great taste, less filling” doesn’t get you on the next shuttle bus to Henry Maier Festival Park, rest assured there’s a bevy of beverages on hand to wet the whistles of patrons. On opening night, I took to all corners of the Summerfest grounds and built up a thirst while checking out the myriad of libations available at the Big Gig.
Maybe it’s my affinity for local music, but after I passed through the turnstiles, I made a b-line for the K-Nation/Cascio Interstate Music Stage at the park’s northeast corner just in time to catch a set by great local post-punk outfit Worrier. Midway through, I decided I had enough time to get a beer at a stand in earshot as they tuned and adjusted levels of their instruments. However, my options were limited. I was handcuffed, marooned in Miller Country. I have no real problem with Miller Lite (especially at a friendly - by festival standards - $5 price tag or $6.50 for an aluminum pint), but in a land renowned for is Epicurean take on consumables, it seemed a tad basic. Instead, I settled for a (Miller-Coors distributed) Leine’s Summer Shandy ($5.50), a small departure in the flavor spectrum. Other Miller-affiliated items on hand at various similarly-stocked vendors include Coors Light, Coors NA, Third Shift, Redd’s Apple Ale, Blue Moon and Batch 19—all the usual suspects of the “craft beer” (that aren’t actually craft beers by any means) selections usually at festivals and sporting events everywhere.
I downed my Shandy by the end of Worrier and backtracked to a trusted beer station from Summerfests past: the Lakefront Brewery stand. As the one and only site to procure Milwaukee’s favorite microbrew, the line stretched eight-to-10 deep at all windows during my visit. But it was well worth the short wait to procure a cold Fixed Gear ($5.50). Beyond Fixed Gear, the Brewery was equipped to pour its IPA, New Grist, Wisconsinite and Riverwest Stein. Fixed Gear in hand, I returned to the local stage to catch Faux Fir’s set.
After a set of great electronic pop (and halfhearted Gary Glitter tributes) from the Cascio headliner, I ventured to the opposite end of the grounds in desperate search of a pizza cone because, well… pizza cone. En route to the sweet coney goodness, I spotted the occasional Miller stand that offered wine (exclusively Yellow Tail). I also happened upon the two-story Water Street Brewery concession stand. As I devoured my pepperoni cone and watched ComedySportz flex its improvisational muscle in a tent and more wandering around, I returned to Water Street Brewery for one last drink before catching a Yeah Yeah Yeahs nightcap.
Of the quartet of original brews on hand, I - a sucker for IPAs - gleefully opted for a Water Street Brewery Black IPA ($5.50), which I’d never had before. Golden Wheat, Bavarian Weiss and Honey Lager Light are also on hand. Though their Black IPA doesn’t quite match MKE Brewing Co.’s Black Iron or Lakefront IPA (two of my must haves when available), it was still a hoppy, satisfyingly bitter treat. Pro tip: on the lake side of the Water Street Brewery kiosk, local eatery Louise’s also sells Water Street brews and Yellow Tail wines, usually with a fraction of the crowd.
If beer and wine aren’t your drinks of choice, JoJo’s Martini Lounge carries six ($10) specialty cocktails that range from the standard Cosmopolitan, all the way to the tequila-laden Margaritatini.
Summerfest will always be a music festival first, but the alcoholic amenities—while understandably limited due to the size and scope of the event—ensure almost any attendee can hold onto some spirit they enjoy as they take in the sights, sounds and prime people-watching of this behemoth fest.