Images courtesy of the Riverwest Filling Station.
It was a rainy Sunday as I was drove my male companion to Riverwest to check out the recently opened Riverwest Filling Station (701 E. Keefe Ave.). My friend was only in Milwaukee for the weekend, so I felt pressure to keep him entertained. I figured, what guy wouldn’t enjoy a growler bar?
After finding street parking right next to the bar, we entered the stand-alone building, walked past a wall of coat hooks and found two seats at the semi-filled bar. In typical 20-something male fashion, within two seconds of sitting down he looked at me with concerned eyes and declared, “they have no TVs.”
Yes, if you break out in hives from not having a TV with SportsCenter on loop, you might not thoroughly enjoy the Filling Station. However, in the world of smartphones, my friend is living proof that you’ll survive.
A minute or two passed before the lone bartender made his way over to us and dropped off a pair of menus. After seeing the mere depth of the beer list, I knew I’d take a while to decide what to order. As the beers change frequently, the options are displayed in clear pocketed sheets (imagine how you stored your basketball card collection as a child), made for easy swapping. At the time of my visit, the Filling Station had nearly 30 beers on tap, roughly 50 bottles available and a handful of wines.
In addition to a few Wisconsin brews on draught like O’So Brewing’s Night Train, Central Waters’ Nitro Mudpuppy Porter and New Glarus’ Fat Squirrel and Two Women, you’ll find many offerings from Germany and Belgium. A few you can expect to see include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel, Paulaner Salvator and Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay between $5 and $8.50 for most glasses of beer.
My friend opted for Michigan-based New Holland Brewing Company’s Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout. Unsure of what I’d like, I sheepishly asked to try the Ephemere Apple from Unibroue in Quebec. The bartender poured a sample glass half-full of the brew and gave me a few minutes to try it out. I was struck by the light, fruity aroma immediately. As for taste, it wasn’t nearly as thick or apple-flavored as I expected. But it was easy to drink and perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
As we made our way through the first round, I told my friend that if I could have a bar in my fictitious home, I’d want to model it after the Filling Station’s setup. From the bar top (perhaps stone or concrete) and tappers lined up just so, to the way the liquor bottles were displayed on three rows of shelves, the bar is pleasing to the eye.
And while we’re on the topic of liquor, my whiskey-loving friend was impressed with the offerings available at the Filling Station. If you’re a fan of the Rye varieties, you’ll be pleased by the choices that include Templeton, Redemption, Riverboat and High West. Other whiskeys include George Dickel No. 8 and No. 12, and the recently-released Bulleit Bourbon 10.
For the next round I was set with my Ephemere Apple, but my friend wanted to branch out. He glanced at the chalkboard listing German-style selections but was still unsure. So he sampled the Paulaner Salvator and Paulaner Hefeweizen. Under his breath I heard him comment the Salvator had a sweet caramel taste, and it was then I knew the Hefeweizen didn’t have a chance.
Sometime during our next rounds, three men came approached the bar and wondered aloud which growler to buy. They settled on the Salvator my friend was enjoying, and for the next 10 minutes I was captivated by the growler-filling process.
After cleaning the line once or twice, the bartender chose one of the 30 buttons on the control panel to the left of the filling machine. The bartender informed the three friends that if they opened the growler today, the beer would last roughly 3 days, and if left unopened it would be good for at least two weeks.
As he handed the gallon container across the bar, I knew I had to have one of my own. Just after we settled our tab, I asked for a growler of the Ephemere Apple and waited patiently for the bartender to fill it. At $4 for the growler, which is reusable, and $18 for the 64 ounces of craft beer, I walked away with a smile on my face.
Eventually, as they must, our visit came to an end. And while I’d like to give all the credit to my sparkling personality, I’d have to say much of my friend’s enjoyment came from the Filling Station’s incredible beer selection and eye-pleasing décor.