Trying to find a bar with beer in this city is like trying to find rocks on the moon. They’re everywhere. But, like so many things, all bars are not created equal. And some are so much better when it comes to beer.
Sugar Maple (441 E Lincoln Ave.) is such a place. Having grown up in Wisconsin means having grown up on beer, so I know a thing or two when it comes to this expansive subject. What makes Maple such a great place lies in the details of this drink.
First, the bartenders are schooled in beer. They don’t just like it, they know it intimately. So many times bartenders take for granted their job, thinking they can just mix a few cocktails and pour a few beers, without ever knowing what makes certain drinks special, and what doesn’t. At Maple, they truly know what makes certain beers work and what customers will like based on previous beer tastes. All you need to do is ask for a suggestion, and the tasting begins.
The second reason, and one that is almost as important as the first, in so much as it makes the bar so unique, is the glasses they use. Most bars use one or two of a three-glass gamut. There’s the regular pint glass, usually accompanied by Guinness, or specialty beers. Then there’s the Weizen glass, a tall 16oz glass with a narrow bottom and wide top, most commonly used for pilsner beers at chain restaurants, even though it isn’t meant for pilsner. The final one, and the most common, is the regular, straight up, no flare, honest piece of glass that most bars serve their tap beer in. I’m not arguing that these last glasses are low-scale and no one should drink beer out of them, but there is something left wanting when beer is served this way. On the opposite side though, I’d drink good beer out of a wet shoe if that’s all I had to use. But when you order a good beer, like a Sierra Nevada Grand Cru, and they serve it up in a goblet made for that kind of beer, it’s fantastic. And equally incredible is finding a bar where the bartender not only knows enough to pour it in that glass, but where they also have that glass behind the bar.
A lot of people are put off by “fancy” glassware, seeing it as pretentious. But why is it pretentious to drink a good Belgian beer out of a tulip glass, but if someone pours a glass of wine in anything other than a wine glass, it gets dirty looks and most often sent back?
Maple tops the charts for one of the best beer bars in Milwaukee because of the beer it has on tap, an expansive list of more than 60. The best part is that I couldn’t find Miller Light, Michelob Light, Pabst, Bud Light, nothing of the sort, which is a rare thing in Milwaukee.
Now, I realize that everyone has different tastes; beer selection is, like most things, relative to the drinker. But I honestly have a hard time wrapping my mind around the gravitational pull, the steady consumer consumption of some of these beers, like Michelob and Bud. They taste more like beer flavored water than beer, and they’re all almost exclusively the same. I realize the reason for this taste goes back many years. The major beer companies that exist today and the general flavor of beer among them was born out of cutbacks during the World Wars and Prohibition. But is that a reason to continue to drink them? Maybe. And who am I to say what people should like?
But with so much good beer out in the world, why not open up and taste something incredible? And if this is enough to push you over the edge from drinking Old Swill to trying a heady IPA, the bartenders at Sugar Maple do a great job of sorting through the initial bottle shock of the beer world, offering up not only great glasses but great suggestions as well.