Barley to Barrel Program

Barley to Barrel is Why Milwaukee’s Brewery Scene is Booming Lately

The Barley to Barrel brewery incubator launches its fourth program this fall. It’s an important part of Milwaukee’s growing craft brewery scene.

Creating a strong brewing culture in a city isn’t easy, but Milwaukee’s has managed to retool over the past few years. The Barley to Barrel brewery incubator may not be as high-profile as entities like new breweries and craft beer bars in the process, but the program is every bit as important to Milwaukee’s brewing resurgence.

Barley to Barrel Program
Photo courtesy of John Graham (shown on the far left).

The program helps guide prospective brewers through the process of opening a brewery. Participants do get the chance to brew their own beer on a commercial scale, but it’s about much more than just mash tuns and bottling lines. The 10-week course addresses the business side of brewing and covers topics like marketing, sales and packaging. The fourth iteration of Barley to Barrel begins on September 4 and runs until November 14. Registrations are being accepted until Sunday, August 26, at

“By developing the Barley to Barrel program and moving people through it, we’ve learned a lot about what these aspiring brewers are looking for and what they need to get started,” said co-founder John Graham. “It absolutely had exceeded our expectations. We knew that there was a passionate group of aspiring brewers out there. We thought, there are other cities similar to Milwaukee that are seeing a lot of growth; there’s no reason Milwaukee shouldn’t be seeing these new operations come together.”

The first Barley to Barrel program was founded by Graham and Michael Anderson and launched in January, 2016. Since then, 42 aspiring brewers have learned from local brewing mentors at workshops held at the Ward4 Coworking Space (313 N. Plankinton Ave.). The 10 weeks of learning culminate with a release party, where attendees celebrate finishing by tasting beers brewed by the group.

The timing of the start of the Barley to Barrel program coincided nicely with a burgeoning brewery scene. The first program ran a few months before places like Third Space, Good City, Bavarian Bierhaus and Urban Harvest opened, and right before Black Husky and MobCraft moved to town.

“It’s hard to draw a line between who was getting started when and how they aligned with us,” explained Graham. “We weren’t all that well in tune with everybody as people were getting started. I think it was a lot of pent up ideas. People wanted to do something, but it took a while to get started. We had seen what was going on in other markets. I’m sure our compatriots were too.”

Barley to Barrel has definitely made an impact. The program played a hand in launching Component Brewing (2018 S. 1st St.), Brewfinity Brewing Co. (N58 W39800 Industrial Rd., Oconomowoc), Copper State Brewing (313 Dousman St., Green Bay), the New Barons Brewing Cooperative, which doesn’t yet have a physical location, and the forthcoming Foxtown Brewing in Mequon.

The brewing scene in Milwaukee has seen significant growth over the past two years. Expect Barley to Barrel to be a part of further expansion.

“There’s always going to be a critical mass, but I don’t believe that we’re there yet,” added Graham. “I believe there are a lot opportunities in the Milwaukee area and also in some of the suburban areas. We’ve had people come through our program from Mukwonago and Oconomowoc and other places like that. It’s not just going to be Milwaukee that sees this growth.”

Barley to Barrel Fall Schedule

Sept. 5: Business Building
Sept. 12: Style and Recipe Planning
Sept. 19: Marketing and Trademarking
Sept. 26: Brewing Day
Oct. 3: Sales and Distribution
Oct. 10: Building a Brewery
Oct. 17: Sales Field Work
Oct. 24: Mock Pitches, and Brewery Licensing and Regulation
Oct. 31: Packaging
Nov. 7: Investment and Fundraising
Nov. 14: Release Party
Nov. 21: Beer Distribution Day



Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 20 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for a few years more.