A Brief History of the Blessing of the Bock, Milwaukee’s Weirdest Beer Event

One of Milwaukee’s longest running beer-related traditions takes place on Sunday, April 14.

Milwaukee has plenty of endearing quirks and odd rituals — singing “Roll out the Barrel” at Brewers games, an overabundance of Friday fish fries, affection for sausage.

The “Blessing of the Bock” seems to fit in this peculiar group. The event, where beer is “blessed” and then consumed (of course) is in its 31st year.

This year the ritual takes place at noon on Sunday, April 14, at the Falcon Bowl (801 E. Clarke St.) as part of the Riverwest Brew Fest. Several bock brews from the likes of Sprecher, Lakefront, Black Husky, St. Francis and more will be on hand, as well as non-bock beers from Black Husky, Lakefront, Company Brewing and Gathering Place. The cost to participate is just $15.

The first blessing took place at Gordon Park Pub, which is now Nessun Dorma (2778 N. Weil St.), in 1988. At that time a quarter-barrel of Lakefront Bock was blessed by Fr. Michael Barrett, before promptly being tapped.

Brother James Klisch
“Brother James” Klisch (courtesy of Jeff Platt)

How did it all start?

“In late 1987 or early 1988, I was looking through a copy of The New World Guide to Beer by beer author Michael Jackson,” said Lakefront co-founder Jim Klisch. “The section on Ireland showed a priest blessing beer, and from the parish priest at St. Casimir Church I learned there was actually a blessing for beer. I knew medieval monks would fortify themselves during the Lenten fast by drinking a heavy version of bock beer. I also knew that Italian families in the neighborhood would have food baskets blessed on the feast day of St. Joseph. So to honor all these traditions, I thought it would be fun to haul a recently brewed batch of Lakefront Bock to a local bar and have it blessed in a ceremony. The next year I thought I would do it again and it morphed into a yearly event.”

In 1989, the festivities were held at Dino’s (808 E. Chambers St.) with an expanded beer list as Sprecher and Water Street Brewing were included. Since those early days, the blessing has taken place all over town at places like St. Casimir School, The Rave and Serb Hall.

“I think it’s lasted so long because there was always someone who was willing to head it up, there were always people who want to attend it and no one is very particular about where it’s held, how many breweries attend or how fancy of an event it is,” explained Klisch. “Plus, the Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Klisch plans on performing the “blessing” this Sunday as his alter ego, Brother James. Also, the first 100 attendees get a free Usinger’s bratwurst. Of course.



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.