New brewery openings happen all the time during today’s craft beer boom. But the environment was decidedly different in 1985 when Randy Sprecher, a former brewing supervisor for Pabst, decided to open Milwaukee’s first “microbrewery.”
“The beer landscape (in 1985) was all about domestic in the Midwest, but imports were pretty strong,” says Sprecher. “So, we tried to get import buyers’ interest with some of my homebrew recipes that were decidedly Germanic. Many thought I’d be gone in a month or three.”
According to the Brewers Association, there were just 110 breweries in the United States in 1985, and less than 40 were craft breweries. Now there are more than 3,200 craft brewers in the country, and many more on the way.
Sprecher has always been ahead of the curve. Dissatisfaction with American beer led him to begin home brewing in 1972, well before home brewing was a popular pastime.
Thirty years ago, Sprecher decided to put his brewing knowledge to use. In 1985, Sprecher Brewery opened in a brick warehouse perched above the Menomonee River at 730 W. Oregon Street, where it remained until moving to its current location at 701 W. Glendale Avenue in 1994.
“I first brewed my oldest recipe, a black lager, and then had my first attempt at a hoppier than normal amber lager,” explained Sprecher. “The blend of these two brews became Winter Brew, which started me off on January 1, 1986. Later the separate brews, Black Bavarian and Special Amber, got out to the initial bars.”
Since then, Sprecher has built a wide portfolio of beers and sodas and helped keep the brewing culture of Milwaukee alive.
“I am sure that all of us who started way back had no idea of the craft potential over the years,” said Sprecher. “Now, it is like the Wild West with new innovations and recipe ideas. For sure, trying to guess what will be popular over the next two or three years is a tough guess even though the larger players try to ‘steer’ the market.”
Sprecher is celebrating 30 years of brewing by hosting an anniversary bash on Friday and Saturday at Juneau Park (801 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.). Admission is free and the music lineup is highlighted by pioneering punk band X. Raise a glass to a craft beer trailblazer this weekend.
Bikes and Brews
I like pub crawls. I like bikes. Sunday’s Cali-Rado Tour de Tap combines them both. The tour stops at five different bars where standout brews from California and Colorado—Alpine, Avery, Oskar Blues, Ballast Point and more—will be flowing. Participation requires $15, a bike and a bike helmet. Start at the beginning of the tour or join them along the way, you can pay at any of the participating bars. Here’s the schedule:
- 11 a.m. to noon: Draft & Vessel (4417 N. Oakland Ave.)
- 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Hooligan’s (2017 E. North Ave.)
- 2 to 3 p.m.: Stack’d Burger Bar (170 S. 1st St.)
- 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.: Boone & Crockett (2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
- 5 p.m.: Palomino (2491 S. Superior St.)
Sprecher Special Amber deserves a mention in honor of Sprecher’s big anniversary. The German lager was one of the first craft beers that worked its way into my regular rotation quite a few years ago. The well-rounded malty brew is still one of my favorite summer beers. The fact that it comes in 16-ounce bottles is an added bonus.
I’m headed to Maine for my brother’s wedding this weekend (and unfortunately missing the Sprecher bash). He promises a Saturday afternoon filled with East Coast beer rarities. He better not be lying.
Canada excelled at last weekend’s World Mile Beer Classic. In related news, there’s a World Mile Beer Classic.
Thursday, Aug. 27: It’s really a good idea to head to The Malt Shoppe (813 N. Mayfair Rd.) at 5 p.m. because that’s when New Glarus is pouring a few samples. Deliciousness is guaranteed.
Thursday, Aug. 27: Tyranena brings samples to Discount Liquor Waukesha (919 N. Barstow Ave.) from 4 to 7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 27: Burnhearts (2599 S. Logan Ave.) is tapping some winter warmers—at the end of summer. The beer list for Summer Heat is a good one and includes Deschutes The Stoic, Epic Big Bad Baptist, Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, a cask of Alesmith Speedway Stout and plenty more. Get there early.
Thursday, Aug. 27: Abita takes over the taps at Draft & Vessel. The highlight is a year-old Barrel-Aged Bourbon Street Stout.
Thursday, Aug. 27: At 5 p.m., 3 Sheeps is taking over the taps at Bernie’s Tap Room (351 Main St., Waukesha). The lineup includes a few barrel-aged treats including wine and whiskey aged Rebel Kent Amber Ale and a Black Wheat Ale aged in bourbon barrels.
Thursday, Aug. 27: Karben4 takes over the taps at Chammps Americana (1240 S. Moorland Rd., Brookfield) starting at 7 p.m. Idiot Farm IIPA and Dragon Flute APA are just two highlights from a tasty draft list.
Friday, Aug. 28: Try La Trappe Bockbier, La Trappe Witte and St. Feuillien Saison as well as an array of brews from Milwaukee Brewing at Discount Liquor Milwaukee (5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.) from 4 to 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 29: Milwaukee Brewing hands out sample from noon to 3 p.m. at Discount Liquor Waukesha.
Saturday, Aug. 29: Try beers from the northern U.S. at Three Cellars (7133 S. 76th St.) from 1 to 4 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 29: Cheers to Company Brewing (735 E. Center St.) for the Riverwest Backyard Hops Brew as a way of building community through beer. Anyone in the neighborhood who is growing hops is encouraged to harvest them on Saturday and bring them to Company Brewing between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The brewery will add them to a new brew at 5 p.m. The community sourced wet hopped beer will be released in September. Such a cool idea.