Conversation on Beer: Mike Doble and Jim McCabe

The owners of The Explorium Brewpub and Milwaukee Brewing chat about beer.

Barreling On

Mike Doble, owner, The Explorium Brewpub
Jim McCabe, owner, Milwaukee Brewing

Brew City has been riding high in recent years. More than a dozen breweries opened in 2016 and ’17, a few of which have become major players in the local beer scene. But that trend has slowed, with fewer openings in 2018 and three local brewers closing their doors since late 2017.

Mike Doble was part of that 2016 wave, opening The Explorium Brewpub at Southridge Mall, in what he calls the suburban “donut hole” of breweries. Jim McCabe, meanwhile, is part of the city’s landed gentry of craft beer. Milwaukee Brewing Co. started with the Milwaukee Ale House in 1997, and in September cut the ribbon on an enormous, sparkling new facility on Ninth Street, just three blocks from Fiserv Forum. Their conversation, with MKE Brewing’s new brewhouse and fermentation tanks just over their shoulders, began with a question: How many breweries is too many? – Moderated by Chris Drosner

Read more conversations in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine’s cover story: Let’s Talk It Out.

Read an extended version of this conversation here:

Barreling On: Mike Doble and Jim McCabe

MD: In general I feel that our market can support more breweries. But the days of starting a brewery to put a bunch of beer out to the market in package [cans or bottles], that’s winding down. The physical amount of shelf space available can’t support the number of packaging breweries that are out there. What it really comes down to is there are two opportunities to open a brewery in a crowded market: Do it in an area where there are a bunch of breweries, so that your collection of breweries becomes a destination; or be the neighborhood brewery in an area where you become a gathering spot and part of the community.

In the end, not everybody who opens a brewery is going to make it. The market is becoming completely intolerant of mediocre breweries. We’ve had three breweries close in the last year: Like Minds, Brenner, and now District 14. That would seem to indicate that maybe there’s too many breweries. But the more breweries we get, the bigger the culture is, and guys making the best beer will continue to rise to the top.

JM: It’s really about the beer-drinking public. In the time I’ve been doing this, 21 years, Milwaukee’s gone from, “Where’s my chilled mug?” to a very educated, savvy craft beer market. Are there too many breweries? There are too many breweries from a retail and consumer standpoint. When you walk into one of our larger retailers, when you see that many brands, it’s proven that the consumer gets overloaded and makes less choices than when they have an easier decision. So that’s gonna shake out, and it’s gonna be the better breweries [remaining]. The liquid’s really important, but it’s also the whole company and the brand.

MD: You said something interesting, Jim. You said the consumer has gone from the chilled mug to now, “Where’s my snifter?” You did that. Guys like you and Jim and Russ [Klisch, Lakefront Brewery founders], and Randy Sprecher [founder of Sprecher Brewery]. You guys did the hard work to create that culture here.

JM: It was a beer culture that we all loved. As a Milwaukeean, there was a lot of pride in the brewing industry here for my entire time in Milwaukee. Shifting people to these full-flavored beers from the industrial-style beer was [done] one glass at a time, just like you do at Explorium. That’s the thing that hasn’t changed about the craft industry, even when you’re this size. When you’re trying to push a packaged product out the door, it’s still the same thing. You’ve gotta sell the consumer one glass at a time.

“Let’s Talk it Out” appears in the January 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at or find the January issue on newsstands, starting Dec. 31.

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