If beer is the heart of Eagle Park Brewing, music is its heartbeat.
The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Prince play behind the bar from a vinyl record player, with albums ready to be spun displayed on the back wall and a crate of them sitting on the bar for perusal. It’s on the walls, in the form of concert posters and other album-themed art. Save for the large brewery logo on one wall, music is found in every piece of art adorning the Cream City brick and steel-gray space. It even brought the brewery’s chef into the fold.
It’s a natural theme for a brewery fronted by brothers Jack and Max Borgardt, who will be known by local music fans as the guitar and bass parts of the alt-rock band Eagle Trace. Jake Schinker rounds out the Eagle Park ownership team.
The new taproom opened Saturday at 823 E. Hamilton St., a turnkey opportunity on a complete brewery with a seven-barrel brewhouse that presented itself when Like Minds Brewing vacated and eventually dissolved.
Under the Eagle Park banner, the airy, comfortable space shines. When I visited Wednesday night, a demoralizing winter storm was wracking the city – in the middle of freakin’ April – for the second time in the five days Eagle Park had been open in its new digs. The still-ample daylight, filtered through the clouds and snow, flowed into the space, casting a cool blue contrast to the Edison string lights below. Eventually that diffuse warmth took over, and while two TVs offered Brewers and NBA playoff games, their size and placement made clear that the beer, food and company were the intended center of attention.
Jack Borgardt described what they were trying to create as an “I wanna hang out” vibe, and that mission was accomplished.
The beer is another strength. On my first visit there were only six beers on tap, less than I was hoping for, but all hit the mark, some unexpectedly so.
Loop Station golden ale is one of those surprise hits. I’m often bored by golden or blonde ales, but Loop Station is very well done. It’s a balanced, sessionable quencher with a lovely floral aroma, gentle touch of honey-like malt and just the right amount of bitterness and hop character on the finish. And a pale wheat ale like Pilot Batch 027 didn’t sound super intriguing, but the citrus character from ample Amarillo hops and just a touch of blood orange changed my mind quickly.
Double IPAs are more my jam, and ones like Immortal Soul especially: loaded with tropical fruit flavor and aroma, and not shy about its bitterness. Huey Lewis and the Boozier, an 11-percent ABV brown ale made with milk sugar and coffee beans aged in bourbon barrels, is as good as it sounds. It’s an imperial sibling of Huey Lewis and the Booze, a 6.6-percent ABV version.
One beer-related quibble: There’s no paper beer menu, which is fine, but the screen display that’s meant to replace it doesn’t have enough information – for instance, the fruit and hop makeup of Pilot Batch 027, or the fancy coffee in the Huey Lewises. That information came only from talking to the bartender, which is a good idea anyway but shouldn’t be the only source of such information.
That beer menu should be getting a little crazier in the near future. Jack Borgardt, who does Eagle Park’s brewing, said three more beers will be on by Saturday, and three more will follow next week, including the return of Eagle Park’s popular Milkshake series, which imposes various fruits and other adjuncts on a lactose cream-ale base. Up first is Raspberry Milkshake, followed by a can-and-draft release of Pineapple Milkshake for the grand opening on April 28.
On the drawing board but not yet in production are an 11-percent ABV guava wheat beer and an imperial stout with malted milk balls – yeah, Whoppers, basically – as an ingredient. Barrel-aging is coming, too, with Jack targeting three to five releases a year. It’s the kind of variety that keeps drinkers engaged and, along with well-executed basic styles, can satisfy a wider range of palates. “We want everyone who comes in here to find something they like,” Max Borgardt says.
The food side of the operation is helmed by chef Nathan Heck, and music played a role in his arrival to the Eagle Park fold. Heck is a drummer and had a practice space in the Lincoln Warehouse in Bay View, adjacent to Eagle Park’s first location. A curious Jack ventured over to meet the drummer he was hearing through the wall of his brewing space and they hit it off.
Heck’s menu – Eagle Park features a full kitchen, open for dinner on weeknights and brunch/lunch on weekends – is a fitting extension of the elevated and adventurous approach to beer. At first pass it doesn’t sound too wild – with apps, sandwiches, a couple of salads and a few barbecue items – but they’re sprinkled liberally with unusual ingredients, combinations and intense flavors. Heck is taking big swings here and pushing boundaries of relatively straightforward brewpub fare. Essentially everything, from the sauces to the bacon, is made in-house, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients throughout.
The order of duck confit pierogis comes with three soft, sizeable pockets of shredded, savory duck and a side of roasted fingerling potatoes. They’re tasty but a little on the dry side, so I would have liked more of the cherry stout jam, which offers a tart counterpoint but is too scarce to hit every enjoyable bite ($9).
The buffalo curry chicken sandwich ($12) is an intriguing concept that needs a little work from a practical standpoint. Even on my first bite, the ample wet ingredients rendered the pillowy and otherwise fantastic bun useless. Turning to fork and knife, each bite has a lot going on. The buffalo-curry sauce is an interesting intersection of pungent and piquant. The blistered cherry tomato dill slaw, lime-raisin chutney and prodigious assortment of pickled vegetables each bring something to the table. Yeah, that’s a lot going on, and the parts don’t really come together as a cohesive whole.
The “basic burger” ($10) is far less complicated and excellent. “Basic” is a bit of an undersell here, as the beef here is a blend of chuck, short rib and brisket, and it’s topped with Hook’s 5 Year American cheese. (I had no idea aging American cheese was a thing.) The patty is delicious and stands out by being much thinner than the ridiculously ball-like ones you find in gimmickier restaurants. The (again, fantastic) bun held up nicely here, and the entire burger feels like a good start for the Smashburger ($13), tricked out with bacon, mixed pickles, pickled mustard seeds and garlic mayo.
I enjoyed both my sides: crisp-but-soft “karate” fries and the tasty, texture-y cornbread stuffing.
Taken altogether, there’s a clear purpose, vision and vitality to the Eagle Park experience. It’s an impressive combination from a management team that is bracingly young. Max is 28, Jack 26 and Schinker 25. Brother Cass Borgardt – Eagle Park’s sales force and Eagle Trace’s drummer – is just 22 and doesn’t even look that old. If my first look at the new Eagle Park is any indication, their future is bright.