When I started writing this column five years ago, the craft beer scene in Milwaukee didn’t keep me very busy. Now, keeping up with new breweries in town is becoming increasingly difficult due to sheer volume. But that’s a good problem to have. I tried to do some catching up last week by making the rounds at a few of the newer breweries in town. Here are the highlights.
It’s hard to imagine a better use of space in Southridge Mall. On a sunny Friday afternoon the large patio space in front of Explorium was bustling. The tap lines provide 24 tasty reasons why.
Captain Kidd’s Lost IPA had a balance of fruit and bitterness that made it a highlight. The crisp and refreshing Patagonian Hitchhiker Lager and the rich dark chocolate and coffee flavor of the decadent Tiramisu Stout prove that owner Mike Doble, who has been brewing since 1989, is no one-trick pony.
The likeable Doble knows his beer and he told me plenty of ambitious future plans for the brewery—including one amazing collab—that I’ll be able to talk about more in the near future.
The Explorium has a few smart touches that any bar can learn from. The menu—comprising mostly burgers, sandwiches and appetizers—is hardly an afterthought. (I recommend the Big Tom turkey burger, and I hear that the wings are amazing.) The patio includes a horseshoe-shaped bar and is adorned by a few young hop vines, a fire pit and a smattering of tables. Diversion is provided by conversation and a giant Jenga game—there isn’t a single TV outside. Explorium may be on the south side, but Doble gets visitors from all over Milwaukee, and it’s not hard to figure out why.
5300 S. 76th St.
The enthusiasm that owner Erik Dorfner has for his business is what makes craft beer brewing fun. Dorfner oozes with excitement when talking about his brewery, and he’s clearly thrilled to be able to say he opened the first brewery ever to call West Allis home.
“Our market is more West Allis,” he explains. “The city has looked for something to embrace like this for a while.”
Dorfner offers a range of brews with West Allis themes like the tasty Devine Imperial Red, named after West Allis mayor Dan Devine, and the Generale Scottish Ale, another standout that’s an homage to General Billy Mitchell.
In April, Westallion opened its large taproom, tucked nicely in a quiet corner of West Allis, and has been busy since. Dorfner, who worked for Lakefront Brewery before venturing out on his own, has plenty of room to work with. He’s using just a portion of his 6,000-square-foot building. Lack of space won’t likely ever be a problem for Westallion.
“I didn’t get to make my (Lakefront) My Turn (beer),” said Dorfner. “But I guess they’re all kind of my turn now.”
1825 S. 72nd St.
When I pulled up to Eagle Park’s hidden warehouse digs, 88.9 Radio Milwaukee was playing “Haywire” by the band Eagle Trace. An odd coincidence considering Eagle Park brewer Jack Borgardt and three of his brothers make up the majority of the band. The song informed me that the Borgardts are talented musically, and I soon found out that talent extends to brewing.
To get into the Eagle Park taproom you first push a button on a callbox outside of the Lincoln Warehouse and are buzzed in. A meandering journey to the second floor ends at a small but cozy bar and tasting area. That’s where I found co-owners Jack Borgardt and Jake Schinker sitting at the bar, and Cass Borgardt pouring beers behind it.
The youthful trio was more than happy to talk to this middle-aged beer lover about their brews, and I was more than happy to sample them. The juicy Set List IPA was outstanding and so was You Like Jazz?, a complex Belgian American Imperial IPA brewed with Citra hops. But it’s hard to not give top honors to Loop Station, a golden ale made with agave nectar, lime peel and sea salt. The refreshing brew is dangerously easy to drink.
Eagle Park is looking to move out of its small space at some point in the near future. The varied list of 10 well-made beers on the menu leads me to believe that there are big things in store from Borgardt and his brewery.
2018 S. 1st St.