One of Milwaukee’s goofiest summer rituals is the Fat Tire bike tour. Bicyclists, many in costumes (this year’s theme was Animal House), gather on a Saturday morning at Pabst Brewery’s Best Place tavern. They down a glass or two of beer, hop on their bikes, and barhop about town on two wheels for the day.
The first stop is usually Milwaukee Brewing Co. In June, right on cue, the Walker’s Point craft brewery flung open its South Second Street garage door and primed its taps as a crowd of cyclists outside swelled to 100. People spilled from the sidewalk into the street, and suddenly, you had a block party, with nearly everybody sipping cool refreshments from plastic cups.
Cars and county buses slowed to a crawl as they passed, with nary an objection to the spontaneous street fest that had by now occupied a full traffic lane. “This would never happen in Chicago,” smiled one woman, evidently from Illinois. “We’d all get arrested.”
It’s this unabashed love of hops that is lifting Milwaukee into its next phase of beer glory. As we report in our cover story, “Something’s Brewing,” more and more small breweries are starting up. Seven new craft breweries have opened in the city in the past three years alone. Put all these new microbrews alongside the growing number of brewpubs and the macros still prominent in Miller Valley, and you might say Milwaukee is awash anew in beer.
This new Milwaukee brew, though, is a different kind of beer, and the beer business is a different kind of industry than when Miller, Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz dominated the corner taverns. As in most cities, the craft beer revolution has captured the imagination, and the taste buds, of Milwaukee consumers.
The art of craft brewing is all about experimenting with ingredients and styles. Innovation is its hallmark. “Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent,” says the Brewers Association, a nationwide trade group. Just look at some of the beer styles in our cover story – Belgians, saisons, stouts, India pale ales, a black wheat ale, a bacon rauchbier, a chocolate peanut butter porter.
As part of the revolution, craft brewing has elevated the stature of beer to a level on par with wines. Beer and food pairings are now commonplace. Chefs in fine restaurants blend all styles of beer into their menus – as ingredients and as suggested pairings.
Gone are the days when having a beer with a fancy steak dinner was seen as gauche. “There’s almost a rebellious spirit to drinking beer with a really good meal,” Bill Tressler, owner of Hinterland Brewery and Restaurant, told dining critic Ann Christenson.
Yes, we’ve come a long way from the days of Beer Nuts and a can of Old Milwaukee. And we invite you to enjoy a beer and a bite with us (if only in words and pictures), here.