How many brewery tours have you been on where you walk around the brewing area, see how the beer is made, sample some brews then leave? While interesting, these types of tours can get repetitive. For those looking for a truly interesting brewery tour, Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery may be the quirkiest.
Before I get into the brewery tour — which is only $7 and includes four beers, a pint glass and a coupon to get a free beer at another brewery — let me tell you a bit about Lakefront Brewery itself. Interestingly, the brewery was born out of a sibling rivalry. Brothers Russ and Klisch started getting into homebrewing, and were constantly trying to outdo one another with better brews. Because they were both very talented at making delicious beer, their family and friends encouraged them to turn their hobby into a business.
To date, the brewery has made over 33,368 barrels of beer and prides itself on making high quality, sustainable beers. Along with being a founding member of Local First Milwaukee — a group that advocates using local business — they are the first brewery in Wisconsin to receive the Travel Green Wisconsin certification. Additionally, Lakefront Brewery is a certified organic brewery and are the creators of the country’s first certified organic beer, “Organic ESB (Extra Special Bitter),” which features 100% organic malt and 100% organic hops. Other notable beers to try include their “Lakefront Pumpkin Lager,” thought to be the first bottled fruit beer in the country since Prohibition; “Wisconsinite,” the only beer made with all Wisconsin ingredients; and “New Grist,” the country’s first government allowed gluten-free beer, to name a few.
With so many title-holding beers, it’s clear Lakefront Brewery strives to be anything but just your average brewery. This is also evident in their style of giving brewery tours, considered one of the best brewery tours in Milwaukee. Tours are done in large groups, which is actually fun because there is a lot of group participation. After everyone shouts their name as loud as they can like a wookie, be prepared to learn about Lakefront Brewery and beer making through dirty jokes and taunting. It’s all in good fun. Some important lessons I learned from my knowledgeable “Brewery Navigation Specialist” (as he calls himself) Josh:
- For those who like hoppy beer, the only cousin to the hop plant is cannibus (although Josh claims he doesn’t know anything about this from experience). His warning: If you’re a hop head, be careful or you might find yourself as a Brewery Navigation Specialist.
- Still on the topic of hops, these are a natural preservative, and the only preservative Lakefront Brewery uses. They’re also great because they give good head so you get more of that frothy white goodness.
- Have you ever wondered how beer actually comes to be beer? In short, yeast does what every Lakefront Brewery employee does on a Thursday night: eats, poops, farts then reproduces asexually. To put this in terms of beer, yeast eats ferment-able sugars, and poops out alcohols, farts carbon dioxide and reproduces asexually (aka produces more yeast).
- And for those who have wondered how a keg gets filled, it’s actually quite simple: The hole in the cask is known as the bunghole, and its here that you insert a wooden plug, or a bung. Once you find the opening, you’ll insert a probe into the bunghole and fill it with white frothy goodness.
- Bottling is the most boring part of the brewing process, although there are some interesting names involved. Oxygen is the “Voldemort to your beer’s Harry Potter,” and the bottling systems Climax Machine has 48 nipples which work to push CO2 in and out, in and out, as well as keep oxygen out of the bottles and make sure each bottle is filled the correct amount.
- Buying Toosie Pops is the American Dream (random, but apparently a fact).
Quick 7-second clip of the tour using Vine
Josh also managed to work in a few non-dirty lessons in there. For example, 1516 was the first year actual good beer began being made, as Bavarian purity laws stated that beer could only have three ingredients: Hops, barley and water (yeast hadn’t been discovered yet, they thought sugars were converted to alcohol by “magic”). Lakefront Brewery still operates under these purity laws — although they use yeast — which is how they make such high-quality brews. Moreover, just because a beer is dark doesn’t necessarily mean it’s heavy, just that it’s made from roasted barley. And the main difference between an ale and a lager? The type of yeast used. While ales are fermented warm and made with a top-fermenting yeast, lagers are created with a bottom or cold-fermenting yeast.
While most brewery tours leave you wondering when the beer tasting is finally going to come, Lakefront Brewery’s tour is like enjoying an interactive beer-themed comedy show. As long as you have a sense of humor and can handle dirty jokes, you’ll love this tour and will be able to retain the information better since it’s told in an entertaining way. Not surprisingly, Josh is an improv actor on the side, which is probably where he gets his comic wit and high energy. You can follow him on Twitter @TourGuideJosh as well as Lakefront Brewery @Lakefront.