Milwaukee?s own Lakefront Brewery Inc. started in 1987. The industrious and inventive microbrewery located on the Milwaukee River has become a Milwaukee landmark. Its rich history includes partnerships with local taverns, preservation of local historical pieces, unique tours, family style dining options and most importantly, great beer.
President Russ Klisch said it all started with his brother, Jim. Jim expressed interest in beer making near his birthday and Russ humored him by giving him a book on the subject. To Russ? surprise, Jim read the book and brewed the beer. According to Russ, Jim was not known as a gourmet cook, but he made a good beer. Russ was impressed, but decided he could brew one better. In short, sibling rivalry and common interest lead both to begin entering beer making contests and winning awards. It wasn?t long before family and friends encouraged them turn their hobby into a business.
The Klisch family has roots in the beer industry: their grandfather worked for Schlitz, driving a street sweeper and a truck. Russ Klisch remembers his grandfather bringing home short fills to his dad. As a kid, he remembers thinking, ?it was a cool job if you got to bring beer home at night.? Several family members also owned taverns.
With that family history and their common interest in beer making, the brothers started their business. They decided to start small and chose a location that they could walk to from their home. Initially, they bought an old bakery building down the street from their home in Riverwest, at 818 East Cambers St. and began brewing with stainless steel 55 gal drums and used dairy equipment. On December 2, 1987 they sold their first barrel of beer at the Gorden Park Pub. With the brewery now up and running, the infamous tour started soon after!
As Lakefront Brewery?s popularity grew, so did their production: by 1988, sales jumped to 72 barrels; by 1989, 125 barrels; and sales began doubling after that. In 1990, owner Russ Klisch built his own bottling machine and started bottling their beer. As the brewery expanded, more used equipment was brought in to meet the demand. Once, a food critic, who was visiting the brewery, commented that they had a ?Frankenstein operation.? He explained that it was called a Frankenstein operation because all their brewing equipment has lived and died in a previous life. By 1998, the production had reached almost 3000 barrels in their small 60? X 60? space and the brewery had over grown their current space.
1872 N. Commerce Street
The search was on for a new location and the City of Milwaukee had a building to sell on the Milwaukee River. In 1908 this building was built to house the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. coal fired power plant and later sold to the City to house their City Forestry Department. But in 1998 the City was considering tearing down the old power plant location to uphold a contract with a nearby apartment complex unless a non-industrial business would be interested in the location. At the same time, demand for Lakefront?s innovative beers was increasing. Jim and Russ concluded that they had outgrown the little bakery, and that it was time to move on. They looked all over, but decided on this location when the city of Milwaukee recommended the site. The city said beer making would be an appropriate industry, and it allowed them to save the building and support a new local business.
The move was completed and additions were made to both the building and brewery. In 1999 the Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden started and in 2000, a real brew house was added to the brewery. Production has increased through out the years and by 2008 had reached 11,000 barrels.
The Klisch brothers and their employees are not only great brewers, but they pride themselves on innovation within their industry.
First, Lakefront Brewery was the first beer company to bottle fruit beer since prohibition, starting in 1992 with their seasonal Lakefront Cherry Beer. The beer was created with an old home brewing recipe and a love for Door County cherries. It?s now an annual staple at the brewery.
Second, and very important to the owners, they were the first certified organic beer to be labeled in the U.S. starting in 1996 with their Lakefront Organic E.S.B. (extra special bitter). The ale is brewed using 100% organic malt and hops. Russ Klisch believed this was the right thing to do for the environment. He?s so passionate about his cause that he?s started a partnership with Wisconsin farmers to grow organic hops in his home state. Currently, the hops are imported primarily from New Zealand, but Klisch and his company hope their partnership with local farmers will provide the market to support their business and others interested in organic products.
Third, in 2006 the brothers changed the government?s policy definition of beer, which stated all beer had to be made with 25% malted barley. The company, aware that people with celiac disease are intolerant to wheat, wanted to create a gluten-free beer. They approached the government and got the policy changed so that they could sell and market their gluten-free beer, New Grist. New Grist is brewed from sorghum, hops, water, rice and gluten-free yeast grown on molasses.
Finally, in May of 2007, The Wisconsin Department of Tourism announced that Lakefront Brewery had become the first brewery in the state and the first business in the City of Milwaukee to receive the Travel Green Wisconsin certification. Travel Green Wisconsin recognizes tourism-related businesses that are reducing their environmental impact through operational and other improvements. To achieve Travel Green certification, businesses must meet several goals including demonstration of how they encourage staff and vendors to be environmentally aware and how they reduce their waste and energy consumption. Lakefront demonstrates this each Friday at 3:30 p.m. with an environmental tour by brewery president, Russ Klisch.
Starting in late 1999, Russ Davis heard the Klisch brothers wanted to utilize the large banquet hall in their brewery and approached the company, saying that he wanted to rent out the space. The Klisch brothers were interested, but concerned about competing with customers in the area who sold their beer.
Through compromise and creativity, they decided to create a family restaurant environment. On Fridays, the Palm Garden offers their famous fish fry. They also host private events, like weddings, there on Saturday evenings. It?s a way to utilize the space while still supporting the local business that carry and sell their beer.
The infamous tour is as unique as the brewery and has a constant evolution in style and delivery. To begin with, Lakefront Brewery, Inc. thought it was odd to wait until the end of a tour to drink a beer. They believe there is a direct correlation between attention span on beer tours and drinking beer.
Lakefront believes people want to go on brewery tours for three main reasons: drink beer, be entertained, and see the place. So, to meet their philosophy, the company provides beer at the start of the tour, shares jokes along the way, and still manages to explain the brewing process and history of Lakefront.
Many people on staff give the tour, and there is no specific script. Employees are encouraged to remember certain highlights, but mostly to add their own style and jokes to entertain guests along the way.
Lakefront Brewery, Inc. is the proud owner of Bernie Brewer?s Chalet. When the Brewer?s rebuilt their new stadium, the Chalet needed a new home, and the Klisch brothers wanted that home to be in their brewery. Russ Klisch jumped at the opportunity to buy the item. It is a great part of their tour, and offers folks a piece of history in their own hometown.
Many people also remark on the unique lights that hang in the Palm Garden. The lights were originally designed and hung in the Plankinton Hotel in 1916 for a beer garden. The hotel was dedicated on the same day as the start of the First World War. Shortly thereafter, prohibition started and, in short, the beer garden was never used as a beer garden. The lights hung in a restaurant in the hotel until 1982 when the building was demolished. The city of Milwaukee stored them in an architecturally valuable warehouse until the Klisch brothers bid and won them. They have spent over $1,000 renovating each light, and they are very proud of their heritage and beauty.
Cost for the Brewery Tour is $6 and includes a Souvenir Pint Glass,
four pours of beer and a coupon for 1 free beer before 6:00 pm at any of these locations:
Wolski's, BBC, Bar Louis, Fat Abbey, Dino's, Wicked Hop,
Meglio Pizzeria, The Garage, Palomino, The Tracks, Milwaukee Brat House and Vitucci's.
For non-beer drinkers, Lakefront Golden Maple Root Beer is available.
Must be 21 with a valid id or under the supervision of a legal parent or guardian.
Friday night tours, between 6:PM and 8:PM, are $11.
This includes a $5 voucher for the Fishfry, a Souvenir Pint Glass, and four pours of beer.
For non-beer drinkers, Lakefront Golden Maple Root Beer is available.
For Private Tour Availability Please Contact Chris Ranson at 414-372-8800[email protected]
Note: Due to certain Web Browser settings the times scheduled are not always accurate for the Central Time Zone. Our tours normally start at 3 p.m. If you show up at 3 a.m., we will most likely not be having a tour. If you are unsure of a time please call ahead.