The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin does not boast a particularly proud reputation as a home of great microbreweries. In fact, being the resident city of beer giants Schlitz, Pabst, and Miller qualifies Milwaukee as the home of the most macro of breweries. And with competition the likes of these, one would have to be pretty tough to start their own microbrewery in such environs. That’s where the brothers Klisch (Russ and Jim) come in. Russ Klisch, a chemical engineer of considerable stature (he’s 6 foot, 6 inches tall, 240 pounds), and brother Jim, a Milwaukee police officer, pooled their savings, along with a mutual friend, and rose to the challenge. Back in early 1985, Russ was a leisure homebrewer, making his own beer every Saturday “just for the fun of it”. But his beers were becoming quite popular with friends and family and with the contributions of his brother and a third brewing pal, the three of them whipped up some of their most popular brews and headed to the 1985 Great American Beer Festival. A return the following year helped them establish some industry contacts, and got them some valuable expert feedback on their homebrews. In 1987 a few of their beers won prizes in several categories at the Wisconsin State Fair and the decision was made to immediately go into business.
Rustling together $15,000 for a down payment on a former neighborhood bakery, they opened the Lakefront Brewery, so named because it sits along the Milwaukee River near downtown Milwaukee. They started with just two types of lagers: a pilsner and an amber lager, which they quickly got featured in local bars and taverns. In these early days, production was limited to 65 barrels, with distribution restricted to watering holes within barrel-rolling distance. First year gross sales were a paltry $7,800. Two years later, Russ hired a head brewmaster, and by 1992, the brewery took in gross sales of $122,000. Quite an astonishing jump, but eclipsed by the following year when they rose to gross sales of $206,000. Not bad for a couple of bros from Milwaukee.
In 1995, Russ quit his engineering job at Johnson Controls, devoting all his time to product development and production. Within a year, brother Jim followed suit, retiring from the police force to tackle marketing for the brewery. Today, the Lakefront Brewery is still a small, locally owned microbrewery specializing in handmade beers in the tradition of early, predominantly Bavarian Milwaukee brewers. Seventeen years after opening, Lakefront Brewery continues to be a Mecca for the most sought after award-winning suds: Riverwest Stein, Eastside Dark, Klisch Pilsner, Cream City Pale Ale, Organic Extra Special Bitter (the first certified organic beer in the U.S.), Fuel Coffee Stout, and seasonal beers such as Pumpkin Beer, Holiday Spice, Bock, Beer Line Barley Wine, and Cherry Beer. In addition is their delicious and surprising non-alcoholic “Golden Maple Root Beer”, a refreshing tribute to Wisconsin’s finest golden sugar maples.
Thirsty yet? We thought you might be. Go ahead and pop open either of the two awesome brews we picked up for you from the Lakefront Brewery. You won’t be disappointed!
For more information about the brewery and scheduled tours, call (414) 372-8800 or check out their web site at www.lakefrontbrewery.com.
Note: it’s certainly worth mentioning that Lakefront Brewery has garnered considerable praise for their brewery tour—voted the “Best Brewery Tour In Milwaukee” by Milwaukee Magazine. Additionally, Maxim Magazine had this to say about this Milwaukee brothers’ brewery: “The best tour in the city is at Lakefront Brewery… The beer is fantastic, and the brewery features specialty suds every other month, so you can take the tour over and over. And over.” And just so you know, they proudly give out the beer first thing, rather than waiting until the tour is over, like the majority of brewery tours. If you’re ever in the Milwaukee area, be sure to stop in (just check their website for tour schedules first).