Wisconsin’s craft beer industry is booming. For decades the big brewers – Miller, Pabst, Blatz, Schlitz – dominated the scene locally. While mergers, acquisitions, moves and closures among the big brewers may have tarnished the state’s brewing heritage for a while, a new generation of brewers has stepped in. They’re making a name for products, starting craft breweries and winning some big awards.
Locally the Delafield Brewhaus has been an icon along the Interstate for many years, capturing the attention of many a thirsty traveler. Their motto, “drink ale, live lager,” is actually a nod to the fact that beer was considered a health product. During Lent, European monks who brewed beer would produce a bock style known as “liquid bread” that they would consume during breaks from their fasting.
With five brews offered year round, the Brewhaus beer menu is supplemented with seasonal offerings such as a blueberry ale that combines a light bodied ale made with blueberry juice. Get your daily dose of vitamin C with a kick.
It’s not only the locals who appreciate the creative brews. Several of the Brewhaus selections won silver and bronze medals at the 2014 World Beer Championships. The Naga-Wicked Pale Ale and the Hop Harvest India Pale Ale (IPA) both won silver while the Delafield Amber took home a bronze.
Sweet Mullets Brewing
A staple in the Lake Country area since 2012, Sweet Mullets Brewing underwent an ownership change in 2016. Chad Ostram, a dedicated home brewer, had considered running a small craft brewery once he retired from his day job. When the opportunity to purchase Sweet Mullets became available, the siren song was too enticing to resist. “I decided to retire early because the brewery was available,” says Ostram.
Located in Oconomowoc, Sweet Mullets has 14 different beers on tap including its flagship beer, Jalapeno Ale. “Everyone knows about it and everybody is excited about it,” he says.
A carryover recipe from the previous owner, the beer has “all of the flavor and aroma of a jalapeno [pepper] without the heat.” It also has generated a following, says Ostram.
In addition to the Jalapeno Ale’s almost cult-like status, one of the brewery’s more popular offerings is the Golden Ale, crafted from a recipe that Ostram had been brewing and tweaking for five years in his home. An adaptation of the Golden Ale is set to become the house beer for the Seven Seas Restaurant. “It’s based off the Golden Ale but modified to fit their specifications,” he says.
The 14 beers that Sweet Mullets has on tap include a vanilla infused porter and a Belgian double. Ostram is revamping the red ale that was previously on the menu, “bringing it back to the original recipe.”
There are also seasonal specialty brews on the menu. Ostram plans on rolling out a bock beer in March. October brings his take on an Octoberfest. A Hefe Weizen will be featured during the summer. Sweet Mullets also does some limited distribution within southeastern Wisconsin.
For Ostram, his focus is always on the customer. “I try to keep the customer in mind,” he says. “I’ve tried to provide a style that someone can come in and try something that fits their needs.”
A relative newcomer to the beer world, Raised Grain opened 18 months ago, the brainchild of four partners from Brookfield. In that short span of time, it has produced an award winning brew.
Raised Grain’s Paradox Red Imperial IPA won two gold medals and one bronze at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival. “It was Wisconsin’s only gold medal,” says Nick Reistad, one of the owners who heads up the company’s sales and marketing. “We won them in the first year of business.”
In the past year and a half, Raised Grain has 13 beers of its own on tap at any given time. This includes varieties falling into the stout, hoppy, light, dark and Belgian categories. They look to offer “a wide range of boldly brewed beers that convey the passion behind what we do,” says Reistad.
Two of Raised Grain’s four partners brew the beer as a sidelight from their day jobs as practicing physicians.
“They are both very driven individuals,” says Reistad. “It’s a passion for them. They don’t do anything half measure.”
The doctors, Scott Kelley and Jimmy Gosset, wanted to own a brewery and had a sophisticated home brewing system in place before they opened Raised Grain. The award-winning Paradox Red Imperial IPA was actually developed seven years ago when the doctors were still brewing at home.
It took Reistad and another partner to develop a business plan that would bring the doctors’ dream to fruition. Now, the dream is going so well, “we can’t keep up with production,” Reistad says. “The problems we have are the good kind to have.”
Raised Grain recently opened a permanent food truck since space in the brewery was limited. Gourmet pizzas and appetizers are served Thursdays through Sundays. The brewery offers tours at 1 and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. “We call it the Biggest Little Brewery Tour,” said Reistad. Such a small space can yield big dividends for those interested in starting their own brewery.
In addition to its outside tap room, the brewery has some 50 accounts at bars and restaurants. It just launched a bottled beer before Christmas that can be found at several local retail stores.
In 2014, Jean Lane and her husband, Gordon Lane, opened Biloba Brewing in a leased space to test the waters. By May 2016, the couple had purchased a building to commit long-term to their dream of owning a brewery. Biloba’s tasting room reopened March 3 at 2970 N. Brookfield Road, much to the relief of their loyal customers who have missed some of the brewery’s signature offerings.
The original location had 10 varieties that they made, including a Farmhouse Cream Ale Saison that was aged in a pinot noir barrel and a Scottish ale aged in a bourbon barrel.
There is always a Belgian Golden Ale on tap, says Lane. The light-colored, easy drinking brew had a bit of a kick with its 8 percent alcohol content. Seasonal porters appear during the winter. For the designated drivers or customers who want something nonalcoholic, Biloba also brews a light root beer.
The brewery’s logo is a gingko leaf, and its name represents the full name of the gingko tree. The brewery has become a family affair: Lane’s husband joined after he retired from the malt industry, and the couple’s two daughters also came on board. One of their daughters actually brewed the beer in the original location before her father retired.
The new space will be family- and dog-friendly and won’t have televisions for distraction.