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Lakefront Brewery

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Brewing the beer is just the first step in being able to enjoy a Lakefront beer at home.

According to Brewery President Russ Klisch, the whole brewery started with his brother, Jim. Near his birthday, Jim expressed interest in beer making, and Russ humored him with the gift of a homebrewing book. To Russ’ surprise, Jim read the book, and brewed a beer. By Russ’ account, Jim was no gourmet cook, but he made a pretty good beer. Impressed, Russ decided he could brew one better. In short, sibling rivalry and common interest lead to both brothers entering homebrewing contests and winning awards. It wasn’t long before family and friends encouraged them to turn their hobby into a business.

The Brothers decided to start small and chose a location within walking distance of their home: the site of a former bakery in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. They began brewing with 55-gallon, stainless steel drums and used dairy equipment. On December 2, 1987 they sold their first barrel of beer to a tavern within “rolling distance” of the brewery. Lakefront’s production grew with their popularity: 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 began bottling their beer. The Brothers brought in more used equipment to meet the ever-expanding demand; a visiting food critic once commented that Lakefront was a “Frankenstein operation”, because all their equipment had lived and died in a previous life.

In 1998, production had reached nearly 3,000 barrels in the small 3,600 square foot space, and Jim and Russ decided it was time to move. The search was on for a new location and the City of Milwaukee had a building to sell. In 1908, Lakefront Brewery’s current building at 1872 N. Commerce St. housed the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company’s coal-fired power plant. In 1998, the City considered tearing down the old power plant location, unless a non-industrial business was interested in the location. The City thought beer making an appropriate industry, and allowed them to buy the building and move in. The move was completed, and additions were made to both the building and brewery. In 2000, Russ replaced the homemade brewing equipment with a real brew house.

Production has increased throughout the years, and in 2017 had reached 46,848 barrels. Lakefront currently offers 20 different beers available in over 30 states and distributed to Ukraine, South Korea, Sweden, China and Canada. The brewery is known for its innovative ales and lagers, as well as its infamous brewery tour. Present Day Lakefront’s pioneering spirit has created many U.S. brewing-industry firsts. Among these, the brewery introduced the first beer in the United States made from 100% in-state-grown ingredients with the barley, wheat, hops and a first-of-its-kind, indigenous Wisconsin yeast strain (Wisconsinite Summer Weiss), the first certified organic brewery, producing the country’s oldest certified organic beer (Organic E.S.B.), and the first government-certified, gluten-free beer (New Grist). Lakefront Brewery has one of the most popular brewery tours in the United States; over 80,000 people tour the brewery each year. Lakefront was one of the first—if not the first—to offer beer at the beginning, during, and after the tour instead of requiring visitors to wait until the end.

Order a beer from Bernie’s Chalet from County Stadium on our patio, or take a photo with the 3 Stooges out front that are made from our original fermentation tanks!


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