Milwaukee has always been and will forever be a beer city, but there’s a distinct difference between our brewing history and our brewing future. Below we separate some stops in either direction, though you can easily mix and match on your visit.
The Beer History
At one time, 4 of the 6 largest breweries in the country were operating in downtown Milwaukee: Pabst, Blatz, Schlitz, and Miller. All four of these companies still have a unique presence in the city, though only two are still operational.
Start your morning bright and early learning how beer baron Captain Fredrick Pabst lived on a tour at the Pabst Mansion (opens 10AM, $12). Located on Wisconsin Avenue, once known as Grand Avenue for the stately mansions that used to line it, the Pabst Mansion is a beautiful testament to the wealth and artistry of the Pabst family.
Just down the street, in the aptly-named Miller Valley, you’ll find the massive Miller Brewing complex. Free tours run every half-hour (starting at 10:30AM) and include informative videos, a walk through the brewing operations, a tasting, and a visit to the historic, underground Miller Caves. It’s always Miller Time here.
Head back downtown to Westown and The Brewery district, situated on a hill overlooking the new Bucks arena on the old Pabst Brewery grounds. You’ll find the original Pabst beer hall and office building, which looks kind of like a castle, has been turned into an event space and gives tours. The Best Place at the Pabst will fill you in on all the history of Pabst and other Milwaukee breweries in a fun, informative tour ($8; 11AM, 12PM, 1PM on Saturdays).
After the tour, you can grab lunch at the tied house-esque Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub or the newly opened Pabst Brewery MKE across the street. The original Pabst has remodeled a former church and started brewing their pre-Prohibition recipes again in Milwaukee.
After lunch, don’t miss a quick jaunt into the Brewhouse Inn & Suites hotel, next to Jackson’s in the old converted Pabst brewhouse. On the second floor you can still see the tops of the giant brew kettles and a beautiful stained glass window of St Gambrinus.
Hop in your car or take a leisurely stroll down the hill towards the river to Pere Marquette Park. Standing prominently on the corner of Old World Third Street and Kilbourn Avenue is the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Though their exhibits aren’t focused exclusively on beer history, the building itself is a beautifully-restored bank building. The most interesting features: five large vaults built for the sole purpose of physically keeping each of the four beer baron families’ money separate.
Across the Milwaukee River in East Town you can walk through the campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). This engineering and nursing school is housed in the former Blatz Brewing buildings. Though you can’t actively tour them, you can admire from the corner of Highland and Broadway both the Blatz Condominiums (former brewhouse) and Goethe House Wisconsin (former main building).
The final historic Milwaukee brewery to see stands tall on the banks of the Milwaukee River just north of East Town. Though the Schlitz Brewery has since been converted into mostly office space (Schlitz Park, which is bounded by Dr Martin Luther King Dr, Pleasant St, and the river), many of the buildings still stand. Most importantly, The Brown Bottle, the original on-site workman’s bar, has been reopened serving delectable German fare and of course ice cold Schlitz in the classic champagne flutes.
All photos by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd.