In 2006, Clear Channel, a communications company, sponsored an event at the Milwaukee Art Museum that instantly became local lore. It was called Martinifest. All-you-can-drink martinis, only $30.
The results, even if you don’t recall the story, were predictable. In our most culturally important building, people were, according to news reports, “punching paintings, climbing on sculptures, vomiting everywhere, and then passing out.”
There will never be another Martinifest at the Milwaukee Art Museum. But if you are looking for the closest facsimile, albeit, one with a few smart substitutions–beer instead of martinis and a crowded Walker’s Point warehouse instead of the world-renowned Calatrava-designed wing–let me tell you about Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s Saturday Open House.
It was my choice to opt for the Open House rather ($15) than the conventional tour ($10). I was drawn by the unlimited tastings of Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s growing offering, as well as the promise of “mini-tours” throughout the two-hour event, from 5 to 7 p.m.
The door on Second Street opened into a packed warehouse. In fact, we could hear the buzz from the mass of people inside as we approached the building. We checked in at the desk, where they viewed our IDs and provided each of us with a wristband, a token and no further direction.
Eventually, I asked and a staff person told us we could claim our glasses and beer from the bar. We made our way through the dense crowd and into the center of the warehouse. Before us was a large chalkboard with all of the beer offerings–with a catch–they only had the beer with the checkmark next to it.
I had drank several pints of Louie’s Demise, their flagship beer, at the Art Museum during the After Dark events throughout the years. However, I really took notice of Milwaukee Brewing Co. in 2011, when they revamped their packaging and added several new brews. Not only was the aesthetic vintage and appealing, but the beer took names and inspiration from Milwaukee’s history. It even tasted good too!
So I was really excited to try some of their speciality beers I hadn’t been able to find including Black Iron, their IBA, and Weekend @ Louie’s, the flagship with a blueberry twist.
Luckily for me, both were available, as well as a Double IPA that they were playing around with, which was my first beer. It was hoppier than their traditional IPA, Hop Happy, which is a bit too mild for me.
It became clear that the large crowd was a mix of people who were on the 4 o’clock tour and people who showed up at 5 p.m. for the Open House. Slowly, as the tour group ran out of beer tokens, they exited. Meanwhile, I treated myself to a little mini-walking tour.
It turned out the warehouse wasn’t that large, and because of all the slush outside, the floors were wet. Weekend @ Louie’s, the blueberry-flavored amber ale, was excellent and refreshing. Michelle even told me it made my breath smell good.
The spaces that were off-limit seemed clean and within order, though the rest of the warehouse was a jumble of materials and ingredients. The barrel-aged doppelbock was another specialty beer. I’m getting to really like the “barrel-aged” flavor.
We stood around and chatted about the different beers. In our general area, there was a pretty bad smell, it turned out that a sewer runs directly under the building. Not their fault, but not great either–we tried to avoid that area.
Around 6 p.m., the first mini-tour happened. We watched a short video of the history of Milwaukee Brewing Co., and were treated to barley samples. Milwaukee Brewing Co. was born out of the Milwaukee Ale House and has been brewing since the 1990s. I really enjoyed eating the barley, in fact, I ate a lot of it.
Then we went to the bar for a bit before the tour reconvened–except, it never did! I did manage to find the guy who started the whole thing, Jim, and we had a nice conversation about the Milwaukee Brewing Co. and brewing in general. I valued the conversation much more than some short, canned “tour talk.”
Around this time, I tried the Booyah, billed as a farmhouse ale, I thought I had it before, but this must of been the first time. It was crisp, lively and earthy. I loved it!
We posed for the photo at the top of this post. As you can see, the bartenders are photobombing us, which is telling. They seemed to be having just as much fun, and just as many libations, as the crowd, which was hula-hooping, chatting animatedly and wearing a path between the bar and the bathroom.
I would recommend this Open House to people who want to sample a variety of craft beers and enjoy a fun, debaucherous atmosphere. Warts and all, the price was right, the beer was cold and the company, as always, was great.
We finished our final beers, mine was Hop Happy, and then cleaned our cups and went out into the still-young night, buzzed, with appetites that could only be staved off by one of the numerous excellent Mexican places in Walker’s Point–we chose Conejitos–and it was grand.
Sign up for open houses/tours and read about Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s line of locally-inspired beer here.