A Sudsy Milwaukee Saturday: Visiting Sprecher and Big Bay Brewing Co.

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On a lazy October Saturday, Michelle and I joined our friends Ross and Bekaah to check out two nearby breweries–one old (Sprecher) and one new (Big Bay).

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Sprecher

Despite being the oldest operating microbrewery in Milwaukee, Sprecher is often forgotten when it comes to beers that aren’t preceded by the word “root.”

Sprecher is a skipped rock off I-43 in Glendale, Wis. The stately, Germanic brick brewery is bordered by a neighborhood of grand brick homes.

Visitors enter and exit through the gift shop, and as far as gift shops goes, this one is pretty impressive—housing apparel, beer and a plethora of odds and ends…Michelle purchased soda-flavored lip gloss.

Michelle and I had been on the tour several years ago and were eager to see if anything had changed, while Ross and Bekaah were there for their first time. 30 others joined us, including children; this is a soda tour, as well.

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We were given wristbands with four fee sample tickets each. After paying, we were given a sample of their Oktoberfest which was tasty and dark.

Our tour guide led us to the brewing room and kind of gave us the bare bones of the process. I found it interesting that they use the same equipment to make their gourmet sodas as the do to make the beer. He also explained that local honey was used in the brewing of the sodas.

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Once the floor was opened to questions, I asked how many barrels they brew per year—which is how microbreweries measure themselves. Unfortunately, our guide didn’t have the answer to the question but uncomfortably rambled for a bit, concluding that he could “do the math.”

After the non-answer, we proceeded through the impressively large cold storage room into the packaging area, which was highlighted by a quaint Bavarian mural. There, we downed a second sample, this time Sprecher Amber, one of their two flagship brews (the other being Black Bavarian), and learned a bit more about the brewery.

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When the floor was opened for questions, someone asked what the proper temperature to store beer at was. “Pretty cold…” was all our guide could muster. Ross whispered to me, “When the mountains turn blue,” and we laughed as the girls elbowed us to quiet down.

Mercifully, after about 35 minutes, the tour was over and we were released into a tasting area–things drastically improved.

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Beneath a festive indoor tent that instantly recalls a biergarten, Sprecher offers nearly every beer and soda they make for sampling. We enjoyed talking about what we were going to try and we liked nearly every beer they had. The atmosphere was lively and, as some of our tourmates left, they offered us their extra tickets.

Sprecher Ratings (out of 5):

Beer: 3
Each beer I tried was excellent. I especially enjoyed the Black Bavarian and the Pub Brown Ale. They are pretty heavy on the German-style beer, and didn’t have much lighter fare, but the beer was cool and crisp.

Tour: 2
Our guide was nice enough, but his inability to answer the questions was difficult to overcome.

Place: 3
The brewing areas were pretty standard, but the tasting room is well decorated and a lot of fun.

Value: 3
$5 for the tour, a tasting glass and four free samples. Good value.

Total: 2.75

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Benji’s

In between stops, we decided to get dinner at Benji’s Deli, which has been featured on both Around the Corner with John McGivern and Man Versus Food Nation. Michelle and I had been there before, but Ross and Bekaah were new to the joint.

The only decadent thing about Benji’s is the corned beef. We all had some of the corned beef on our sandwiches, but Ross went with the Hear ‘O Isreal, which is their signature sandwich, comprised of four different meats.

We enjoyed our food and it was the perfect buffer between two beer tastings.

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Big Bay Brewing Co.

Big Bay Brewing Company’s Tasting Center is located in Shorewood in a mixed-use building at the trendy end of Oakland Avenue.

Upon walking in there was a large bar, and then, beyond it, chairs and tables. The interior had an attractive nautical theme, which accentuated the pleasing aesthetic of their packaging. We went up to the bar, got the scoop and each ordered a sampler—four beers—and took a seat.

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The room was fairly empty when we arrived…but they are clearly trying to become a place where people stay awhile—they had board games and cozy seating. We chose a regular table and, after a couple minutes, the samplers arrived. The bartender was extremely knowledgeable about the beer, walking us through the characteristics and taste notes of each.

She let us know the owners were formerly employed at Miller and only opened Big Bay recently. The tasting room is their home in Shorewood, however, their beer is brewed at Point Brewery in Stevens Point.

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The beers were all sessionable—low in alcohol content—and had crisp, distinct tastes. They went down easily. As we chatted, the room began to fill. At one point, they brought over peanuts and pretzels—the place was extremely welcoming.

For a relatively new brewery, Big Bay had an impressive assortment of clothing and assorted odds and ends, but only a small number of different styles of beer for sale.

Big Bay Ratings (out of 5):

Beer: 3.5
The beer was good. Ross and I especially enjoyed the porter and the kolsch was very buttery-tasting, if you are into that kind of thing.

Tour: 0
Sadly, no tour.

Place: 3.5
The room was bright, welcoming and fun. The bartender was friendly, knowlegeable and helpful–a big plus.

Value: 3
$5 for four ample-sized samples on a paddle. This would be a great place to discover with friends at the beginning of a fun night out on the northside.

Total: 2.5

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