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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lakefront Brewery on the Rise

Sales are up, new beer hall opens

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Lakefront Brewery has been a mainstay of the Milwaukee beer scene since 1987. What began as a friendly home-brewing competition between brothers Jim and Russ Klisch has evolved into a well-established brand in the craft beer market. “Lakefront is currently the largest craft brewery in the city, and second largest in the state,” says Matt Krajnak, the brewery’s communications director. As Lakefront has continued to grow and expand, they’ve made smart improvements when necessary, and increased production—by more than 20% in 2013.

Aside from the constantly growing demand for craft beer in general, Lakefront has recently strengthened distribution to reach further-flung places by joining up with MicroStar Keg Management. Essentially, MicroStar rents empty kegs to Lakefront, they fill them up, and MicroStar takes those full kegs to places Lakefront may never have been before. “Our name has been popping up on more beer sites, blogs and other social media with positive feedback from around the country,” says Krajnak. Local popularity and name recognition are key for any business, but being recognized by beer connoisseurs in a larger market feels pretty good too.

Never afraid to try new things, Lakefront has also enjoyed ongoing success with their “My Turn” Series of beers, which allows employees of the brewery a chance to design and make a beer of their own choosing. “We’ve had some really interesting styles come out of the series,” says Krajnak. Some, like the “My Turn: Chad,” a barley wine-style ale, have gone on to wider distribution.

In addition, Lakefront has recently established an aging program. This is where beers are made in barrels that have been used for liquor aging. “Last year we made an imperial pumpkin lager that was aged in brandy barrels. It was a big step, because it wasn’t just a one-off, but something that went into production,” says Krajnak. 

Last fall, Lakefront increased the number of tours they offer. The tours ($7), run about 45 minutes, and include samples and a souvenir pint glass. “It’s pretty fun,” says Krajnak. “You can have a beer before the tour, drink during the tour and drink after the tour!” With about 14 options available on tap on any given day, you can count on sampling some of Lakefront’s most popular beers, seasonals and an occasional, rare “one-and-done.”

Late in 2013 Lakefront took over their own kitchen as a previous catering contract ended. In the newly re-dubbed Beer Hall, Lakefront’s dining menu focuses on Wisconsin favorites and locally sourced ingredients. Featured items from Usinger’s, Klements, Miller Baking, Clock Shadow Creamery and Growing Power urban farm all pair well with a Lakefront beer (or two).

For more information or to buy tour tickets, visit lakefrontbrewery.com.