I promise, this post will not be about crummy beer (not to say that if you truly like Old Milwaukee, you’re a bad person. It just means we can’t be friends).
I have resided in the Midwest for a little over three years and have seen remarkably little of the surrounding area outside of Chicago. There are two main reasons for this, first, Chicago is a massive city with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, and second, I am poor. My bus/train pass gets me around town easily, but the combined facts that I don’ t know how to drive and I have limited funds means that I can really only travel by bus or train. Chris had to go abroad for school this summer, so finances were strapped. But I still wanted my vacation, darnit. So, we packed up and decided to check out the next city over.
I’m a pretty big beer enthusiast and since it espouses itself as, “the brewing capital of the US,” I had to see for myself if Milwaukee lived up to the claim. Then, there’s the fantastic art museum and the comfort of knowing that we would still be on the shores of my beloved Lake Michigan.
I have to be honest here and say that I didn’t take to Milwaukee at first. My initial impression was of a smaller, less interesting version of Chicago. Chris said I was being unfair, that I couldn’t compare Milwaukee to Chicago, that I should compare Milwaukee to Cleveland (a place I have never even visited). However, by day two I had taken a shine to her and found myself having a good time knocking back the beer flights.
From the time our Amtrak pulled into the station, I had beer flights on the mind. I wasn’t there to check out the big breweries that made Milwaukee famous like Miller and Pabst. I really don’t enjoy those beers and I don’t waste my time drinking them. Me and Chris have had many a conversation about American vs. European breweries. We’re both of the opinion that American breweries are a watered down version of a craft Europeans mastered in the 12th century. American microbrews in particular tend to be showy, robust, hoppy, one could say “masculine” even, while their European counterparts have perfected smooth, drinkable beers with subtle flavors. It’s almost like the American microbrews are the bratty, brassy, college guys and the European beers are the more mature, reliable professor types, but I digress. What I’m saying is, we weren’t in Milwaukee to drink Miller. We were there for the small craft brews and luckily, we found them.
The shockingly beautiful entryway to the Milwaukee Art Museum, our first stop on our trip.
We love art almost as much as we love beer.
It looks like it’s about to take off and fly away.
Outside the Milwaukee Art Museum .
Whenever I visit a new art museum (and I visit a lot of art museums), I hunt around for the singular Dutch still life. I usually only find one or two paintings for my viewing pleasure. I wish there was an entire museum devoted to paintings of food (note to self: open an art museum devoted entirely to paintings of food). Don’t you just want to just start pulling apart that crab in wild abandon?
I’ve been a fan of Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of pies, cakes, candy counters and the like since I was in high school going through my Pop Art phase. How delightful to see him represented in Milwaukee. All I can say is, “yum.”
I want you to imagine lifting this Nautilis cup to your lips and tipping back a velvety, sweet Bordeaux.
We ended up not visiting Usingers, a local sausage maker, but I did love seeing it off in the distance.
One of the highlights of our Milwaukee excursion, The Old German Beer Hall. Outside of Munich, this just might be the most authentic German beer hall in the states. Decorated with deer antlers, old tapestries and paintings of Bavaria, they serve sausage and kraut with the beer and the walls are lined with numbered tankards belonging to the locals. Most importantly, this place sits next to a strip of German bars and restaurants. The Old German section of town is what Milwaukee’s all about.
Chris enjoyed this GIANT Hofbrau.
Fried cod at St. Paul Fish Company in the Milwaukee Public Market. I had to say, it was some of the freshest fried fish I’ve ever had. Too often, fried fish comes overcooked and chewy, but these filets were soft, and flaky in a tasty beer batter.
Chris enjoyed this amazing lobster roll at St. Paul Fish Market. Incredibly good, with big hunks of lobster and only $13.
A Rococo style building. Many of the older buildings in downtown Milwaukee represent the Turn-of-the-Century obsession with European design.
This summer selection beer flight at Milwaukee Ale House slaked our thirst. All of these beers are brewed in-house. Since I tend to favor ales over lagers and smooth witbiers over hoppy pale ales, my favorites were the dunkel-weizen and their straight up, unfiltered weiss beer. All of the beers we tasted here had big, robust flavors.
Mussels in Pernot at Cafe Benelux. They had over 30 beers on tap, and a large variety of Belgian ales.
A superb beer flight at Cafe Benelux in the historic Third Ward. They had 30 beers on tap, mostly Belgian ales. There two main types of beer drinkers, lager drinkers and ale drinkers. I’m an ale drinker. Most of the big American breweries do lager. From that very premise surmises my problem with most American beer.
The last meal I had in Milwaukee, BBQ at Smoke Shack. We passed this place on our first day and I knew we had to stop in before we left. It literally looks like a little shack, but as soon as you walk past and smell the intoxicating aroma of charred meat, and hear the blues music blasting over their speakers, you can’t pass it up. I ordered a slab of ribs with fried okra and corn bread. The corn bread was as sweet as cake.
Served fresh from the smoker and dry rubbed, we found four different sauces on the table, ranging from tangy and hot to smoky sweet. This was a serious BBQ experience. As someone who only recently reverted to meat eating after years of vegetarianism (that story, I will save for another time) this meal exploded with meaty goodness. The German influence on Milwaukee cuisine means that meat reigns here, as it does in most of the Midwest. For Midwestern BBQ, Smoke Shack gets it right.
When in Milwaukee, have a Schlitz. This was actually the first time I had Schlitz and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t bad for a cheaper beer, it had a malty flavor and a smooth, nutty finish. It actually paired really well with the BBQ.
That’s it for my exciting Milwaukee trip. I didn’t cover all of the ground completely, we did have a fancy, heavy German dinner at Mader’s, a classic Milwaukee restaurant in the Old German part of downtown. I didn’t take pictures because it wasn’t the kind of place to take pictures. We also went on a tour of the Pabst mansion, a beautiful, turn-of-the-century landmark of opulent European design. I would say that three days is perfect for seeing what Milwaukee has to offer. If you’re into German food and beer, it’s worth the trip.