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Milwaukee’s Culinary Scene: Gearing Up for Greatness

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Monday, September 22, 2014

By Kyle Cherek
Host of Wisconsin Foodie

As autumn transitions from knocking on the calendar's door to making itself at home, and produce variety starts to taper off, it’s easy to think that things might cool down on Milwaukee's dining front. Far from it. 

Richness abounds, and our great restaurants, craft brewers and cocktail-mixing folks are kicking into high gear as they switch menus and embrace the season. There is still, in fact, plenty coming from farmers’ fields at this time of year, and the cooler weather’s bounty is making its way into many of Milwaukee's culinary offerings.

One could happily wear themselves out, working their way across Milwaukee, sampling the exquisite cocktails made with Great Lakes Distillery's silver medal-winning Pumpkin Spirit. Hi-Hat, Black Sheep, and Café Lulu are some of my favorite imbibing spots around the city, whose cocktails do justice to Great Lakes’ seasonal spirit. 

If your penchant leans toward beer, order a cheekily named Sasquatch from Milwaukee Brewing Co., easily found on tap handles across the city. What began as a home brew by one of Milwaukee Brewing Co.'s team now takes shape by way of700 pounds of pumpkins and 400 pounds of sweet potatoes, plus a variety of specialty malts. Flavor notes of pumpkin and cinnamon make it a great fall brew. 

Should you wish to stay on the beer bent, swing into Benelux Café or any of the other Lowland's cafés or restaurants. Take a moment to raise a glass to the owners, both of whom have been knighted (yes, knighted) by the Belgian Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff and just recently returned from their trip to Amsterdam. The knighthood is an honor bestowed by one of the oldest professional organizations in history, and something akin to a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for brewers.  

Le Rêve Patisserie and Café

As any good Belgian knows, another of the world’s favorite indulgences is chocolate.  Milwaukee hosts two renowned master pastry chefs in October. Le Rêve Patisserie and Café in downtown Wauwatosa hosts a seven-course Pour l'amour du chocolat dinner on Oct 21. Visiting chef Jerome Landrieu, director of the Chocolate Academy in Chicago and listed as one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America, will be partnering chocolate, course by course, with Le Rêve's superlative French cuisine. 

Not to be outdone at the hands of chocolate, Shorewood's North Shore Boulangerie has a vanilla event planned a few days earlier, on Oct 19, with World Pastry Championship-winner Patrice Caillot and Dr. Ken Cameron, author of Vanilla Orchids. An engaging discussion between the professor and master chef on the history of the world’s most popular fragrance and flavor will be moderated by yours truly, followed by a cooking demonstration and samples. 

If October is a precursor to the culinary escapades of the winter holiday season, I would estimate that—as a city—Milwaukee is gearing up for greatness.



Bublrs Around Town

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Friday, October 10, 2014

By Kevin Hardman
Launch Director at Bublr Bikes

You may have noticed the bright blue bike stations popping up around downtown or have seen news reports about “Bublr Bikes” bicycle sharing coming to Milwaukee. But you might not know this project has actually been nearly three years in the making.

City of Milwaukee leaders and a group of citizen advocates have seen and experienced bike sharing around the country and the world. Inspired by the international bike sharing evolution, our team set out to bring this innovative urban transportation option to Milwaukee. (In case you’re interested, here’s a list of bike share systems around the world.)

The concept is simple: once you purchase a Bublr Pass ($7 for 24 hours or $20 for a month) you can check out a bike at any kiosk to run an errand or visit an attraction. You simply leave the bike at another kiosk near your destination, and when you want to return or go somewhere else, you check out the same or another Bublr Bike. You can do this as often as you wish within the time frame of your pass. There are no additional expenses for any trip that is under 30 minutes. A trip over 30 minutes will incur small usage fees.

Bicycle sharing is simply another healthy and cost-effective transportation choice for residents and visitors to experience Milwaukee. It provides a great way for families or even a business traveler to get around in a fun and interesting way!

The Bublr Bikes kiosks are conveniently located all around Milwaukee. You can find stations at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, Red Arrow Park, Schlitz Park, Cathedral Square, Chase Plaza, the Public Market, the 411 East Wisconsin Building, U.S. Bank Center, the Wisconsin Center and Discovery World. If there isn’t a bike kiosk near you now, never fear, Bublr Bikes plans to expand into other neighborhoods in 2015.

Learn more at


Oktoberfest Interviews: Big Head Brewing

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Friday, September 26, 2014

By Katy Deardorff
Communications Manager
VISIT Milwaukee

Sometimes you just have to “spread the love” according to Steve Parkhill, the head brewer at Wauwatosa’s Big Head Brewing Company. When it takes the same amount of time to brew five gallons of beer at home for friends that it does to brew 100 gallons for an entire neighborhood, you choose the entire neighborhood.

The brewery, which opened in Sept. 2013, is located on a State St. corner and the welcoming picnic benches give you a comfortable view of the local crossfitters who are running by while you sip your beer. The location is prime, to say the least. If you’re not interested in watching people work out as you drink, you can turn your attention to the adorable man at the piano or any one of the large-screen TVs for a sports game.

What does a day in the life of a brew master look like? Sometimes your average 8-5 job just doesn’t seem to take enough energy, so Parkhill, who is an engineer at Rockwell Automation, spends two nights a week brewing beer from 6 p.m. to midnight. “I would be doing it anyway if I were at home,” Parkhill said. “So I might as well make more and get it in the hands of more people.”

How did you get started brewing beer? Parkhill moved to Milwaukee about five years ago for work, where he met a co-worker who was big into home brewing. Since that fateful first night spent brewing beer, Parkhill has been’s become a passion.

How does being an engineer translate into being a brewer? It should come as no surprise that brewing beer is hugely technical and scientific in nature (much like engineering). “You have to go into every batch with an intention for what you’d like the beer to be,” Parkhill said. While not at the brewery, Parkhill’s friends and family can find him testing pilot batches in his own kitchen, just like the old days.

What beers do you currently have on tap? “Our new Oktoberfest is like our version of liquid bread,” said Parkhill. The beers change seasonally, but Parkhill tries to make each patron’s time at the brewery a new and unique experience. Local beer enthusiasts can even come in and watch Parkhill brew while enjoying a new pumpkin beer and provide much encouraged feedback.

What’s with the name? “Our owner legitimately had a big head—and in grade school he was made fun of for it,” Parkhill explained. This is apparently an opportunity to get back at the bullies, and, luckily, it applies to beer as well. Nice pun! 


Milwaukee, the King of Cocktails: Part Two

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Monday, September 22, 2014

By Kyle Cherek
Host of Wisconsin Foodie

With such a distinctive place in cocktail history, it is no wonder that Milwaukee has been able to hold its own within a movement that had continued to ascend.  The “craft” aspect of cocktail making has claimed its place on cocktail lists and the palettes of American imbibers, and our city has been a part of it every step of the way. 

Great Lakes Distillery, Wisconsin's first since Prohibition, was founded in 2004 and has lead the charge with a cadre of award-winning spirits. Not the least of these are a gin (listed as one of America's Best in the New York Times) and a blended whiskey (winner of the gold medal at the 2013 World Whiskey Awards).

Bittercube—hand-made bitters made by a duo of Milwaukee bartenders—have gained national attention, and enjoy distribution to better cocktail bars around the country and space on the shelves of Whole Foods. Bittercube and a spate of new distilleries are located within blocks of Bryant's and Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee’s South Side. 

To wit, it only seems proper—with Milwaukee's cocktail history and current momentum—that the city host Milwaukee Cocktail Week, running September 21-27, 2014. Now in its second year, this ode to cocktails was founded by local food writers and the publishers of Milwaukee-based Alcoholmanac Magazine. It promises “distiller meet & greets, tastings, hands-on classes and all sorts of other events revolving around the art of the cocktail!” As the host of Wisconsin Foodie, I am excited about the fantastic cocktail dinners planned through the week, pairing Milwaukee's exceptional chef talent with menu-crafted cocktails.

On Sunday, September 21, 2014, I hosted the 2nd Annual Milwaukee Cocktail Week Tailgate Kick-off event, and on Wednesday, September 24th, I will host a special cocktail dinner at Bavette La Boucherie. Astute in the heritage and craft of traditional butchery styles is Karen Bell, chef/owner of Bavette. Her talents are the perfect complement to cocktails that will undoubtedly represent America's great craft tradition. 

On September 27th, “Cocktail College” will be hosted at the Iron Horse Hotel. There you can sample the distilled spirits that helped make Milwaukee Cocktail Week possible as well as meet distillery representatives and ply them with questions about their craft. Seminars throughout the evening will serve as a well-vetted source of information on Milwaukee's place within national imbibing culture and history. Diplomas that night, however, will be self-bestowed. 



Milwaukee, the King of Cocktails: Part One

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Friday, September 19, 2014

By Kyle Cherek
Host of Wisconsin Foodie

Milwaukee is unequivocally a cocktail town. Beyond its long-storied lineage in brewing, this city has a uniquely qualified stake in the ground regarding the art of spirits and the history of American drinks. In the past several years, this history has garnered newfound respect in the hearts of those who appreciate the poise and heritage of a perfectly mixed drink.

The first mention of the term “cocktail” in America appears in an 1806 Hudson, New York periodical, where the question “What is a cocktail?” was posed. The answer listed ingredients of spirits, sugar, water and bitters and described (in a way that charms me) a drink, which “renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head”. 

Forty to fifty years later, the cocktail really came into its own. That the version of a cocktail as the world recognizes it was pioneered in the mid-19th century America by bartender Jerry Thomas is beyond refute. And Milwaukee, to its credit, gave the world its first free-standing cocktail lounge, Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, in 1938. 

Imagine a time when the only place to get a cocktail was either at home, in the lobby of a nice hotel, at the bar on a better ocean liner or at a tavern that was not “tied” to a particular brewery (as they all once were)...  When Bryant Sharp bought the building that was destined to become Bryant's Cocktail Lounge on Milwaukee's near South Side, it was just that, a “tied house” serving only Miller Beer brews. It was a rough and bare place whose ambiance was defined by wooden walls and a cast iron stove.

Bryant and his wife Edna bought the property in 1936 and by 1938 had changed the paradigm of how Milwaukee customers drank. The jukebox only played classical music; Oster mixers were employed for the concoction of drinks; and, by the early 1940s, Bryant’s was swinging. The 1950s gave credence to iconic drinks like the Pink Squirrel, still made today, which originated at Bryant's. In 2012, Esquire Magazine's cocktail cognoscenti, David Wondrich, named Bryant's the Best Bar in America. 

The treasure of Bryant's is not lost on the historically- and architecturally-minded either. On September 20, 2014, as part of Historic Milwaukee's Doors Open annual event series, I will host a talk about Bryant's Cocktail Lounge. At the very bar where the Pink Squirrel first debuted, I will elaborate upon its place in American cocktail history.  (Note: seating is limited; this is a ticketed event through Doors Open.)


Oktoberfest Interviews: Sprecher Brewery

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Friday, September 19, 2014

By Jennifer Posh
Content & Copywriting Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

“I could never find the Sprecher crest,” Randy Sprecher told us, “then when I got started, Sprechers started coming out of the woodwork to tell me I got it wrong.”

Opening Milwaukee’s original craft brewery wasn’t Randy’s original plan: his first degree was actually in oceanography. But after being stationed near Munich and enjoying Oktoberfest there, he found that importing the beers he’d enjoyed in Germany was too expensive – so he became a home brewer and pursued a degree in fermentation science. He drove from California to Milwaukee in 1980 to work for Pabst, then started Sprecher Brewery in 1985.

Do you offer seasonal beers? “We have MaiBock [a spring beer] and Oktoberfest seasonally, which do well. We might add an additional flavor.”

How does Sprecher make their beer? “We use gas heat,” Randy said. “A lot of breweries use steam; gas can heat up to 1100-1300 degrees…steam can’t get that hot.” Did you know Sprecher makes their own vessels out of repurposed dairy equipment? In addition, Randy makes sure key staff visit Europe to try the beers he fell in love with firsthand.

Is your brewery part of the “local” movement? Sprecher grows some of its own hops outside of Wasau and uses clover honey to sweeten their root beer, much of it produced in Wisconsin. “Our bees produce all year long,” Randy told us. “When it gets too cold in Wisconsin, they drive the hives down to Florida for the winter.”

On the topic of root beer… “We brew our sodas as a concentrate, then combine with water in the bottling process.” Randy showed us a 10,000 gallon tank of Sprecher root beer concentrate, which would become 50,000 gallons of root beer.

What’s the biggest challenge of creating a great beer? “Drinkability. People like to try new things, they don’t always want to drink the same beer every time. You want to create something that people will come back to over and over.”


Get classy (or crazy) with your girlfriends

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

By Jennifer Posh
Content & Copywriting Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

The news comes in through text, email and Facebook message: my college girlfriends are all coming to town for a weekend. Once upon a time, I would have been frazzled at the prospect, but these days I’m cool as a cucumber. Why, you ask? Because I know that Milwaukee is absolutely rife with great spots to take my favorite ladies – it’s just a question of deciding what kind of weekend you want to have!

Feeling like a classy weekend of pampering and glamour? Spas and shopping are in order. Start in the Historic Third Ward for boutiques, then head just west of the city for more shopping and lunch in the charming historic village of Wauwatosa. Come back to downtown in time for afternoon tea (the height of fancy!) and spend an evening enjoying stylish wine bars.

But maybe you don’t feel so fancy this weekend. Maybe you want to relive your glory days and get a little wild. Never fear – with options like painting & drinking at Splash Studio, margarita pitchers at Botanas, the raucous dueling pianos at Lucille’s Piano Bar and big-city club action at Oak Lounge, your night (and afternoon – I won’t judge you!) is sure to be packed.

My favorite thing to do when I have girlfriends in town, regardless of the night’s plans, is go out for small plates. When everyone orders what catches their eye, you end up trying some dishes you might not have considered before.  My life was changed when a friend ordered the steak tartare at Wolf Peach one fine night – and I probably never would have been bold enough to choose it on my own! (Seriously – order it. Even the mostly-vegetarian liked it!)

Check out our Girlfriends Getaway itinerary for more ideas for an awesome weekend with your friends in Milwaukee!


Oktoberfest Interviews: Milwaukee Brewing Co

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Friday, September 12, 2014

By Jennifer Posh
Content & Copywriting Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee
Have you spent your weekend mornings in pain thanks to the deceptive strength of O-Gii, the beer-tea combination from Milwaukee Brewing Co? If so, you have lead brewer Kurt Mayes to thank. “I feel like I should start a Facebook page for all the people who tell me that I ruined their life,” Kurt told us.
Lead brewer Kurt Mayes poses near brewing kettle
Kurt didn’t plan to become a brewer. He was a chef for 15 years, but after starting work in a brewpub, he made a career shift and never looked back. His culinary background, he told us, inspires him to add unexpected flavors to beer and look for a flavor-driven balance in the beer he brews. As lead brewer, he works under the brewmaster as the top guy out on the floor.
What makes a good beer? “Flavor. A beer should have flavor, and not taste like water.” Kurt doesn’t have a single favorite brew, but he’s currently enjoying sour beers, which gets their distinctive flavor from bacteria. Although this style of beer has been around for a long time, it’s enjoying a renaissance and gaining popularity among adventurous beer drinkers.
Where’s your favorite spot in Milwaukee to drink? “Here?” Due to his unpredictable schedule (he usually works from 6 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., but on the day we met with him, he was coming in at 3 p.m. and thought he might be there until 1 a.m.), Kurt told us he “just works and sleeps” and doesn’t go out much, but he does enjoy trying out beers with his fellow brewers or at family events.
What’s your favorite fall beer? Kurt created the recipe for “Sasquatch,” Milwaukee Brewing Co’s popular pumpkin beer out of a desire to create a pumpkin beer that he would like, combining pumpkin and sweet potato with malts and just a little of the famous pumpkin spice flavors to keep it from becoming a “spicebomb.” He prefers drinking Sasquatch with food – for sipping on its own, he’s a fan of Hoptoberfest, a take on the classic German-style lager that’s perfect for fall.
What’s your advice for novice beer drinkers? “Try things – don’t be afraid to taste stuff. Take a brewery tour.” People often have preconceived notions about what kind of beer they like, but you never know until you try. Brewery tours, Kurt points out, are a great way to get a look at what makes each beer what it is, in addition to having the opportunity to sample several different kinds. 
What’s your favorite part of your job? “I get to make beer. I get to do what I love to do. If you find a job you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I still enjoy coming in every day, even when I know I might be coming in to a headache.”


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