What’s brewing in Bay View?
For Milwaukee native Kyle Vetter, “urban farmhouse” describes the style of the beers he produces at 1840 Brewing Co., the latest of four craft breweries to sprout up in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood in recent years.
Vetter’s process — one he learned while attending college in Colorado and polishing his skills at the Aspen Brewing Co. — replicates aspects of the traditional Belgian farmhouse brewing style, but with 21st century twists. The blend of old and new reflects the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood the brewery calls home.
In addition to Vetter’s two-month-old enterprise, Bay View’s brewing ranks include:
so named for the aldermanic district in which it stands.
located in the Lincoln Warehouse, a building that serves as a business incubator for enterprises seeking wide-open
spaces at lower prices.
also located in the Lincoln Warehouse.
On a recent Friday night, a friend and I went on a pub crawl of the neighborhood and found a variety of brewing and business models, as well as some very impressive brews.
Come along …
ROLL OUT THE BARRELS
A small crowd gathered Sept. 8 inside the burntorange storefront on East Ward Street that houses 1840 Brewing Company. They were there for the inaugural meeting of the brewery’s VIP club — and one of the first public tastings of its beers.
Except for a small sign by the front door and a back bar of beer-filled Champagne bottles visible through its open garage-door-style windows, there were few indications of an innovative brewery at work.
The reason for that in a moment.
Vetter, his wife Stephanie Vetter — a native of Fort Collins, Colorado — and their black lab welcomed members to the taproom.
So far, about 100 club members pay an annual fee of $175 (or $200 to include a plus-one) for a variety of benefits, including access to two of three tastings scheduled each month. 1840 Brewing is one of the few area breweries with such a club.
The name 1840 is an homage to the year Milwaukee’s first brewery — thought to be the Owens Brewery, opened by Welsh immigrant Richard Owens — began operations, six years before the city of Milwaukee itself was incorporated.
The brewery — located in a former book bindery — is all wood and steel beams, with tables and chairs scattered over its paint-spattered concrete floor. The back of the room, lined with at least two dozen former wine and liquor barrels, also is distinguished by the lack of any brewing equipment.
That seeming lacuna is because Vetter employs what he calls the “release model,” adapted from his days managing Aspen Brewing’s barrel operation.
Under that model, Vetter contracts with Milwaukee craft breweries to produce wort, the foundational mixture of water, malted grain and hops best described as unfermented beer. He then ferments and barrel ages the beer in the 1840 barrelhouse, inoculating the wort with his own distinctive yeast varieties and allowing it to incorporate flavor nuances from the barrels, some of which are from George Dickel and Heaven Hill whiskey distilleries.
“We brew to create a ‘house-sour’ culture with a lot of barnyard funk,” Vetter says in reference to his beers’ Belgian-style. “I’m a selfish brewer and brew to my own taste, taking one type of beer and turning it into many different things.”
Four beers were on offer, and they all reflected Vetter’s personal preferences while showcasing his brewing prowess. They were produced from wort brewed at Third Space Brewing on St. Paul Avenue, Greendale’s Explorium Brewpub and Company Brewing in the Riverwest neighborhood.
The George Dickel barrels were put to good use in aging the Stone Castle Saison (5.8 percent alcohol by volume), which could easily become 1840’s flagship beer. The farmhouse-style brew’s funky flavor — fueled by saccharomyces and brettanomyces yeasts — was balanced by the barrel’s influence, which lent notes of oak, vanilla and other flavors to the beer.
The bourbon influence was remarkably subtle, but like a fine spirit, it gained greater presence and aroma as it warmed to room temperature.
The other three beers (all 6.4 percent ABV) were variations on Vetter’s Sumerian Origin Wheat Ale, aged either in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or bourbon barrels. The wine varietals added a vinous nose and subtle fruit flavor to the beers, which lacked the funk of the Stone Castle Saison but offered complex palates of their own.
The bourbon once again established a subtle presence, only to become more pronounced as its respective beer warmed.
“I build my beer recipes to stand up to the bourbon,” Vetter notes. “It’s all about balance for me.”
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY THE CUCUMBER BEER
From 1840, my buddy and I wandered around the corner to District 14 Brewery & Pub. Opened in 2014, District 14 is the oldest of the four new breweries.
Brewer Matt McCulloch’s small three-barrel system, located in a windowed room just off the taproom, brews a surprising number of inventive beers.
The first one to catch my eye on the chalkboard beer menu was Cuker Brah (4.6 percent ABV), a cucumber saison. The bartender’s advice: Try it before you buy it.
We did. It was well balanced, refreshing and, well, very cucumber-y. We were glad to have tried it and checked it off our bucket lists. The flight we purchased was no less inventive, but much more in line with my personal tastes.
The Second Session Belgian Single (5.3 percent ABV) was nicely made, bright and smooth on the palate with a surprisingly floral nose. The Chocomatic Love Machine (6.9 percent ABV) lived up to its name, offering a dark beer with a rich, chocolate palate filled with bright flavors and characterized by a dry finish.
The Love Machine, the first higher alcohol beer of the night, was followed in short order by the Oaked Belgian Quad (10 percent ABV), produced in collaboration with Explorium and MobCraft, a relatively new arrival from Madison to the Walker’s Point neighborhood. Clean and smooth with a malty sweetness, the beer wasn’t as strong on Belgian characteristics as it
District 14 Brewery & Pub,
Enlightened Brewing Company,
Eagle Park Brewing Company,