Milwaukee’s Brewing Tradition and the Breweries That Shaped the City

What Beer Made Milwaukee Famous

Milwaukee has a long brewing tradition and was home to classic breweries like Schlitz, Miller, Blatz, and Pabst. But when beer market consolidation started, many of those old breweries were left behind.

Nevertheless, Milwaukee’s breweries are still going strong today. One of them is Weekend @ Louie’s, which has a special tie-in with local tea maker Rishi.


Joseph Schlitz started as the bookkeeper for August Krug’s brewery in Milwaukee, and married Krug’s widow two years later. He grew the company into one of the biggest in Milwaukee.

He used German brewing skills and revolutionary advertising to expand sales of his beer. Schlitz’s success was matched by other local breweries such as Pabst and Blatz.

Then came prohibition. When it ended, Milwaukee’s breweries reverted back to making beer. They began introducing color magazine ads to their marketing campaigns. They even brewed ginger ale. By the end of the 1970s, however, Schlitz’s sales had fallen off. By 1980 it had been passed by Pabst and a third Milwaukee brewer, Heileman. Its Milwaukee brewery closed in 1981 and was sold to Stroh’s of Detroit (now part of Pabst). The Schlitz brand was reintroduced in 2007 as the Classic 60’s Formula.


Known as a first-class lager and distinguished by the blue silk ribbon tied to each bottle, Pabst grew from a few wood buildings on the edge of Milwaukee to 4-square city blocks of Cream City brick. But Pabst’s heyday ended after Prohibition.

In 1844, Jacob Best and his four sons moved to Milwaukee. Their new brewery -Best and Company – quickly prospered.

Captain Frederick Pabst joined his father-in-law’s business in 1860, leaving his steamship work for good. His successful management of the brewery and his philanthropic spirit earned him respectability and prestige. He was a leader in the German-American community and a strong supporter of American military veterans. He even covered the admission fees of veterans at a public performance put on by the Grand Army of the Republic.

Sprecher Black Bavarian

The exhibition traces the evolution of Milwaukee beer from its early days of brewing in saloons to the mass-market breweries that emerged in the 1920s. It also pays homage to the city’s more recent craft and microbreweries.

The exhibit’s centerpiece is a rare beer bottle from the brewery owned by Blatz, which operated during Prohibition. The label is undated but it’s likely from 1900 or earlier, says Barbera.

The beer is black with a thick, frothy tan head that has good hang time and leaves moderate lacing. The flavor is bold and rich in aromas of roasted coffee beans, French chocolate and bittersweet malt. The finish is smooth with some bitterness and a touch of dry dark grains. A fine schwarzbier.

Louie’s Demise

A medium-bodied amber ale that starts with a rich malt flourish and finishes smooth with a hint of hops. Similar to a German-style alt beer, it’s the brewery’s most popular drink.

Schlitz stayed afloat throughout the 13 years of Prohibition and went on to become the largest brewery in the country by 1902. It eventually lost its top spot to Anheuser-Busch, but Milwaukee remains Brew City.

Brothers Max and Jackson Borgardt bought the brand in 2017 with the intention of keeping recipes that have become staples in the city’s brewing scene. Their beer lineup includes Louie’s Demise, MKE IPA and Outboard Cream Ale. The brews are easy transitions for new craft beer drinkers who may be reluctant to leave their domestic, big brewery favorites behind.


While Miller, Pabst, and Blatz are all well known, Schlitz holds a special place in the hearts of Milwaukee residents. In the early 1900s, the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was America’s largest brewery.

Schlitz earned its nickname “the beer that made Milwaukee famous” after the Great Chicago Fire burned down many of the city’s breweries and left them without water. Schlitz sent barrels of their beer south to help Chicagoans quench their thirst, earning the brewery its cherished name.

In 1987, Russ and Jim Klisch founded Lakefront Brewery on a former bakery site in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. They began selling their beer by rolling it to taverns within “rolling distance.” Their first beer was called Riverwest Stein and is named after the neighborhood they lived in at the time.

Get to the home screen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *