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Oktoberfest Interviews: Big Head Brewing

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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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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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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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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.”


Milwaukee’s Dining Tipping Point

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

By Kyle Cherek
Host of Wisconsin Foodie

There is a time for every movement, conscious or not, when those in it unite in a way they had not before. They click. Ideas and enterprises come to the fore, and sometimes attention from the world works in tandem with the talent, condensing into a turning point. Replete with fanfare or regardless of it, it happens. Milwaukee's dining scene, its chefs, its menus and its national and local mentions are at such a point of coalescence and greatness. Malcolm Gladwell called it “the tipping point.” Brian Eno, the renowned music producer called it “Scene-ious.” A group of minds working in and around each other, percolating a great “scene” that we will all look back on in awe.

Justin Aprahamian

Justin Aprahamian's prestigious win of the James Beard Best Chef Midwest 2014 is part of the evidence. The second owner of Sanford, an iconic restaurant whose original chef won the award in 1996, Aprahamian had only taken possession of the business one and a half years prior to winning the award. In his early 30's, he could have coasted on the name and the late accolades, but his cooking talent was too engaging to sit idle and not be noticed on a national level. His win solidifies the multi-dimensionality and high level of cooking of Milwaukee's dining scene. However, he is just one of several Milwaukee chefs to get the nation's high culinary accolade nod or notice year after year.


At the edge of the same neighborhood as Sanford, another chef named Justin (Carlisle) has opened his own restaurant, Ardent, which in 2014 became the first Milwaukee restaurant  to be named a Beard Foundation semi-finalist for the nation's Best New Restaurant. This notice, just four months after opening, evinced a new era for what Milwaukee's food is all about.

Ardent regularly hosts “who's-who” guest chef dinners with cooking talent from around the country. The guest chefs, with restaurants of similar size to Ardent, forward their respective regions’ dining scenes. “I want us to represent nationally, not against what's down the street,” Carlisle says. This is pure self-possession, from a chef who is not content for the proverbial candle of Milwaukee's talent to be “kept under a bushel” one day more. 


Goodkind, the latest gem added to Milwaukee's palette of offerings, is confirmation of how the scene has arrived. Its ownership is comprised of five restaurant veterans, a true meeting of the minds in what Milwaukee has brought forth on its ascendant dining trajectory. All five came together to cook, serve and work in a place their hearts could love, and not just because it was their own.

Goodkind’s menu duo, Paul Zerkel and wife Lisa Kickpatrick, hail from Milwaukee but trained extensively in Portland, long known as a city of foodie-ism and exceptional dining. The couple returned to Milwaukee in 2006, and have now partnered with one of the best cocktail talents in the city, Katie Rose, and another husband and wife team, make up the gem that is Goodkind. They, and others of their ilk, will continue to codify and refine Milwaukee's restaurant prominence for the next generation.

These are just a few of the many examples of how Milwaukee's dining scene has arrived. It seems nearly every day, the city opening new establishments with verve, or welcoming cooking talent back from storied and established culinary cities to practice their craft in Milwaukee, because of the environment it offers. Eating in Milwaukee RIGHT NOW, will be one of those times we will look back on in a decade and say we were “lucky enough to have been there then” to take it all in.


For the love of…Tosa!

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September 5, 2014

By Michelle Haider
Convention Services Manager

There are a lot of things that I love – cheesecake, funny movies, John Stamos, red wine, road trips – I could go on forever, but the one that tops this list (other than of course my dear husband, family and friends – you get the point), is where I call home……Wauwatosa. 

When my husband and I decided that we needed more living space, a free parking spot, a quiet neighborhood, and heck, even a yard with a garden, we decided it was time to move out of our apartment on the East Side of Milwaukee. So after a long discussion, we made the decision to start looking for homes in the burbs. But which one? There are a lot of great suburbs of Milwaukee! 

Being the bike riders that we were (who wants to pay for parking in the city?) we rode our bikes out to Wauwatosa to check out a few houses. It was love at first sight – beautiful neighborhoods, old houses with large yards, a charming downtown village, pedestrians crossing at a stop walk because cars stopped for them, boutiques, restaurants, and again – I could go on forever. We knew during our first trip there, that this would be our new home. 

This gem of a city, a suburb of Milwaukee, really knows how to hold its own. With the up-and-coming restaurants, bars, and boutiques opening on North Avenue and the charming downtown village that is host to a farmers market every Saturday in the summer, you feel like you are walking out on to a movie set! How can you resist having a drink at the new beer garden at Hoyt Park or watching a concert at Hart Park? I know I can’t.

Milwaukee is known for its festivals and Tosa really knows how to throw a good one. Tosafest, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this weekend, showcases the historic village and community spirit with music, food, and family fun. Next weekend is the annual Chilin’ on the Ave, which celebrates East Tosa’s beautiful North Avenue with a nationally sanctioned chili competition, a Bloody Mary competition, music, yoga, shopping and great food vendors! If these events are happening just in the first two weekends of September, what else does Tosa have in store for the rest of the year? To find out, click here.  

If you’ve lived in Tosa for many years, or just coming to try a new restaurant (it should probably be Le Reve), I hope you fall in love with it, just like I have!


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