Our next beer tasting adventure started at a local grocery store and we wanted the beer label to dictate what beer we would write about. Being the brew team of Stone Arch Brew House/Stone Cellar Brewpub, we gravitated to the key word “Organic” we found on the bottle of Lakefront Brewery’s Organic E.S.B. You see Stone Cellar Brewpub is known for using organic ingredients in many of the dishes we offer in our restaurant. We have actually brewed a couple organic beers in our past, so this one really hit home for us.
First we’ll explain E.S.B. E.S.B. stands for Extra Special Bitter which is an English derived beer style in the Pale Ale category. Typically Special Bitters range from 4.2% to 4.7% alcohol by volume. Bitterness in this style is actually quite moderate. This often confuses beer drinkers with “Bitter” being the style name.
The label is seaweed green that proudly boasts the USDA Organic logo. With the use of 100% organic malted barley and 100% organic hops, Lakefront Brewery became the first certified organic brewery in the country and this brew became the country’s first certified organic beer. Russ Klisch and his team have been brewing this beer since its release in 1996. Then comes along a big boy brewery that with the help of two smaller brewing entities petitioned the USDA to allow non-organically grown hops to be used in a certified organic beer. They won that battle in 2004 which was devastating news to the hard working organic hop farmers. This did not sit well with Mr. Klisch and with the help of the farmers, who he continued to support, wrote several letters to the USDA to have them take another look at the policy. Their persistence paid off! Now any organically certified beers HAVE to be brewed with organic malted barley AND organically grown hops. Kudos to Russ!
We chose to use standard pint glasses for our sampling. The E.S.B. poured a hazy orange and the head disappeared relatively quick. A little sedimentation from the bottle made its way into our glasses while pouring throwing a couple floaties (technical term) into solution.
The nose is fruity in nature with a hint of lemon, caramel and a slight wet grass note. We couldn’t pick out the hop aroma. The initial taste is of caramel and sugar. The body seemed a bit light for the style and came across on the side of chalky to some of the tasting team. The beer had a dryness that crossed our palates, yet the malt backbone is evident. As the brew warmed, it seemed to us that the malt overpowered the hop profile. Our team, granted we’re primarily hopheads, wished the beer had more of an English hop aroma and flavor. It seemed to lack this important characteristic. Overall it finished well and maybe dancing a thin line of being an Amber beer by style guidelines. This is a very drinkable beer that would pair nicely with lighter fare such as a crispy salad accenting the bitterness of the greens or even a gentle fish plate. We also agree that it would complement lemon bars after your meal.
On to the Lakefront Brewery story. Their story started similar to many of us in the industry. Two brothers, Russ and Jim Klisch started home brewing in the 1980’s. With the encouragement of family and friends, they decided to take their new found love to the next level. They got their feet wet (literally) in an old bakery building in Riverwest, Milwaukee. Their first beers were brewed in 55 gallon stainless steel drums and used dairy equipment found throughout our wonderful state. 1987 marked the year their first beer went out the doors and their famous brewery tours began (more on these later). In 1988 they had modest growth bringing their annual production to 72 barrels. A couple years of good growth inspired Russ to build his own bottling machine in 1990 and market his beers in bottle form. More equipment was needed as the demand grew and more equipment found its way into their “Frankenstein operation” as a visiting food critic called it.
In 1998 Russ and Jim worked a deal with the city to purchase the old Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company on Commerce St. along the river in Milwaukee to move the brewery. In 2000 they replaced the “Frankenstein” brew equipment with a traditional brew house to allow for their growth they were (and still are) experiencing. In 2012, The Klisch brothers grew their production to 33,368 barrels of Lakefront beers.
Now on to their world famous tours…Lakefront Brewery offers many tour options throughout the month. Times and prices are always easy to find on their website lakefrontbrewery.com. Depending on the day of the tour you chose depends on how deep into their brewery they will take you. They also offer technical tours aimed at the inspiring home brewer or the true beer aficionado. Our favorite part of the tour is the beginning where they start you out with a Lakefront beer in a commemorative glass you get to keep as a souvenir. When the knowledgeable tour guides take you through the brewery, they explain the different steps of brewing in terms that any adult can associate with and laced with good, fun humor. One of the most memorable stops on the tour is Bernie Brewer’s Chalet. When the Milwaukee Brewers ballpark, County Stadium, was being rebuilt into Miller Park, a very nostalgic part of the old stadium became available and the Klisch brothers jumped at the opportunity. Many may remember that after Brewers would hit one out of the park, Bernie Brewer would slide down a long slide that terminated into a large beer mug. How appropriate is that to be able to take that slide in a brewery atmosphere? That’s what Lakefront Brewery has to offer.
FINAL WORD: Visit Lakefront Brewery and enjoy their one-of-a-kind brewery tour!