I spent a little time in Milwaukee recently, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. They call it Brew City, and I don't think the name could be more applicable anywhere else in the US. The presence of Miller, beer in general, and the history of brewing is almost palpable. There's Miller Park, the Pabst Theater, former brewing complexes across the city, and a good beer or bar is never too far away. It's former past as one of the largest brewing cities in the world seems to have left some sense of pride, or at least a sense of identity in Milwaukee. Having spent my youth in and near former-industrial cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I half expected a bitterness about its former glories, but I didn't sense that at all.
My first night was spent almost entirely at a great pub which just happened to be a few miles from the airport hotel I was staying. As a place that was chosen partially for convenience, I did not have high hopes. Usually this kind of situation means a crappy bar full of sad locals who get a little too enthusiastic with you by the end of the night and only a couple decent beers to choose from. Not the case, dear readers! Not at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg (that is
indeed "Hamburg" as in the city in Germany, and that is also "O'Keefe"
as in the decidedly un-German surname - awesome). The German history of
Milwaukee seems to permeate, from the bratwurst on the menu of the Gyro place we visited earlier, to the German beer and theme of this pub which
anywhere else would have been an Irish bar. God bless them for that.
Twelve or more taps (all German from what I could see) protrude from fake barrels on the wall behind the bar; wide, thick wooden tables scatter the place, Ray Wylie Hubbard plays from the speakers in the corner, and a goofy tongue-wagging dog named Molly greets us: instantly I am aware that I'm in a place I would be happy to spend a lot of time in. This could easily be a sad hole in the wall where people within walking distance come to get overly drunk, but instead, it's casual, welcoming, and jovial. Unsurprisingly, it's also a cash only bar (which I rather enjoy, if I'm aware of it before hand since I prefer to pay cash for drinks unless I'm at a place that starts a tab for me as soon as I walk in). After settling in I decided on DAB Pilsner, a beer I'd never had before, and it was absolutely fantastic. I diverted to some sort of Maibock for a round, but the Pilsner was so good I switched back to it for the rest of the night. The body was light with a fluffy malt-graininess and a touch of honeyed sweetness. This is balanced with a mild but a pitch perfect level of grassy, herbal hop bitterness. It was really nicely done. I hope to track down some more.
As a geeky side note. This particular beer was made in Dortmund (DAB stands for Dortmunder Actien Brauerei) but was identified as a pilsner. This confuses my very limited knowledge of these styles, most of which comes from the BJCP which separate Dortmunder lagers from Pilsner lagers, but perhaps the former is more an offshoot of sorts of the latter. That is, if such clean and linear distinctions can be made about the styles, which is rarely the case. I would be interested to hear from anyone who knew more.
Either way, I'll surely be back to check out some of the "can't miss" parts of Brew City that I didn't even get to on this trip.