Beer is only one reason to visit Milwaukee, a city rich in architecture, culture and a vibrant sustainable business community. When it comes to beer, the same could be true for just about any city or town in the U.S. Naturally every community brags about its local I.P.A. or lager, and generally the boasting is justified. But Lakefront Brewery recently started serving what it describes as the first truly “local” beer in the U.S.
Lakefront’s “Wisconsinite” adds to the company’s reputation for innovative brews. Last year Lakefront introduced its gluten-free New Grist, and had to go through bureaucratic hoops in the U.S. government in order to have it “officially approved” as a gluten free beer. Lakefront also sells the nation’s oldest USDA-approved organic brew.
So what makes a genuinely “local” beer?
It helps that Wisconsin benefits locavores with its ample farmland. Geography is a boost as well. The water, of course, comes from Lake Michigan. The wheat comes from Chilton, near Lake Winnebago and 80 miles north of Milwaukee. Malted barley is super local, processed by another local company, Malteurop, just across town. And the magic ingredient, hops, are grown 110 miles west in Mazomanie. For decades, most hops grown for U.S. beer production have been raised in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
But the “local” in Wisconsinite beer includes the yeast, a local strain for which the company’s president pushed and was then developed by Northern Brewer, a home brewing supplies distributor. The strain is supposed to be the only North American-raised yeast available for commercial use. Lakefront has ramped up production of its unique yeast, and is available for commercial and home brewing beer production. The company insists that the yeast makes a huge difference in the taste of beer, so currently it sells the yeast without making any profit. Though the beer has already been a hit, do not count on Wisconsinite to stay local: good news about beer travels fast, and the brewery already distributes its other products in 35 U.S. states and most of Canada.
Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.