While the Sprecher Brewery made an exception for us earlier in the day, the Lakefront Brewery was going strong with tours on the hour. Situated under the Holton St. Bridge and backing up to the Milwaukee River as it meanders lazily into Lake Michigan, the brewery is visually striking with its iconic “Three Stooges” kettle murals now installed as sculptures out front. We adjusted our eyes as we walked up the ramp on a bright, beautiful Milwaukee day and into the dark, cavernous beer hall.
It was about a quarter past when we entered, so we had just missed a tour. You might, however, have thought one just ended if you’ve taken other brewery tours, because just then a group hit the bar to exchange tokens. At Lakefront, the tour actually starts with a beer sample, so patrons can try what’s being described to them as they go. In any event, once the cohort had retreated into the brew house, we had the beer hall to ourselves and chatted up some of the staff at the taps. We went with a recommended Fixed Gear American Red Ale, and the seasonal Pumpkin Lager. You read that correctly: Pumpkin Lager. Virtually all pumpkin-spiced beers are ales, and the draughtsman averred that this lager is the only one on the market; as near as I can tell from moderate research, he’s right.
There are two main classes of beer: ales and lagers. The former employs yeast strains that are activated at warmer temperatures and rise to the top of the tank during a relatively quick fermentation process. These produce a lot of the esters that are responsible for the fruity notes and aromas in beer, which complement the use of pumpkin in the mash. I don’t generally care for the lighter bodied ales that are asked to bear the weight of pumpkin and spices, such as Dogfish Head’s Punkin. It’s the more robust stouts that I think perform this task better, such as Houston’s own Saint Arnold Pumpkinator. But stouts are still technically ales.
Lagers, on the other hand, utilize yeast strains that settle to the bottom of the tank during a much longer and colder fermentation. They’re generally characterized as having a crisp, cleaner finish than ales, benefiting from the time spent “lagering” (from the German “to store”). The Lakefront Pumpkin Lager results in a smooth spice profile coupled with a sweet maltiness that gave me the impression of a pumpkin bread, rather than the somewhat overwhelming pumpkin pie flavors I get from ales that might as well be a pumpkin cider or mulled wine. I still prefer the dark, rich pumpkin stouts overall, but considering I’m in Houston, where it’s warm until November, and seasonal brews seem to be put out far earlier than appropriate – like the Christmas lights in Highland Village – I wish the Lakefront Pumpkin Lager was available here so I could have an agreeable light bodied pumpkin beer until it’s time for stout.
Since it was such a nice day, a welcome 70° respite from Houston’s heat, and we were pretty familiar with the brewing process, despite Lakefront’s unique tour style left up to each individual guide, we elected to dispense with formalities and simply take our beers down the steep staircase at the back of the hall and sit on the patio along the waterfront. I thoroughly enjoyed Lakefront’s offerings, and until we can get their beers down in Texas, I hope one of our local breweries gives the pumpkin lager style a shot.