In Houston, the Saint Arnold, Karbach, and No Label breweries all have entertaining events, and I still look forward to visiting Southern Star out in Conroe one of these days, and 8th Wonder when they open. In Dallas this summer, we made sure to visit the Deep Ellum brewery, so a week later while visiting Milwaukee — perhaps the historic brewing capital of the US — we had a few stops on the agenda. The city’s Miller heritage cannot be denied; the brewery is an imposing complex, and one that I’ll have to tour sometime if for no other reason than its history. I was glad, however, that our first visit was a small craft brewing outfit in the northern part of the city, the Sprecher Brewing Co. on Glendale.
Their daily hours are from 11 – 6, however, as we were informed when we arrived, as the peak season winds down, they really just do one tour at 4:00 in the afternoon. This would have been well after our return flight to Houston, but seeing as I was a Milwaukee virgin from Texas, the friendly staff at the front counter made an exception and had someone show us around.
As the name and signage might suggest, this is a German-style brewery through and through, producing hefeweizens, pilsners, and maibocks, and there’s a small beer hall set up for post-tour beverages as you make your way into the depths of the operation. Heading back, you see a small laboratory on the left for quality control testing and an array of batch-numbered bottles on your right. Entering the brew house replete with kettles and mash tuns and burlap sacks full of ingredients, I was immediately struck by the scent of sassafras and licorice and vanilla wafting past your nose – the hallmark of a robust root beer operation. That gave our guide an opportunity to segue into commenting on Sprecher’s use of local ingredients, like sweetening their sodas with honey from local apiaries or steeping the grain and lautering the mash with fresh Wisconsin water, that gives their products that Midwest terroir. The root beer is gluten- and caffeine-free, the malt is wood-fired rather than using an electric or other heat source, the spent grain goes back to the farms as animal feed, packaging is recycled… all contributing to the impression of Sprecher as a very conscientious brewery. They also brew two gluten-free beers, an East African-style Mbege and a West African-style Shakparo.
Unfortunately, Sprecher’s beers aren’t available in Texas, and our host was familiar with the difficulty of getting beers into the Lone Star State. However, the Sprecher line of sodas is available at stores like Rice Epicurean or HEB. While native Milwaukeeans swear by the root beer, I’m of course partial to Saint Arnold here in Houston, but I must admit that Sprecher makes a fine example, with the added bonus of coming in 16 oz bottles. In addition to the root beer, Sprecher produces the likes of cherry cola and cream soda, or their newest offering, soon to hit shelves as our guide pointed them out, sitting in boxes ready to ship, a blueberry soda. But as we returned to the front office and gift shop, Texas beer laws were shown up again as – GASP! – Sprecher is allowed to sell their products right there in the brewery! The staff was perplexed by our legal curiosity, but happily rang up a not-so-German Double IPA for me that I couldn’t resist bringing home. I’m already a sucker for a DIPA, but the clencher was the beugel type bottle it comes in, with a swing-top cap like a bottle of Grolsch. I thought about bringing it to the Karbach brewery’s Great American Bottle Share on October 3, but the event reached capacity in less than 24 hours. Guess I’ll have to find another suitable occasion to crack it open, and in the meantime, stock up on some of that delicious root beer.