Milwaukee's First Brewpub turns 30
It's hard to believe, but before 1987 there were no brewpubs in Brew City.
That's when R.C. Schmidt "poured" $1 million into remodeling a storefront at 1101 N. Water St. that formerly housed what newspaper reports described as "a used clothing store, dingy offices and a wholesale flower business."
Today, when craft breweries, distilleries and brewpubs seem to open weekly, it might not seem risky to open a brewpub in Milwaukee, but 30 years ago there were only 16 brewpubs in the entire U.S. And the Water Street Brewery had to be distinctively Milwaukee to succeed.
Robert B. Brumder, an heir to the family that brewed Schlitz, "the beer that made Milwaukee famous," designed and installed the brewing system. In addition to drinking fresh craft beer, customers of the new Water Street Brewery were offered lunch and dinner and a clear view of Milwaukee's historic city hall.
Matt Schmidt is Director of Operations Water Street Brewery Group, which has carefully expanded to Delafield (1999), Grafton (2010) and Oak Creek (2015).
George Bluvas III is the current brewmaster, overseeing brewing at all four locations. "Each location can brew about 450 gallons at a time. Small batch brewing allows us to keep our beer really fresh and gives us more flexibility to experiment with new styles and flavors." says Schmidt.
The tabloid newspaper format of the menu (The Water Street Journal) evokes nostalgia, but items on the Green Sheet insert reflect current food trends and change quarterly. Intriguing new beers appear seasonally as well, alongside house favorites like Honey Lager light and Bavarian Weiss.
"Our 30th anniversary will bring one-of-a-kind brews, from our limited edition Anniversary Mead to specialty Sours, Frambozen and many more," notes Bluvas, only the third brewmaster in the Water Street Brewery Group's history.
And as a special souvenir, guests can tote home their favorite brew in swing top bottles or growlers.
In its first three decades, the city's first brewpub has supported major festivals and events, from Summerfest, Irish Fest and German Fest on the lakefront to the Wisconsin State Fair. The fair-inspired Deep Fried Old Fashioned now is a dessert at the restaurants.
While visibility at major events has contributed to the growth of Water Street Brewery, Matt Schmidt adds that attention to Milwaukee residents' insistence on quality at reasonable prices also has been essential to its success.
For further information on events, memorabilia and planned beers, visit
In addition to the four brewpubs, the Water Street Brewery Group now includes Louise's restaurants in Milwaukee and Brookfield; Monster Pizza on Milwaukee's East Side; Vagabond MKE adjacent to the original Water Street Brewery and three Irish-themed restaurants in Milwaukee – Trinity•Three Irish Pubs, The Harp and The Black Rose.