Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Brewing as a Conceptual Art

Brenner Brewing has a ways to go before it functions as a working brewery. Plus: a fundraiser for the anti-Clarke candidate.

By - Sep 27th, 2013 10:13 am
Crowd speaks with Jim McCabe and Mike Brenner about brewing. Photo by Michael Horne.

Crowd speaks with Jim McCabe and Mike Brenner about brewing. Photo by Michael Horne.

Former gallery owner Mike Brenner has reinvented himself as a craft brewer, establishing his credentials through a Siebel diploma bolstered by further studies in Germany.

He wants to mix beer and art at Brenner Brewing Co., his latest adventure, but Brenner’s plans to have his beer on the shelves by November seem conceptual at best.

The not-yet-a-brewery was one of the many buildings featured at Doors Open Milwaukee 2013. The building, at 706 S. 5th St. was described in tour literature as an “excellent example of post modern, industrial minimalism.” That’s fancy talk for “it’s a cinderblock parking garage.”

When Plenty of Horne paid a visit on Sunday, September 21st, Brenner was showing off his facility to a number of visitors, one of whom happened to be Jim McCabe, the founder and president of Milwaukee Brewing Company, located just a few blocks away from Brenner.

Like Brenner, McCabe’s facility is housed in a cinderblock building converted from warehouse functions.

Is this reminiscent of his early days on S, 2nd St.? McCabe was asked.

“Well yes,” McCabe answered. “With the exception of all of this nice shiny equipment.”

He surveyed the shiny, stainless steel tanks, tubs and tuns still dressed in their shipping regalia. There was a new forklift, a glistening white truck (a new delivery van is on the way). Along the wall dozens of oak barrels were stacked; each bearing the Brenner logo branded onto its butt. Each was empty, and made its own distinct sound when thumped as if a drum.

McCabe has been in business 15 years, and he’s still 15 years away from having custom oak barrels.

These are all lovely things, and certainly ate up a good deal of the million dollars Brenner has raised for his operation, but until they are all put together into a system, they are just expensive show pieces. Shall we call them performance sculptures?

The building needs some work before it will function as a brewery.

“It would have been nice if it had a pitched floor,” McCabe noted to Brenner, looking at the perfectly flat slab. Brenner says it’s 7 inches thick, which might give him some leeway to cut some grooves into the pavement and lead them to as yet nonexistent drains. (The global ratio of water consumed in brewing, cleaning, etc.,  to beer produced is 6:1. That’s a lot of water to drain somewhere.) There is no penetration in the roof as yet to accommodate the brew kettle’s emissions, nor is there a ventilation system sufficient to keep the place from turning into an above-ground cave. Simply hooking everything up to electricity will run upwards of $100,000; the process piping to handle the product from water to wort to beer will likely cost more.

These latter items are major expenses for any brewer; and you can only buy them new. That’s why McCabe, and other local brewers including Randy Sprecher and Russ Klisch got their starts by hobbling together mismatched odds and ends bought here and there and repurposed for brewery uses.

True, the explosion of craft brewing has led to a tightening of supplies of used equipment. But Brenner could certainly have saved money by purchasing used forklifts, a beat up old pickup truck, and he could even forget about the delivery vehicle.

“I’m going to self-distribute,” he said at Doors Open, adding that the beer wholesalers have all been by to give him their cards.

McCabe advised him to self-distribute as long as he possibly can, since it costs painful money to part ways with a beer wholesaler, as folks like Russ Klisch can attest.

Brenner is working away (he is the brewery’s only employee). During the past week, he has taken out a number of building permits to put all of his equipment together, including alterations, plumbing and electricity. But there is much to be done; the market rate for rent of the 6,900 sq. ft. facility is $4.44 per square foot per year, according to the city assessor’s computation. Add to that the financing cost on a million dollars, Brenner would be best advised to concentrate on ales, rather than lagers, since they ferment much more rapidly.

New Head for Bike Fed

Dave Cieslewicz, Mayor of Madison from 2003 to 2011 has been selected as the new Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, according to interim director Dave Schlabowske, the Urban Milwaukee “Bike Czar” columnist.

“Bikes are good, even if you don’t have one,” Cieslewicz wrote earlier this year on his blog, Citizen Dave, in which he wears his bike helmet in his portrait.

He worked to make Madison the “best city to bike in the country;” and led the city to the nation’s #6 ranking by Bicycling Magazine. (Milwaukee ranks 24th).

Cieslewicz was not immediately available for comment. He replaces Kevin Hardman, who now heads Milwaukee’s bike share program. Hardman’s 2011 salary was $67,599 according to the group’s tax records.

Moews States his Case

Chris Moews and his children. Photo by Michael Horne.

Chris Moews and his children. Photo by Michael Horne.

Milwaukee Police Lieutenant Christopher Moews says he has three issues he will use in his second effort to unsaddle Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., in the August 2014 Democratic primary. (Moews lost his first race against Clarke in 2010.)

He made his first policy comments in an address to well-wishers who had gathered for a birthday party fundraiser Wednesday, September 18th, at the newly opened Blue Jacket restaurant, 135 E. National Ave.

First, Moews (pronounced “mays”) called for fiscal accountability. Clarke “blew the budget” on such things as horses and weight training equipment for his command staff, says Moews.

Second, “the sheriff must build relationships,” Moews said. “We need a leader who is not going to alienate every elected official and his constituents.”

Third, “public safety.” Moews said, “We need to focus on putting safety, not politics, first.”

Attendees included Jeremy Levinson, George Aldrich III, Lynda Pruitt-Jackson, Rep. Dan Riemer, Rep. Jon Richards, Rep. Josh Zepnick and Judge John Siefert. They were joined by Laura Gramling Perez, the Chief Court Commissioner for Milwaukee County who has announced her candidacy to replace the retiring Judge Michael Guolee.

Judge John Siefert. Photo by Michael Horne.

Judge John Siefert. Photo by Michael Horne.

Kerri McKenzie, the assistant superintendent of the Milwaukee County House of Corrections, introduced herself to Judge Siefert, saying “I used to be your bailiff.” Siefert was also, for a time, a judge on a case McKenzie and other Sheriff Department members brought against Clarke for wrongful termination. That’s all behind her now. “I’m in a better place,” she said. Yes. The House of Corrections is a nice escape from the sheriff, at last.

The Moews campaign is headed by Sachin Chheda, the chair of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party. Late last week Chheda called on Clarke to become a Republican rather than persist running as a Democrat. (He has never joined the Democratic party, despite running as one.)

Chheda made his call, which Clarke ignored, after the Sheriff spoke to a Republican Party gathering.

Clarke’s running as a Democrat may be one of the most clever strategies in all of electoral politics. The sheriff, for archaic reasons rooted in the state constitution, is a partisan office, elected for four year terms during “off” years (i.e., those without presidential elections.)

Although appointed Sheriff by Republican Governor Scott McCallum in April 2002, Clarke ran as a Democrat under the tutelage of Bill Christofferson, who must rue that to this day.

Clarke ran successfully in the past three general elections against token opposition. Since he is a Republican darling, the party dare not put a substantial candidate against him. Since Milwaukee County is traditionally heavily democratic, all he needs to do is to win in the primary — and he can do it with the help of Republicans crossing to vote the Democratic ticket, since there are usually no Republican races on Milwaukee County ballots in off years.

But winning that primary victory, key as it is for Clarke, may not be guaranteed.

That’s what Moews hopes. “Last time we had a 100-day campaign and got 47 per cent of the vote,” he told his well-wishers.

“This time we were in 20 months in advance and anything less than 100 per cent of the vote will be a disappointment.”

Fashion Week Happenings

These models brought their pets on parade. Photo by Brad Blavat.

These models brought their pets on parade. Photo by Brad Blavat.

Fashion Week MKE has lived up to the promise of Wren Solares, its founder, to be an “inclusive” event. Its first event, a fashion show including pets, kicked off the week of activities at Spin at noon on Sunday, September 22nd 2013. Lines of lovely models did the runway with an assortment of well coiffed pooches, one of them wearing an adorable “Adopt Me” vest.

The dogs were representing Milwaukee Pets Alive, an animal rescue program that finds foster care for pets (and wild animals) that might otherwise be euthanized.

A hairdresser named Paul Vaughn showed off his invention, “Kwof,” an improved “professional finishing iron.”

“Do you know what’s wrong with every finishing iron?” except his, he asked. I have never actually touched a finishing iron, but correctly guessed that something is wrong with the angle of conventional irons. By golly I was right. “It’s simple physics,” Vaughn said.

Another example of physics was demonstrated shortly thereafter when one of Vaughn’s young sons hurled a cue ball hard onto a pool table. It lurched into the crowd before dad retrieved it, handing it to the bartender for safekeeping.

Gloria Luedtke was there with her camera, as were a number of others, including Brad Blavat, taking some time from his duties selling Zen replacement windows to take some pics for Urban Milwaukee.

Wednesday evening, September 25th, the party moved to the Brewhouse Inn and Suites for a men’s night.

The Brass Rooster was there representing its line of locally made men’s hats and accessories, while Woody Burns, owner of Roots Underground Outfitters, 5328 W. Vliet St., showed off his offerings.

Tim Cook showed up to take a gander of the larger-than-life sized portrait of himself hanging on a wall. He says his brother, poet Matt Cook and his wife have returned to Milwaukee after professoring elsewhere, and have moved back to their urban Milwaukee home on Booth Street that they never gave up in their absence.

The indomitable, energetic Timothy Westbrook also made an appearance after a grueling day in his Grand Avenue atelier. Westbrook’s name was mentioned to applause during the Sunday event at Spin. Until next week, that’s plenty.

Fashion Week Photo Gallery

Categories: Plenty of Horne

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