Company Brewing is Top Brass
New Riverwest microbrewery offers discounted pints, cocktails and wine seven days a week.
In the short time since I’ve been writing about Milwaukee I haven’t anticipated a bar/restaurant opening as much as Company Brewing (735 E. Center St.). It came as a surprise when Company’s predecessor in the building, Stonefly Brewing Company, shut down last year. By no means was Stonefly a great brewer or venue; the sound tended to suck, the food and beer was just okay, but I had fond memories of the place, especially for hip-hop shows.
Company Brewing is a venture from George Bregar, former director of coffee at Colectivo. Their soft opening was back in February during the Arte Para Todos Festival. Company hosted the most buzzed about show of the festival, which featured Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band, D’Amato, and headliner GGOOLLDD. When I arrived at the still-under-construction space one of the festival organizers, Chuck Watson (Made in Milwaukee), informed me it was at capacity. Enough people left so my friends and I could get in before GGOOLLDD started, but not all would be so lucky, as there was a line down Center Street throughout their performance. While then a work-in-progress, the sound system and lack of tables were a major improvement from the Stonefly days.
Company Brewing opened their doors in earnest at the end of May. A couple weeks back I was in Company Brewing taking shelter from the heat during Center Street Daze and ran into Watson. He informed me that Company was again having capacity issues, but of another kind. Bregar isn’t brewing beer fast enough to keep up with the pace of his sales. That’s because Company Brewing is one of the best microbrews in Milwaukee and could become a player on the regional level if they take Watson’s advice and start selling kegs to other bars and restaurants around town. Their happy hour deal is almost too good to be true, with all pints at 8oz cup prices from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the week. Cocktails and glasses of wine are also $6 during happy hour.
To give you a sense of just how good Company’s happy hour deal is, consider the beer that quenched my thirst during Center Street Daze after a grueling guest appearance in New Age Narcissism’s semifinal Bandsketball game. The Duchesse de Bourgogne is a Flanders red ale-style Belgium beer aged in oak barrels for 18 months. It’s the most exquisite floral beer to ever hit my lips, it’s rarely ever on tap, and it retails for over $10 a standard bottle in the States. I got a pint of it on draft at Company for $5.50, on a Saturday no less.
Guest beers make up a small percentage of Company’s taps, which pour out of sleek uniform silver spouts against a beautiful brass back. The bulk of Company’s beer is made on site, with nine varieties currently on tap. The Bounce House is a crisp, refreshing session wheater. The Oaky Doke White Oak Red Ale is available both on standard draft and on nitro (smoother, less carbonated), and is delicious both ways. I’m not usually a fan of rye beer, but their Night Rye’d Porter changed my mind.
Since Company takes such pride in their brewing, there are no bottles or cans in their fridges. (Unless you’re talking about champagne.) They even sell posters for some of their beers and all of them can be taken to go in 64oz growlers ($11.5-$17, plus $7 for the initial empty bottle). Guest kegs rotate pretty regularly, unless they’re a hit. Beer (and one cider) is not the only thing on tap at Company, as both seasonal house cocktails (regularly $7-$9) and wine (regularly $7-$12 per glass) flow forth from the big brass rectangle behind the bar.
One of my concerns when I first got wind of Riverwest Pizza Company was whether it would be an agent of gentrification in the progressive and sensitive Riverwest neighborhood. The same can be said about Company Brewing. The answer depends on who you ask and what they perceive as gentrification. Some might say it’s having pricey, oddball, farm-to-table food like grilled octopus and roasted duck fat potatoes. But have you ever tried cooking with duck fat? It’s amazing. That being said, they still offer a homemade polish sausage and have a simple pilsner on tap.
The food and drink prices might be a bit higher than what the neighborhood is used to, but it’s along the same lines as what Centro Cafe is doing across the street. And you’re paying for what you get; quality, carefully crafted nourishment. Sure, when I stopped in the other day there was a group of pompous, well-to-do, suburban young men at the bar, which I would argue is the real hallmark of gentrification. But there were also local artists holding a meeting and UWM students sipping beers and discussing their upcoming semester. Diversity is the spice of life, and as long as Company Brewing maintains their affordable happy hour, offers delicious ethnic plates like tostones (flattened, pan fried plantains), and hosts great Milwaukee music, they will find a place in their neighbor’s hearts.
Before paying my tab at Company I read Shepherd Express’ feature on Marielle Allschwang, who has her record release show at Company on Saturday night. A member of Group of the Altos and Hello Death, “Dead Not Done” is the saintly voiced singers solo debut. You can expect a number of her Altos collaborators to join her Saturday night in support of the wonderful new album.