Inside the New Pabst Brewery
See inside the church-turned-brewery at the Pabst complex.
Pabst is brewing beer in Milwaukee again. The brewing giant, which at its peak in 1978 brewed 15.6 million barrels of beer in a 28-building campus on the northwest side of downtown Milwaukee, will open their new brewery to the public in April of this year. The new operation, which encompasses just one building and a planned 4,000 barrels per year, is a substantial step for the company, which once left a sour taste in many Milwaukeean’s mouths.
In 1996, under a different ownership group, the Pabst Brewing Company closed their entire Milwaukee brewery with no notice. The abrupt closure left hundreds of Milwaukeeans unemployed and even more without a desire to drink more of the beer. It also created a black hole on the edge of Downtown.
Today the former brewing complex, now a neighborhood known as The Brewery, is a diverse and thriving area and Pabst is coming back. The one-time brewing giant, which now has most of its beers contract brewed by MillerCoors, is opening a small brewery, restaurant and bar in a church that the company once owned. According to company Chairman and CEO Eugene Kashper it’s the first step in becoming a good corporate citizen in Milwaukee.
The 7,000 square-foot, two-level building, known in company records as building 23, was built 144 years ago as the First German Methodist Church. Pabst acquired the church in 1898 and used the church for everything from the Forst Keller restaurant to an employee training facility. Since 1996 it has sat empty, the last historic building to be rehabbed at the 20-acre complex.
Brewery and Restaurant Details
Pabst has installed a 10-barrel brewing facility on the building’s first floor. The brewer, in partnership with W.M. Sprinkman of Franksville, has filled the 3,040 square-foot space with enough brewing equipment to make it easily Milwaukee’s most compact brewery. Still, despite the tight quarters, the equipment will give the company the ability to brew up to 11 beers and 250 barrels of beer at a time.
What will they be brewing? Not the brewery’s trademark Pabst Blue Ribbon, according to head brewer John Kimes; “Really, our focus will be on the future, looking at new brews,” he says. Kimes notes they will brew a few Pabst classics like Old Tankard Ale and Andeker as well as a number of brews his small team is creating including honey wheat, dunkel weisse, northeast IPA and biere de mars. The beer will be available in kegs, crowlers (32-ounce aluminum can growlers) and for customers upstairs in the restaurant.
The restaurant will be owned and operated by Pabst under the direction of Rebecca Berkshire. Berkshire says the menu will focus on “locally, sustainably sourced food items and free range meats.” The space has the capacity for 140 people, with seating for approximately 90. It will serve six to eight beers at a time made right in the building.
A beer garden attached to the back of the building will include additional space for approximately 100 people, with seating for 40. A second, outdoor bar is included in the secluded space.
Pabst hopes to open the brewery to the public on April 14th. Not only because Friday is a great day for have a beer after work, but because of its role as Milwaukee Day. The increasingly celebrated local holiday reflects the city’s area code, 414.
Still Taking Shape
The project team was quick to note during Monday’s media tour that much remains to be finalized about the project. In addition to brewing the beer, which is well underway, Pabst is working to finalize the menu and finish rehabbing the building.
Design work on the project is being led by Dub Studios of Los Angeles, with Engberg Anderson serving as the architect of record. Blue Ribbon Management, a firm that specializes in EB-5 financing that allows foreign nationals to obtain green cards for investing in job-creating projects, is leading the development of the building. Western Neon of Seattle, Washington created both the interior “Pabst” sign that hangs above the beer hall and the exterior sign.
Beyond the extensive interior work done to convert the long-vacant building into a brewery, construction crews have extensively cleaned the Cream City brick facade, installed a new roof and constructed a new, two-story addition at the building’s rear. The new addition provides space for the restaurant kitchen as well as an elevator to help make the building comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Kaspher and TSG Consumer Partners, a private equity firm, acquired the brewing giant in November 2014 and maintain a corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. The firm also leases office space just south of the brewery in the newly constructed Pabst Professional Center.
The new brewery will be the only facility where Pabst itself brews its own beer; the rest is all brewed on contract.
For more on the project’s history, including its 2015 announcement, see our past coverage.