Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lakefront Brewery and Their Beer That (Re)Made Milwaukee Famous

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!
Did you have to Google that or did I actually not date myself with everyone on the internet today?
Whether you knew where the words came from or not, everyone is now on the same page – I’m going to spoil it now if you haven’t Googled yet – when it comes to Penny Marshall skipping down a street. But why am I subjecting you to this Nick at Nite torture? Because, Milwaukee!
During the 80’s and 90’s – aka my impressionable years – Milwaukee was a city that exuded “Rust Belt”. All of the characteristics of crumbling industrial giant were on display. From desolate lake front, to deteriorating infrastructure and a mass exodus to the suburbs, Milwaukee was always a town I saw in grey when I visited.
Why the hell did we visit that?
Baseball. But not just any baseball, Rust Belt baseball in a – you guessed it – crumbling sheet metal stadium. But as a child growing up in Wisconsin I never gave a second thought about why my Milwaukee visions were grey. All I knew was that I got to go to the city to see big league ballplayers and then drive home. My worries were never about shuttering manufacturing plants or an ever increasingly polluted Great Lake. It never occurred to me that the city of Richie, the Fonz, Lenny and Shirley was much different than TV and baseball Milwaukee.
One of the relics of Milwaukee during it's decline photo courtesy Richie Diesterheft
One of the biggest losses to Milwaukee was the exodus of some of the largest breweries in the world. For nearly one hundred years, Milwaukee – not Munich – was the beer capital of the world. The beer coming out of Milwaukee may not have followed any purity law or even been very good, but the breweries in Milwaukee produced a product that defined American beer for the majority of the 20th Century. When the dust settled, 3 major brewers – Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz – were gone leaving only Miller as a player in the beer world.
I’m assuming at this point everyone is booking flights and hotels, right? Well, during this downturn in Milwaukee’s history a small brewery started operation in the shadow of the crumbling giants. It was 1987 when Lakefront Brewery began producing craft beer in Milwaukee. Through innovative brewing methods – first American brewery to brew with fruit since prohibition – the brewery rapidly expanded. In 2000 they moved into a former power plant on the Milwaukee River. This was just one of the many restoration and community minded projects Lakefront has taken on over the years.
How and why did Lakefront Brewery differentiate itself from those crumbling giants though?
Quality local beer makes all the difference photo courtesy Brandon Blanke
How they did it was through humble beginnings – think stove and bucket – and brewing for the love of beer and Milwaukee, not a stock option or thoughts of global beer domination. Like many of our brewery stories, family and friends gave a thumbs up to a tasty home brew recipe from 2 brothers and that encouragement led to them opening operation the first Lakefront operation in Milwaukee.
But there was surely a giant hill to climb still. Even though most of the breweries in Milwaukee had hit the skids, Miller was still there and it was a global – and local – giant. The Miller footprint was everywhere in the city at the time and the craft beer revolution wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eyes yet. That’s where the why of the differentiating question comes in. Miller was global, and it’s Milwaukee identity – though still headquartered there – was becoming a thing of the past. Milwaukee was the “Cream City” that needed some local cream. With a local first attitude, Lakefront Brewery started to fill the tap lines of taverns all over town.
Frankenbrewery no more photo courtesy Jeramey Jannene
Lakefront’s popularity grew quickly, so only 3 years after opening, a bottling line was home built. 8 years later – remember we are still in the 90’s – the brewery had outgrown its capacity. As I said above, in the year 2000 Lakefront Brewery moved to its current location. The Frankenbrewery that began in 1987 was now a full production brewery ready to crank out the suds that Milwaukee craved.
Fast forward to today where Lakefront Brewery is one of the great local success stories of Milwaukee. The brewery itself is a reason all on its own to head to Milwaukee. The gathering spot – think tap room except make it a beer hall – is a space that is a true representation of the German heritage of the Milwaukee area. Because Lakefront is true to its Milwaukee roots, this space is used for not only drinking – though obviously that’s important as well – but also for Friday Fish Fry, polka bands and Sunday brunch.
The brewery has also pioneered the art of touring a brewery. The word interactive sells the Lakefront Brewery tour short. They have mastered the art making sure people are involved by offering incentives – think free beer – for participating. The tour is taken with a beer in hand – every brewery tour needs to be enjoyed with suds while learning – and every tour has a queen crowned – you just have to take the tour.
Award winning and local photo courtesy Erin Pass
When it comes to beer, Lakefront Brewery produces some of the finest award winning suds around. Many people have had a cherry ale, but Lakefront’s Cherry Lager is in a category all by itself. With the crispness of a lager and the mild tart of the Wisconsin cherries, this beer needs to be on your spring – yes it’s a seasonal – must find list, or you could just tour in the spring. Speaking of seasonal, all you pumpkin heads out there will be happy with Lakefront’s Pumpkin Lager offered in the fall. It is one of the original pumpkin beers in the US, and though I’m not a pumpkin anything fan – except for carving one for the kids and maybe a little pie – it is a very unique offering and like the rest of the beers from Lakefront it is full of flavor and oh so smooth.
As innovators in the craft world, Lakefront has been on the forefront of other brewing movements as well. From brewing certified organic beer, to being one of the first to offer a gluten free beer, Lakefront is a standard bearer for not only local pride but also sustainable and indigenous brewing. They are listed as a Wisconsin green travel site and continue to be a steward in advancing the local and green movements in Milwaukee.
The World Class Milwaukee Art Museum...worth a visit or two
Today the Milwaukee lake shore is full of people enjoying cleaned up beaches and green space. The lake itself is a place for kayaking and boating  - instead of dodging dead fish – and downtown is a meeting place of people from college kids to discerning beer drinkers enjoying this reborn proud city. That pride - above all other reasons - is what makes Milwaukee one of the great spots to visit that you may not have had on your list.
Other cities may have more travel and beer options, but it’s hard to find any place with the sense of hometown pride that Milwaukee exudes. It’s infectious. There is no escaping rooting for a Wisconsin home team if you’re watching  - or tailgating – with folks in Milwaukee. And because every neighborhood has a tavern, there are lots of options for that behavior.
The act of travel for me is a mind freeing experience. The amount of sites seen or museums toured does not define where or how I enjoy my time away from home. A positive experience for me is defined by how many times I’ve laughed and how many relaxing non-stress moments I’ve enjoyed. Because of a new attitude – aided by a pioneer in the beer revolution – Milwaukee has shaken its rusty stressed out past and become a city of laughs – and got its color back.
For Milwaukee, these happy days are yours and mine (oh Happy Days).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Think Pink! Prickly Pear Cocktails

I was first introduced to the delightfulness that is prickly pear during a road trip through Arizona.  We had prickly pear ice cream, prickly pear candy, prickly pear syrup, and more.  However, what I hadn’t been introduced to, until a recent trip to Denver of all places, was the prickly pear cocktail.

Denver the ART, a hotel FIRE Lounge Brazilian Baroque prickly pear cocktail

I had my first prickly pear cocktail at Denver’s the ART, a hotel in the FIRE Lounge.  This electric pink cocktail is on FIRE’s “fresh” cocktail list as the Brazilian Baroque.  The ingredients of this prickly pear cocktail are Pitu 51 Cachaca, prickly pear, fresh ginger, lime, and ginger beer.  Cachaca, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from sugarcane and is often found in Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.  The Pepto Bismal pink color of the cocktail might lead one to believe it is going to be super sweet, but the addition of ginger, ginger beer, and lime make it a fresh and somewhat complicated tasting cocktail.

Prickly Pear Cactus

FIRE’s Brazilian Baroque is not the only prickly pear cocktail.  In Tucson, the season for prickly pears is at the end of summer in August and September.  Every August, Chef Sergio Rocha of Tanque Verde Guest Ranch leads his staff into the cacti-filled Saguaro National Park to pick prickly pears.  They de-thorn the fruit and use the prickly pears for their famous prickly pear margaritas, BBQ sauce, syrup, and more.

Tanque Verde Ranch Prickly Pear Margarita

Tanque Verde Ranch’s Prickly Pear Margarita Recipe

3/4 oz. reposado tequila
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1/4 oz. Drambuie
2 dashes bitters
1/8 oz. prickly pear juice
1/8 oz. agave nectar
juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon

Shake and strain into Martini glass or 
serve on the rocks in a collins glass.
Lime ring garnish.

Another place to enjoy a prickly pear margarita is The Wigwam, a historic hotel which opened in the western part of the Phoenix area in 1929.  The hotel’s recently renovated Red’s Bar & Grill serves this favorite cocktail.

The Wigwam’s Prickly Pear Margarita Recipe

1.5oz Herradura blanco tequila
.5 oz. triple sec
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. prickly pear syrup

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake for 
15 seconds to incorporate ingredients. 
Pour over ice in martini glass. 
Salt or sugar rim optional.

Another resort in Arizona with a prickly pear beverage is L’Auberge de Sedona.  Sedona’s wellness retreat offers a non-alcoholic version.  Their Prickly Pear Mocktail is a mixture of sweet and sour, prickly pear, and soda.

I was so inspired by these prickly pear cocktails I decided to try my hand at creating my own with some prickly pear syrup we picked up during our trip to the Grand Canyon.  (You can also purchase prickly pear cactus syrup on Amazon.)  

Passports & Cocktails' Prickly Pear Old Fashioned
Passports & Cocktails' 
Prickly Pear Old Fashioned

1.5 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
.4 oz prickly pear syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 splash carbonated water

Combine bourbon, prickly pear syrup, 
and water in a double old fashioned glass.
Add ice and swirl.
Pour bourbon over ice and swirl again.

Don’t be intimidated by the bright pink beverage.  Order a prickly pear cocktail the next time you’re in Arizona or any other place serving cocktails with this unusual ingredient.

This article contains affiliate links.  If you book or purchase through them they cost you nothing extra, but help fund our travels so we can bring you more travel stories.

Cocktails inspired by a desert fruit.  Prickly pear cocktails, where to find them and recipes.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pairing Your Beer Style With Your Travel Style in the US

It doesn’t matter if it’s wine and cheese, cocktails and desserts or beer and barbecue, everywhere you look now someone is pairing booze with food. That’s a very tasty proposition for fans of a good adult beverage. Instead of Doritos and Busch Light, the idea of a nut brown ale and brisket makes my mouth water instead of being left with a burning heart.

But we’ve always been here to show you the places along the path to stop and have a drink where you may never have before. As much as I love food, my expertise in that world is somewhat limited to late night eats – I’ll leave the food to the foodies who really know their stuff.

So if I’m not going to pair food and drinks, why would I bring that up? I couldn’t be here just to waste your time, could I?

Of course I’m not. I actually want to talk about a different kind of pairing with alcohol, destination pairing. As I said, we’ve been on a whirlwind tour of the US and beyond on this site. We’ve gone to small towns, big cities, islands and beyond. All of our destinations are worth a stop for the activities and alcohol that we have featured. So how do you choose to use your vacation time wisely and get the most bang for your PTO buck?

Let us help you out. In this first pairing installment we’ll look at US destinations and beer. We’ll get you to a region and direct you to some places we’ve covered there. There is no reason to end up in a hotel drinking out of the mini bar watching American Ninja Warrior anymore. It’s a big country, so let’s find some corners of it to have fun in.

Beach Bum Who Likes a Refreshing Wheat or Wit

When you pack for a trip, do you pack a couple swim suits and a swim shirt? Do you pack more towels than underwear? Do you like your beer crisp and not too heavy? Then we've got the one perfect spot in the US for you.


Palm trees, citrus, Florida beer....just add beach
Who doesn’t love sandy beaches and a cool refreshing wheat? I know I do. If that’s your jam then Florida is where you need to be. With an ever increasing amount of local breweries and a never ending coast of sand, the Gulf Coast is a specifically great place to start. From Tampa to the Keys, white sand is over abundant and breweries are as well. Cigar City in Tampa offers a fantastic Belgian Wit with their Florida Cracker White Ale and Big Top in Sarasota crafts a fantastic White Sands Wheat. Florida is hot, almost always, so a good wheat is the perfect pair.

Hiker Who Enjoys Something Bitter

Do you live with a backpack and hiking boots on, or at least daydream daily about your backpack and boots? When you sit down for a brew, are you disappointed if your face doesn’t flinch a little because of bitterness? If you answered yes and yes, then you’re lucky because there are a couple of perfect spots in the US for your hike.

Pacific Crest Trail, SoCal

San Diego beer, the bitter the better
We’ll start in the kingdom of double IPAs, Southern California. Your hiking adventure starts at the Mexican border on the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re adventurous enough, and have plenty of vacation time, you can hike all the way to the Canadian border. Between the 2 borders you’ll come across many beer havens –Oregon, Washington, Northern California – but none will satisfy your bitter thirst like the start of your trip in Southern California. Show up with your bitter beer face in San Diego, have some beers, pack some more and head east 50 miles to the start of the trail. Once you’re done, head back for more great beer.

Appalachian Trail, Virginia

Great trail, with great Virginia beer just below
You’ve already done that hike or double IPAs are a little much for you? No problem. The Eastern US offers a fantastic hike and a more subtle IPA for you. The Appalachian Trail snakes its way from Georgia all the way to Maine. Like the Pacific Crest trail, many beer stops dot the landscape – including one of the great beer towns of the US, Asheville, NC – but our focused hike and Eastern IPA pairing falls on a stretch of the trail between Blacksburg, VA and Harrisonburg, VA. Virginia is one of the most rapidly expanding craft beer states in America and the trail cuts right through one of the greatest areas of growth. From Roanoke’s Blue Ridge Beerway to Brothers Brewing Company at the edge of Shenandoah National Park, your dreams of scenic overlooks and bitter ales will be greatly satisfied on this hike.

Casual hipster who loves a stout

You know who you are, you bearded, plaid shirt wearing, food truck lover on a unicycle! It’s cool, your beard is a fabulous spot to catch beer spillage, the food truck you picked out has the most fantastic tacos, your unicycle is super earth friendly and you bother nobody because you just want to relax. If I could grow a better beard I’d hang out with you, but my beard sucks and my beard envy puts me in a fetal position in the corner. But we can still direct you on your journey, and maybe off the path of normal twisted mustache pilgrimage.

Twin Cities, MN

Twin Cities cool photo courtesy Bart Heird
Our hipster stout journey away from the usuals will put you in the land of frozen ponds and grumpy old men. Minnesota, and the Twin Cities specifically, is a paradise for all things hip and a wonderful spot for a great stout. Like its more heralded skinny jean cousins in the Pacific Northwest, the Twin Cities metro is home to great music, arts, green space and disc golf courses. You can thrift shop, eat eclectic meals and relive your favorite Fargo moments from Uptown Minneapolis all the way to Lowertown St.Paul (you know it’s good and hip when it has “town” and a direction associated with it). Is there a better place to look for a hearty stout than a cold weather locale? No! From Summit Brewing’s Oatmeal Stout to Surly Brewing’s seasonal Darkness, the Twin Cities will have great foam to stick in your handlebar stache. Pack your hemp wear and head north to the land of 10,000 lakes for a stout adventure.

Outdoor Adventurer Who Just Enjoys Good Beer

You rock the rocks. You love to sweat, climb and ski. When it comes to beer, you actually like all of it and want to drink a flight of pints. Here is your spot.


Quick, let's get in to the marina for a beer!
The Rocky Mountain State offers endless outdoor opportunities. Do you ski, snowboard, zip line, rock climb, hike, white water raft, kayak, mountain bike or all of the above? If your answer was yes, then Colorado is the place for you. Every activity listed can be achieved at a world class level in Colorado. Every season brings a new challenge, and a new beautiful landscape to every corner of the state. To go along with all of those activities, Colorado (the entire state) has world class beer. There is no specific style that goes along with Colorado, it’s a state of all styles. Boulder is home to more great breweries than you can taste in 1 trip. The mountain towns offer amazing views and sustainable breweries. Many people were introduced to craft beer through a bike with a Fat Tire in Fort Collins. If you need your breath taken away on vacation through an adventure, views, beer or all of the above again, then don’t let spirit down and hit Colorado now.

The Family Who Enjoys a Lager and Time With The Kids

Hey, that's me! I love a helles, pils, dunkel and amber lager. I also have a family so I need a place that satisfies the needs of parents and kids. 

Pennsylvania- Whole State

Lager and family fun in Pennsylvania photo courtesy William F. Yurasko
A trip to the state of Pennsylvania is great for any family loving lager drinker. From sporting events for the whole family (baseball in Pittsburgh to hockey in Philly) to outdoor adventures in the Appalachians , Pennsylvania has you covered. Ever wanted to take a boat on a Great Lake? Lake Erie has you covered (and no it's not on fire...well maybe in Cleveland, just joking Ohio). If chocolate is your thing, take the kids to Hershey, PA and let the sugar rush begin. While your kids are high on the sweet stuff, check out one of the original American lagers, Yuengling or a recent fantastic addition to the lager style with a Stoudts Gold Lager. Pennsylvania is a huge state, full of great activities for the whole family and solid lagers for when the family has crashed.

When it comes to booze in the US, everyone has been doing it a certain way in a certain place for generations. These places come with a colorful history and a trove of things to do. But some places just pair better with travel styles than others. Don't worry if we haven't hit your style or drink yet, there is a lot of America and a lot of different types of alcohol that may pair well for you. I for one have made myself thirsty and need to plan a trip. Cheers!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What to Drink in Greece: 5 Greek Alcoholic Beverages

Greek Wine and Cretan Raki Greek Alcoholic Beverages

Except for the inventive cocktails we found at some Athens rooftop bars, the Greeks don’t really drink a lot of mixed beverages.  It seems they are purists when it comes to alcohol.  The drinks they do enjoy have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Here are five traditional Greek alcoholic beverages to drink while traveling in Greece.


Ouzo Greek Alcoholic Beverages

When Americans think of Greek alcoholic beverages, probably the first one that pops to mind is ouzo.  Greek-themed movies always seem to feature Greeks partying, drinking shots of ouzo, and yelling “Opa!”  (We learned while in Greece that “opa” is usually saved for dancing and celebrations while “yamas” is more commonly used to say “cheers” or “to our health.”)

Ouzo is a Greek liquor that tastes like black licorice, the flavor of which comes from anise.  Ouzo is made with grapes distilled in copper stills.  Anise is added, as well as other flavorings sometimes like fennel, clove, or cinnamon.  Ouzo is flavorful but very strong.  Some drink it straight, but others like to mix it with cold water or ice.  For me, the best way to drink ouzo is with ice.  When water or ice mixes with ouzo, a chemical reaction occurs and the ouzo turns from clear to cloudy white.

Ouzo can only be named such if it is made in Greece, similar to how only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called champagne. 


Greek Wine Warmed with Honey Greek Alcoholic Beverages

Wine is the most ancient Greek alcohol.  According to Greek mythology wine started in Greece when Dionysus, the half-man half-god son of Zeus, lived in the mountains and learned the wine making process.  Dionysus brought the art of wine making to humans when he taught Icarus, the king of Athens, how to make wine.  Greece has a number of wine grapes unique to Greece which are rarely if ever used outside of the country.  Most of these unique grapes are white grapes, like Assyrtiko and Vidiano, but there are also red grapes like Kotsifali and Mandilaria. 

For more about Greek wine, read Wine of the Gods: Discovering Greek Wine in Crete.


Tsipouro is a liquor produced only in Greece.  It is similar to Italian grappa as it is a distilled spirit made using the left over must from pressing wine.  Tsipouro can have a very harsh flavor, though some are smoother than others.  Tsipouro is most commonly enjoyed as an after-dinner aperitif and is served in a shot glass. 

Tsikoudia / Raki

Cretan Raki Greek Alcoholic Beverages

Tsikoudia, also known as raki, is pretty much the same as tsipouro, except raki is unique to the Greek island of Crete.  If you’re anywhere else in Greece, you order tsipouro, though some places also have raki on hand, but if you’re in Crete you order raki or tsikoudia.  The aroma of raki is stronger than tsipouro.  My personal experience was raki usually tasted better and was smoother than tsipouro.


Retsina Greek Alcoholic Beverages

Retsina is a wine product also unique to Greece.  The base of this Greek alcohol is white wine or rosé, but it has an additional flavor of pine resin.  This is an odd combination that can be off-putting for those not used to the flavor profile, but the Greeks have been drinking retsina for thousands of years.  The tradition started because the Greek winemakers lacked airtight containers, so covered their wine jugs with pine pitch.  The pine pitch both sealed the bottles from incoming oxygen and also added the signature flavor.

While alcoholic beverage choices aren’t as prolific in Greece as in other countries, Greece has alcohols all its own and ones they have been making for thousands of years.  It’s like history in a glass.