By Tim Cigelske, Director of Integrated Content & Christopher Stolarski, Senior Communication Strategist, Marquette University
David Dupee decided to take a risk.
After he graduated from Marquette Law School in 2009, he and two entrepreneurial (and beer-loving) friends decided not just to put down roots in Milwaukee, but to double down and open a business.
They started by talking with local chef, Guy Davies, and brewing some beer with Andy Jones, a brewing industry veteran and graduate of the prestigious University of California–Davis Master Brewers Program.
After four pilot batches of an IPA recipe, it was time to make their move. Dupee and his partners invested in a vacant 11,000-square-foot building and in the summer of 2016, they opened Good City Brewing.
They called their first beer ‘Risk IPA.’
Dupee says, “The idea was, ‘Let’s take a chance on this thing, sign the bank guarantee and put our lives on the line. It was a risk on this business, but also on the city of Milwaukee.”
In short time, Good City Brewing has become a go-to venue for beer, food and entertainment.
Milwaukee’s craft breweries are cultivating the tastes of beer drinkers. Good City Brewing is just one with alumni ties to Marquette, located right in the heart of the city. Others within a walkable or bikeable distance from campus include City Lights Brewing, founded by Robin Gohsman; Gathering Place Brewing, founded by Joe Yeado; and Milwaukee Brewing Co., founded by Jim McCabe.
On the west side of town, City Lights Brewing embodies the transformation of Milwaukee’s physical spaces and evolving economy.
In 2014, Robin Gohsman scoped out a building that was previously home to the Milwaukee Gas Light Co., more than a century ago. Located south of campus, the building facilitated the coal gasification process that once lit Milwaukee’s street lamps. The long-ago abandoned building was filled with broken cinder blocks and birds nesting in the chimney. But in his mind’s eye, Gohsman saw a brewery.
He set to work repurposing the building’s original architectural elements. Reclaimed floorboards became handmade tables for the taproom. The original 1902 ceiling spans visible overhead. A recovered brown bottle from the now-defunct Obermann Beer Co. sits in the brewing space as a reminder of Milwaukee’s beer heritage. Even a crane from 1899 that was left in the building was used to position the new brewing tanks.
Just like the building, the beer is about the classics. The brewers purposely don’t give the beers names — opting instead to call each beer by its style and let the beer speak for itself. They can and distribute classic styles of amber ale, pale ale, IPA, double IPA, Mexican lager and, their most popular, a coconut porter.
Over the past 20 years, Milwaukee Brewing Co. has matured along with the craft beer market. In 1997, Jim McCabe opened the Ale House brew pub (which serves and even produces some of Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s beers) with Marquette roommate Mike Bieser. Back then, they often had to explain the unfamiliar flavors and serving temperature — “No, it’s not supposed to be ice cold” — to a town used to Pabst Blue Ribbon.
“When someone said they would prefer a domestic beer,” McCabe says, “I would point to the brewery 30 feet away and say, ‘It doesn’t get more domestic than that.’”
Since then, palates have caught up to the complex flavors of craft beer, and the brewery’s signature ‘Louie’s Demise Ale’ has remained the same recipe that McCabe first home-brewed in the 1990s.
The brewery grew as demand rose — and it keeps growing even today. McCabe recently scouted new properties to add to the company’s locations. He found the right spot in the former Pabst complex about a quarter mile from campus. Ultimately, the Pabst building made sense both historically and economically. Access to the freeway for distribution, continued development in the area and proximity to the Fiserv Forum, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, make the location the perfect fit.
Joe Yeado spent his junior year studying abroad in Germany. He now speaks more German in his brewery’s taproom than he has in years. It’s no wonder that his upstart brewery, Gathering Place Brewing, which opened in the burgeoning Riverwest neighborhood in the summer of 2017, pays homage to Gemütlichkeit, the German sense of conviviality and comfort that has become one of Milwaukee’s adopted mottoes.
From its name to its social mission of donating one percent of quarterly sales to local nonprofit organizations, everything about Gathering Place Brewing is rooted in building a sense of community. “Beer can be something that brings people together,” Yeado says. “I knew I wanted a taproom that could be an extension of the community’s living room.”
The beer, though, is what draws people in.
Yeado, a 2007 and 2010 alumnus, started brewing beer after graduation. “The first beer I ever made was an IPA…it was not good,” he remembers. “But the more you do it, the better you get. After a few batches, I started sharing it with my friends. At first I thought they were just flattering me because they were drinking for free in my kitchen.”
Today, a full-time veteran brewmaster handles the production of Gathering Place’s offerings, which include a series of increasingly bold IPAs aptly titled ‘Friendly Debate,’ ‘Spirited Debate’ and ‘Heated Debate,’ respectively.
Meanwhile, Yeado manages the business and hauls barrels of suds around town in “Gus,” his Subaru Outback. His sales skills, he says, were picked up as a tour guide and later admissions counselor at Marquette. “I don’t walk backward anymore like I did when I led tours,” he says, “but I’m still selling.”
Besides their Marquette connection, the common theme linking all of these brewers is their pride in the heritage and future of Milwaukee. It’s reflected in their brands. Gohsman takes pride in opening a business where he grew up. For Yeado, building community in Milwaukee is as important as brewing great beer. McCabe loves seeing his employees plant roots in the city. Dupee points to how Good City Brewing has helped revitalize a corner of Milwaukee’s East Side neighborhood. “We’re very pro-city. We’re city residents, and we want to be an urban brewery and brand,” he says.
Dupee is proud of the banner that hangs in the taproom that boasts a first-place award in the Brewing News National Imperial IPA Competition. Good City brought that honor home in 2017 for its double IPA, a sequel beer to the Risk IPA.
The name of that beer? ‘The Reward.’ The risk paid off.