Body of Christ
Before you started the brewery with your brother Russ, what was your career?
I was a city of Milwaukee police officer. It was a great job — very fulfilling. The connections you make when you’re in the police department stay with you. I still run across former cops, and we talk about who we’ve seen, what we’ve been doing, what’s going on. When you’re in the police department, you have a pretty good understanding of what is happening in the community.
Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
I was in a movie with Charles Bronson. I was a glorified extra and got my little six seconds of fame. It was a made-for-TV movie called “Family of Cops,” and they shot it in Milwaukee in 1995. They wanted to use city of Milwaukee police as the extras. About one hour into the movie, you’ll see my scene.
What do you do in your work as a public service ambassador for BID #21?
Basically, we’re like concierges walking around downtown. Our slogan is “Keep downtown clean, safe and friendly.” We patrol the area, look for people that might need references or directions. We’re involved in removing graffiti, picking up trash, reporting things to the city like a full trash can or a streetlight that’s burned out. We consider ourselves passive security, reporting any offenses we see or deterring any from happening with our presence.
How did you and Russ come to found Lakefront Brewery?
Russ had just graduated from school and was living with me at my home in the Riverwest area. We were bachelors, and of course we were drinking beer, and Russ’ degree was in chemical engineering. So one day I asked him, “How’s beer made?” He jumped around the question, and I could tell he didn’t know. But my birthday was coming up, and he ended up getting me a book on home brewing. I went to a supply store in the city and got a rudimentary kit and made my first batch of beer, and we went down in the subculture of home brewing. And one day we just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘You want to start a brewery?’ The rest is history, as they say.
What was it like beginning the business?
We started in an old bakery. We were familiar with some of the startup craft breweries that were occurring in the country, and with chemistry being Russ’ background, he could figure out a way of putting the brewing system together. We used tanks and went to scrap yards and restaurant auctions, got discarded pieces of equipment.
You’re a history buff. How is the history of beer important in the context of the Catholic culture?
I think to understand history, you need to understand religion. They go hand in hand. When you’re getting into beer, so much of the history and early styles are related to abbey beers or monastic beers. Abbey beers are made outside the monastic walls in the style of beers the monks would make; sometimes they have been contracted by the monastery to brew the beer for them. Monastic beers are made within the walls of a monastery — Trappist beers are brewed by Trappist monks, such as Cistercian or Benedictine.
Why that close association between breweries and religious orders?
At the fall of the Roman Empire, pretty much all the knowledge that was in western Europe was contained within the Catholic monasteries, and that included brewing. Brewing was important in the early days because that was how people received something pure to drink. The water in most cases contained bacteria, and by making beer you boiled it, you added some type of flavoring component, and generally it was very low-alcohol (content), so people could drink it and have a safe, in some ways nourishing, beverage for the family. The church, being interested in promoting society and health, paid a lot of attention to brewing, and they became one of the mainstays in brewing culture.
How did the Blessing of the Bock event get its start?
Being aware of the early Trappist beers and beer styles, I knew that there were blessings of beer that had occurred, and I thought I’d replicate it. In the early days of the brewery, I asked Fr. Michael Barrett if he would do a ceremony where we had a little party, bring out a barrel of beer and have it blessed by him. There’s a Catholic blessing for beer. That started the tradition, and we’ve kept it going. Hopefully, it brings a heightened awareness of having alcohol in a communal setting for the purposes of uplifting the soul, and viewing it as a gift from God.
The 35th Annual Blessing of the Bock will take place Sunday, April 23, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Falcon Bowl, 801 E. Clark St., Milwaukee.