In Milwaukee Record’s “Meet A Brewer” series, we aim to introduce you to some of the professionals behind the scenes who are responsible for making your favorite local beers. The recurring series—sponsored by BeerPass MKE, the only app that partners with Milwaukee bars, restaurants, and breweries to give you a free beer every single day you go out—continues with Wizard Works Brewing co-founder and head brewer Jenny Higgins.

Milwaukee Record: What is your personal brewing history? What brought you to this industry and what led you to where you are today?

Jenny Higgins: Like so many kids growing up in the Milwaukee area, when dad puts a kegerator in the basement, you learn how to pour a pitcher by the time you’re 10. Everybody seems to have some kind of beer history. When my husband and I met, he had been brewing for quite a while, so we started making beer in the garage. As time went on, he said “I would love to have a place where I can perform magic and also brew beer.” I learned how to brew and just got more and more into it. When I was ready to stop doing other jobs, I was like “We can’t kick this down the road any more. We should get on that dream if we’re going to do it.”

We participated in Barley To Barrel program, where you work with local breweries—and big breweries—and you learn everything about the process: all the legal red tape, recipe development, and marketing. You make a beer, you sell it around, and get a feeling for how it all works. That didn’t leave us crying, so we were like, “Yes, this is what we want to do!” We found this space. We made all the agreements, signed all the stuff, committed money, and finally took possession of the space two weeks before the world shut down in 2020. In the meantime, we’ve been able to continue to make beer and keep the lights on. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a physically demanding job, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love making beer.

MR: Whether under the Wizard Works umbrella or during your home brewing days, what are some of your favorite beers you’ve ever made?

JH: Well, a lot of the beers we have on tap now are things we’ve experimented with in the garage. It’s nice to be able to brew them on a larger scale. One of my points of pride is our Swiss Mystic. It’s our Mexican chocolate stout. It’s one of the more fussy beers that we make in terms of lots and lots of ingredients, but when it’s done right, it’s really good. Another one I really like making is the Levitation Pilsner. Since that one is so closely brewed to style, there are fewer places for mistakes to hide. It’s very clean, very crisp, and when it’s not done right, you can taste it.

MR: What is your favorite beer style of all time and why?

JH: I am a hop head. I love IPAs and I love that there is such a great variety of them. You can have them hazy and juicy or crisp and citrus. There really is one for every occasion.

MR: Excluding your own establishment, what are a few of your favorite breweries in the city and in the state?

JH: In the city, I’d have to say Gathering Place is one of our favorites. We also really like Explorium, Ope!, and Third Space. Actually, I don’t think there’s one we don’t go to on the few occasions we can actually get out of our space. In Wisconsin, one of the coolest places I’ve been is Tumbled Rock out in Baraboo. It’s in the middle of farm fields. They’ve got a really good restaurant. Erica [DeAnda] makes phenomenal beers. And when I stepped out of my car, there was a feeling of peace because it’s such a tranquil spot.

MR: On the other end of the spectrum, do you have any favorite macros or nationally distributed craft brands?

JH: Sierra Nevada is one of my favorites and a lot of stuff from Oskar Blues—Mama’s Little Yella Pils, I could drink that every day. If I was stuck with one beer forever, it might be a tossup between Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Sierra Nevada, and Mudpuppy Porter from Central Waters.

MR: Do you have any non-brewing hobbies?

JH: I had done Renaissance fairs for a really long time as an improv kind of thing. I did my first show with The Boozy Bard a couple months ago. And a friend of mine and I produce an adventure comedy podcast called “Vennix The Mighty.” I do stop motion animation when I can find actual spare time. I got my degree in film production from UWM and I’ve had a couple things in the film festival a few years ago, so that’s a continuing passion of mine.

MR: What are some of your favorite things in the entertainment realm? Are there any movies, musicians, TV shows, video games, podcasts or anything that really appeals to you?

JH: I like listening to role playing podcasts. I still really like new wave music and I’m big into Oingo Boingo. One movie I could watch over and over—and probably perform as a one man show—would be Ghostbusters, the original one from 1984.

MR: Other than the breweries you mentioned, do you have any favorite local haunts? Any go-to bars, restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores?

JH: I like Boswell Books and Three Lions up in Shorewood. I like that they’ve started putting more beer gardens into parks. Estabrook is near our place, and people bring their families and their pets, and people don’t bring a lot of baggage. Everybody is there to have a good time.

MR: Do you have any short- or long-term goals for the brewery?

JH: Actually, yeah. We purchased a canning line that we can wheel in and out of here, so we’re going to start leaning into a canning program to have easier to-go options. That also opens up the possibility for bottle shops and restaurants that don’t necessarily have tap space to get cans to sell.

MR: Are there any misconceptions you’d like to use your platform here to clear up?

JH: Something I’ve discovered over the last five years or so is that people are less surprised to find out that I am the head brewer here. I’ve found that in most spaces, it is less of a surprise to find women taking a more active role in the beer making process, which I think is very good. It’s not just dudes with beards making beer. It’s refreshing to not have people be as surprised to find out I’m the one who’s making their beer.

MR: Are there any individual brewers you’d like to shout out? Is there anyone whose work you love and respect or anyone who’s taught you something?

JH: I’ve had phenomenal conversations about recipes and process with Joe Yeado at Gathering Place. Mike Doble at Explorium and his former head brewer, Kyle Ciske who is now one of the owners of Ope!, those guys have helped us so much on the business and beer side of things. So has Nick Kocis at Dead Bird, Erica up at Tumbled Rock, Sam [Danen] and the community of brewers with Pink Boots. Shout out to the people at Pilot Project for sending people here. And then John Graham who was running the Barley To Barrel program. Without that program, I don’t think we would’ve been prepared—or as prepared as anybody can be—to have their own business. The guys at MobCraft are also really fun.

MR: Here’s my James Lipton-type question. It’s a little abstract. Brewing in Milwaukee is…

JH: Integral. It’s part of Milwaukee’s identity and part of Milwaukee’s history. With the amount of craft breweries that we have and the diversity of flavors that we offer, it really is a destination.

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About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.