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 Lakefront Brewery head brewer Luther Paul.

Milwaukee Record: Can you walk us through your personal brewing history? How’d you get started in the industry?

Luther Paul: I’m from Milwaukee and grew up out near Holy Hill. In the early ’90s after going away to college, I returned and moved to the East Side to finish at UWM. I always had a couple part-time jobs during this time; driving state delivery truck for the Journal and Sentinel and usually a bartending gig. A friend I met at the Journal was a journalism major who had an internship there. He wrote a story on the craft breweries in MilwaukeeLakefront and Sprecher. Lakefront, which was still on Chambers Street, gave him some lager yeast. That was the beginning of this journey. I can’t remember if they gave us a recipe, but with the help of The Joy of Homebrewing book, we ended up brewing an amber lager. It wasn’t bad. I was pretty hooked and we continued homebrewing whenever we could.

I eventually met another friend who I shared some chemistry classes with and later became housemates. He’s now the technical director at Briess Malting. Homebrewing went to the next level during the time in that house. Bottles and carboys everywhere. He was working at Water Street Brewery and got me a part-time job there. It was only for a year, but that got me around hoses, pumps, and such. I was recently reminiscing with him about road-tripping in my old Vanagon on rock climbing trips. We’d barely have money for food or gas, but we’d stop at breweries and they’d always hook us up with plenty of beer.

I guess the next chapter is Onopa Brewing. Paul Onopa and myself opened the brewery in 2000, located where Company Brewing is today. A few years earlier, we worked together at Benno’s. At the time, along with Romans’, Benno’s was one of the OG craft beer bars around. Craft beer was starting to take off more and more; New Glarus was a few years old, Three Floyds Alpha King was big, more places popping up in the Midwest. There wasn’t a lot of brewing equipment around in those days. Many breweries were cobbled together with used dairy equipment and such. Ours wasn’t any different. We started with a boarded up storage warehouse, and most of our money was put into getting plumbing and electric up to code and windows out front. We spent a lot of time going to restaurant auctions.

A very nice woman called us up offering us her father’s bar that was in a closed roadhouse down towards Racine. He worked at Schlitz in the ’50s, and when they remodeled their executive lounge, he bought it from them. The brewkettle I drove back in a pickup from Teton Brewing in Idaho, they threw in a heat exchanger for free. Paul’s uncle had a warehouse full of industrial odds and ends in Wicker Park that all became part of the brewery. The mill was made from giant conveyer rollers and three-phase motors found there. I welded a lot of junk into something usable. Sometimes not so usable. We brewed mostly ales: pale ale, IPA and porter being the popular ones. I had a lot of support from Lake Louie’s Tom Porter, John Harrison from Delafield Brewhaus, and Don Vasa from Great Dane. That place has many stories and I met many great friends there.

In 2004, I made the decision to move on and started at Lakefront in June of that year, becoming Head Brewer six months later. I think at that time, we were making around 5,000 bbls. of beer a year. Lakefront has that same origin and proud history of starting out as a “Frankenstein” brewery and it has been a great experience growing with it. Over the years, the brewery has been constantly adding improvements with that ultimate goal of quality and consistency. Last year, we put in a whole new can packaging line. Later this year, we will see a new yeast prop system up and running, and our cellar process equipment upgraded with some fine German engineering. We have a great team here that works hard and takes pride in that work. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

MR: What’s your favorite beer you’ve ever made, and why?

LP: We have our My Turn Series with employees getting an opportunity to brew a beer that they come up with. Working with them to make that happen is always rewarding. It’s a one-off with no test batching, so you get one chance. Having that challenge and then seeing them stoked when it comes out is always worth it.

MR: What’s your favorite non-beer beverage?

LP: I like coffee and green tea. Those are on the daily, along with water. I’ve been a longtime fan of Willamette Valley wines. Pinot grapes. It’s a great place to visit, not too expensive, Portland is close by, and everyone is super friendly. Wish I could get more of them here.

MR: What’s the first beer you can recall ever having? When was this?

LP: I was probably 10 or so. My dad had a couple old Chevy Corvairs that he would work on. I snuck a sip of that Blatz sitting on the bumper. At that time, he worked at American Can Company here in town. My beer can collection was pretty lit. My first full beer, well, a shorty, was up north while deer hunting. My dad and uncles took me to the tavern on my 16th birthday. That was probably a Blatz too.

MR: Excluding Lakefront, of course, what’s your favorite Wisconsin brewery and why?

LP: I’d just say I appreciate all of them. Wisconsin is lucky to have so many great breweries, same with Milwaukee. Any chance I get when I’m traveling in the state, I try to stop by the local brewery and have a beer. We’ve been doing a few collabs every year and that’s always a great chance to work with other brewers. This summer we have something with both Young Blood and Badger State.

MR: Are there any other brewers, either local or otherwise, you’d like to shout out because they were influences or you’re a fan of what they do?

LP: My friend Tom Clark, who owns a brewery in Northeast Pennsylvania, took me to Germany for my first time about 20 years ago. He had worked at a brewery in Franconia. It introduced me to a whole new world. I’ve been going back at least every year, either for work or meeting up with friends and brewers for some ‘Bier Kulture.’ Being able to visit so many breweries there and other places like Czech Republic and England, meeting brewers, and talking about beer. That’s what it’s all about.

MR: If you could have just one style of beer for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

LP: Oh jeez. Helles and a good dry-hopped pale ale are going to have to battle it out. I appreciate low-alcohol, easy-drinking beer.

MR: What’s your go-to macro beer?

LP: For a sports drink, Modelo or Pacifico. Tastes great even after bouncing around in a bike bag or backpack for a day. High Life too. We did a collab with Miller High Life awhile back. One of the times I was there, I requested the freshest High Life off the brite tank. They did not disappoint. Recently, I was in Golden, Colorado and enjoyed a fresh tap of Banquet Beer that was pretty delicious.

MR: What’s your favorite Lakefront beer?

LP: I’d say Lakefront IPA. I always appreciate well-balanced beers and it has a little of everything. I love when we start on a new year’s crop of hops to see how they come out in that beer.

MR: If we opened your refrigerator at home right now, what type of beer would we find?

LP: Riverwest Stein N/A and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

MR: Are there any beers you regret making, such as failed experiments or things the general public just didn’t get behind for whatever reason?

LP: Nothing I regret. I test-batch anything new. It will go on tap in the Beer Hall and I usually can vibe it out from there. Yes, there is always the beer you have high hopes for that people just don’t get for whatever reason. Sometimes you just have to change the name or the style and then it sells. Just call it an IPA.

MR: What are some of your non-brewing hobbies?

LP: I love the outdoors and spend as much time as I can bicycling, hiking and such. Canoeing and fishing. I’ve been in bands most of my adult life. Back in the Onopa days, I played upright bass in a band called Wooden Robot for awhile. We practiced back in the brewery at night. That’s also where I met Jacob Sutrick from Bavarian Bierhaus. We played together in the Jonathan Burks Band for a long time. These days, Jacob and I, along with his brother Derrick, and another fine fellow Matt Ungerman, are in a band called Funeral Mountains. Heavy psych? I’m never good at describing these things. We’re getting ready to record with Shane at Howl Street Recordings this summer. That’s pretty exciting.

MR: What’s your favorite Milwaukee-area bar, and why?

LP: Hard to choose. I mostly just get out for events these days. I recently went to Draft & Vessel for a “Battle of the Breweries” with Working Draft and Third Space. It was fun and good tasting beer all around. I like stopping in Von Trier before a movie at the Oriental. Blu on top of the Pfister for the view. Estabrook Park. Great Lakes Distillery. We have a great city with plenty going on.

MR: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the brewing industry, your career as a brewer, or Lakefront Brewery?

LP: Just to support your local craft breweries!

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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.