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 Central Waters Milwaukee head brewer Nate Bahr.

Milwaukee Record: What’s your personal brewing background? What got you started in this industry and what led you to where you are now?

Nate Bahr: It was 2009 and my wife bought me a home brew kit from Northern Brewer. At the time, I was interested in beer, but it was kind of a surprise that she bought that for me. Then I ended up brewing it with my buddy and it was a debacle, but it sparked something in me and it quickly snowballed into an obsession. I got really interested in trying to hone down processes. I did maybe three kits, then I quickly got tired of just buying pre-made ingredient kits, and I just started designing my own beers using a program on my computer. I moved into all-grain pretty quickly.

I used to hang around Lakefront and bug Russ Klisch for a job and he finally gave me one. I started at the warehouse for Lakefront. That would’ve been in 2012. I would drive the night time loads off the packaging lines to the warehouse in Riverwest and I got wind of the third shift cellarman leaving, so I applied for that and started working third shift cellar before working my way to the brewhouse there. I was at Lakefront for three and a half years.

In 2016, I started up the Bavarian Bierhaus up in Glendale and was the head brewer there for another three and a half years. Then I ended up working for Third Space for a bit. Those guys are great down there. After that, I made a big shift and went to work for Quality Tank Solutions—they make a lot of the brewhouses here in Milwaukee and nationally—and I was going around installing equipment for other breweries for a while. I got sick of the travel, heard about this job, and here we are now.

MR: And how long have you been at Central Waters?

NB: About a year. And this is great. The owners are very much like “This is a playground. Do whatever you want to do.” I’m not getting pressured to do certain things, and it’s really fun to have the freedom to explore new ingredients, all these new flowable products, and crazy yeast that can do all kinds of stuff now.

MR: Are there any beers, either here or at any of your other stops—or even from your home brewing days—that you’re especially proud of?

NB: I think the beer here that I’m most proud of currently is either the Milwaukee Throwback Lager or the Metabolic Memories Hazy IPA. I had never really made hazies, so I had to kind of figure it out. They’re surprisingly complex to give people the flavor profiles they’re looking for. I think I really hit that one out of the park. Outside of that, I really did enjoy making noting but lagers at the Bavarian Bierhaus. That was a lot of fun.

MR: What’s your favorite beer style to drink?

NB: Like a desert island beer? I think for me a German style helles would be my go-to. That, or a really nice, dry West Coast IPA because they’re IPAs engineered for hot weather.

MR: What are some of your favorite breweries in Milwaukee proper and, since Central Waters is one of the state’s most iconic breweries, some of your favorites elsewhere in Wisconsin?

NB: I think my all-time favorite brewery in Wisconsin has got to be New Glarus, just from an overall quality standpoint. And what a cool place to visit! It’s a beautiful part of Wisconsin and they make great beer. I could drink nothing but Moon Man for the rest of my life, too, actually. In Milwaukee proper, I would have to go with Lakefront. Those guys have been making nothing but great beer forever. And I would add Third Space to that list.

MR: Do you have any favorites on the macro end of things? It could be huge domestics, or even just the ubiquitous craft beers that are everywhere.

NB: I typically always have Modelo in my refrigerator. That’s what I would classify as my go-to macro. I do also like Coors Banquet Beer.

MR: Outside of the brewing world, what are some of your non-brewing hobbies or passions?

NB: I do like to bake. I guess that’s kind of similar to brewing beer as far as the science aspect and using yeast, but I do enjoy baking bread for the family. And I do also spend a decent amount of my free time on my days off hiking the Ice Age Trail. My goal is to do the entire thing. I don’t have enough time to do it straight through, but I do it in segments. Then I do the Ice Age challenge every year, which I think is 44 miles this year that have to be hiked during in the month of October. I do it with my daughter. She’s super into it.

MR: Do you have any favorite bands or musical artists?

NB: I have been a longtime Phish fan…like since high school. I think I’ve seen over 150 shows at this point. That would be my all-time favorite band, for sure.

MR: What’s the furthest you’ve ever traveled to see them?

NB: I’d say Limestone, Maine. Literally, if you make a wrong turn, you’re in [New Brunswick] Canada. It’s the top of Maine and the show was on an old decommissioned Air Force base.

MR: What are some of your favorite local bars and restaurants?

NB: My favorite bar in my neighborhood is Dana’s Fieldhouse. It’s a classic Milwaukee dive bar. In Milwaukee as a whole, I would say Von Trier. I also like Burnhearts in Bay View and Creed’s Foggy Dew out in St. Francis.

MR: As a lifelong resident, are there any favorite local attractions you’ll never get sick of?

NB: I love going to the ballpark. I go there with my kids pretty often. We’ll ride our bikes down to the stadium.

MR: Who’s your favorite all-time Brewers player?

NB: I’d say B.J. Surhoff. I met B.J. Surhoff when I was seven years old or something and he signed a baseball card for me. Ever since then, I was always a huge B.J. Surhoff fan. He was a utility guy and a catcher.

MR: Are there any misconceptions in the brewing industry—either by other brewers or things you hear from customers? An example that comes to mind is when people think Guinness is a dark, heavy beer that’s a chore to drink. Anything like that come to mind?

NB: I guess what has bothered me the most over the last five years is the amount of ridiculously sweet smoothie beers that sell for $30 a four-pack or whatever. At my core, I am a purist when it comes to beer. Yeah, I just made a beer with a bunch of tangerines in it, but I feel like beer should taste like beer at the end of the day. Not like banana smoothies. Some of these beers are like 500 calories per can and it’s basically just puree. To me, that is so crazy. But they’re doing it for a reason, because people are buying them and Americans as a whole kind of lean towards the sweet side. I mean, these beers would be offensive in Europe—no matter what country you’re in.

The hazy hype train also got little out of control for a bit. Along with a lot of other people, I thought hazy IPAs were a trend that was going to go away. They’re obviously not, and I actually think that’s the IPA for everybody. Anybody who says they don’t like hops could find a hazy IPA from somebody that they would like because of the complex fruit flavor and aromas, and the softness of the beer typically. That’s a beer anybody can get behind.

MR: Are there any individual brewers in the city or the state that you care to shout out right now?

NB: Oh, there are so many. I think Sam Danen from Third Space is awesome. I had known her before working at Third Space, then she quickly became one of my all-time favorite people to work with. I’d like to shout out Andy Jones. He used to be the production manager at Lakefront when I started, then he started Good City, and now he works at Quality Tank Solutions as an engineer/brewer. I’ve learned more about brewing and different aspects of equipment from Andy than from anybody in my life. Luther [Paul] from Lakefront was the first head brewer I worked for and I learned a lot from him. I always liked his take on what beer should beer and what beer is in Milwaukee. I still take a lot of what I learned at Lakefront and use it on a daily basis. Kevin Wright and Andy Gehl are great guys, too, and Kevin’s Upward Spiral is another one of my favorite beers in Milwaukee.

MR: And now for the new open-ended question. Brewing in Milwaukee is…

NB: Awesome. This is Beer City, USA. All these guys came here to start these massive breweries for a reason. We’ve got great water and obviously the people in Milwaukee really love drinking beer, right? It’s part of the culture here. Outside of maybe Denver, this has to be the best place to brew beer in America.

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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.