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Chow Down In Milwaukee

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Brewing Up A Feeling Of Community

This website helps you explore local and unique places that not only add to but define the communities they serve and are a part of. Normally, we will guide you to havens of culinary bliss. This review will be somewhat different. The place I reviewed does not serve any food except for a few snacks. How does a place like this end up on a website called Chow Down in Milwaukee? They do so by being not only locally owned and operated but a pioneer in their field as well.

Westallion Brewing Company located at 1825 s 72nd street in West Allis is a first of its kind. I grew up in West Allis where there exists one of the highest tavern per capita ratio in the country. Imagine my surprise to learn this city has never had its own brewery. That all changed one fine April day in 2017, but we are getting ahead of ourselves in this glorious tale of fermented beverage joy.

Our tale begins in the early 2000s. Erik Dorfner was preparing for his deployment in the United States Marine Corps by watching Full Metal Jacket. It was then he had his first taste of craft beer. Noting the complex flavors as well as the detailed packaging Erik was smitten. Throughout his service to our country, Mr. Dorfner contacted many of the local breweries in his hometown. Alas, the option to ship to places such as Japan was not plausible.

Fast forward to the year 2008. Erik with the company of his wife and best friend Kimberly decided to try their hands and creating their own home-brewed beer. They chose a German style Dunkelweizen. The result was not quite what they were hoping. Not discouraged they continued to explore their passion for brewing nearly every weekend.

In 2012 with the encouragement of his wife, Erik quite his well-paying corporate job to take a job at Lakefront Brewery. Not having much professional experience in the beer industry, he started out loading trucks. Working at the brewery he began to soak up knowledge and continued, with his wife to perfect their home-brewing skills. All this paid off when a year later when Erik was offered a job in the brewhouse. There his knowledge and experience increased greatly. It was that year that Kimberly and Erik entered their first home-brew competition and won a gold medal for their Vienna Lager. They continued to enter and win other competitions with various other brews.

In 2015 Kimberly suggested they should open their own brewery. They placed a call to the Mayor of the city, Dan Devine. When the mayor heard of their desire to open a brewery in the city of West Allis, he told the couple this was a phone call he had been waiting 7 years for. He invited the couple to meet with him at city hall to further discuss details of the brewery. It should be noted that the mayor is also a craft beer fan. Erik and Kimberly arrived in t-shirts and jeans with a batch of their finest homebrew across their shoulder. The mayor suggested the adjourn to the next room. Upon opening the door, they found themselves in the board room facing the city planning commission. Caught a little off guard, Kimberly said, “I was just myself and said, “Would anyone like a beer?” After a brief discussion as to whether drinking beer at city hall at 10 o’clock in the morning was both legal and prudent, frothy refreshments were poured. “It was that second that Westallion Brewery was formed.” Kimberly told me.

Although a brewery in concept, they had yet to find a home. Again, with help from the mayor, they toured several abandoned warehouses. Some were too big, some too small. They found the perfect place, their Goldilocks building as Kimberly describes it, at their present location on 72nd and Orchard. In November of 2015 they closed on the building. After a year and a half of dedicated labor rehabbing nearly every part of the building they were ready to open. On April 2nd of 2017, they opened their doors. The significance of that date was not lost on the Dorfners. That day is also the birthday of the city of West Allis itself.

In October of 2017 they released a unique beer in honor of the season – candy corn cream ale. This caught the attention of beer reviewer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She wrote a piece describing the delicious and complex flavor of this wonderful beer and the rest, as they say, is history. The story went viral leading to national attention for the young brewery. Even Stephen Colbert tweeted about the creation. Soon demand for this and other brews such as their peanut butter porter and award-winning Vienna lager were on the rise.

On the day Margie and I visited Westallion Brewery the owners had stepped out to run errands. We were greeted warmly by a bartender named Jesse. He regaled us with tales of his recent trip to Scotland. As I enjoyed my Cracker Jack brown released just in time for baseball season, I informed Jesse we were there to do a review of the brewery. Suddenly, the conversation changed. He began to emote how wonderful both the product and the brewery itself was. Even telling us how passionate and enjoyable the owners were to work for. What impressed me the most about this was the genuine sincerity behind it.

In minutes Kimberly had joined us and was obliging enough to answer several of my questions. She began by sharing with me the story of how the brewery began as stated above. You would think after doing this countless times it would become rote and almost automatic. Not the case. As Kimberly spoke of both the brewery and her husband you can hear and feel the passion in her tone. Margie and I became excited about the brewing process ourselves. This certainly was a case of people loving what they did for a living.

One could imagine it difficult to not only work with but own a business with your spouse. When asked about this issue the question had barely left my lips when she replied with a firm and definite “No.” Coming from the common situation of both her and Eric working full-time jobs and raising their four children and barely seeing each other, Kimberly tells us that the business affords the couple special ways and opportunities to connect. Where before they rarely saw each other, now they share a cup of coffee and discussions on the business first thing in the morning. Both have their own talents they bring to the business. Erik is great at crafting recipes and brewing the beer. Kimberly is great with event planning and being the social face of the business. This was certainly evident in this interview.

I asked what kind of events are held at the brewery. Kimberly informed me they focus on anything that helps bring the community together. “We wanted our tap room to be like an extension of our living room.” She explains. They have hosted events that have benefited everything from homeless veterans to the new dog park being built in West Allis. They even had a group of visually impaired individuals in the bar prior to opening to the public. A couple whose hearts may just be bigger than their fermenting barrels. They also host what they have deemed puppy playdates where dog owners can get together with their four-legged children to enjoy a beer. I happened to attend one of these events where there was roughly 12 dogs and 24 people. Seldom have I been in a bar with better company. As for Kimberly and Erik, they also have canine family members. Two mastiffs aptly named Allis and Chalmers.

The tap room can also host private events such as bachelor and bachelorette parties. The have had plays, comedy shows and often feature live music as well. Tours of the brewery are available every Saturday at 1pm.

What does the future hold for this up and coming brewery? Kimberly said they hope to have a bottling line soon so they can feature their products at more stores. Currently Westallion bottled beer is available exclusively at West Allis Cheese and Sausage. They also hope to expand within. Increasing both productivity and distribution. Currently Westallion beer can be found at roughly two-dozen local taverns. They hope to expand their building to possibly include an indoor dog park and concert venue as well as a larger tap room.

Personally, I have never had a bad experience or beer at Westallion brewery. The service has always been warm, welcoming and helpful. The flavor profile is beyond what you can find on the shelves of your liquor store. Aside from enjoying what might be the best and most flavorful beer you have had, you will be supporting a business that is locally co-owned by both a woman and a veteran. Kimberly and Erik have used their business to not only support their family, but to promote and better their community. You deserve to treat yourself to a trip to Westallion Brewing Company.

Written By: Neil Panosian

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