Milwaukee County Historical Society

Interview with Russ and Jim Klisch, September 16, 2021

MCHS Oral History Collection
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00:00:20 - Background Information/Memories of Milwaukee

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Uh, so, to start, let's start with some background questions of where and when were you born? We'll start with Jim.

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch give background information on their lives, from where they were born to details of their family, to their childhoods in Brown Deer. Russ talks about their connections to the beer industry, as their grandfather was a driver for Schlitz, and caddying for the "beer barons" at the local country club.

Keywords: Background; Beer; Caddy; Country Club; History; Schlitz; Suburb; Vietnam War

Subjects: 1960s; Brown Deer, WI; Childhood; Family; Milwaukee, WI

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Map Coordinates: Brown Deer, WI
00:03:40 - Beer as a Part of Life

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Was beer-you mentioned your grandpa drove for Schlitz, was beer central to your upbringing? Was it around you, your house, and stuff? What are your thoughts on that?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch talk about how beer was "present" throughout their lives in Milwaukee. Nearly everyone was connected to a brewery in some way, and they mention going to bars owned by family members and the camaraderie surrounding beer culture at those establishments.

Keywords: Bar; Beer; Beer Culture; Commercial

Subjects: Brewery; Drinking Culture; Family; Milwaukee, WI

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Map Coordinates: Milwaukee, WI
00:04:59 - College Years

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Great, um, we- before we were on camera you both mentioned you went to UW Stevens Point at some point. So maybe let's jump forward into your life to college years and like, what were those like, and where did they take place?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ talk about their experiences in college at UW Stevens Point, mentioning the camaraderie that came about from going to bars. Jim mentions that he studied Political Science, while Russ studied chemistry, finishing his schooling at UW Eau Claire. They poke fun that their drinking in college "benefited [their] future careers".

Keywords: Alcohol; Bars; Beer; College; Party; University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Subjects: Camaraderie; College Life; Community; Drinking; Home; Stevens Point, WI

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Map Coordinates: Stevens Point, WI
00:07:58 - Brewing Beginnings

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Partial Transcript: [John]: That's pretty great-so what attracted you to brewing?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch describe their beginnings of brewing, when they lived together, Jim asked his chemistry-knowledgeable brother Russ how beer was made, prompting him to give Jim a home brewing book for his birthday, which sparked their excitement. Inspired by their father's small business ownership, they decided to start their own business later on, but beginning home brewing with "Pale Ales". After reading about other small breweries in other ares of the country, they decided to try to sell their home brews.

Keywords: American Homebrewers Association; Beer; Beer Barons; Beer Culture; Brewing Clubs; Family; Miller; Pabst; Schlitz

Subjects: Brewing; Milwaukee, WI; Wisconsin

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Map Coordinates: Milwaukee, WI
00:14:52 - Brewing Business

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Sure, so you-at what point in your home brewing did you say "hey, we should sell this"?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch describe when they solidly began the idea to sell their home brews, making it a business. After winning some awards, they decided to think about brewing professionally. They had a rapport with the other "craft" breweries around Milwaukee and Wisconsin, having a sense of "camaraderie and complimenting each other", not feeling much competition at the beginning of their run. The largest problem early on, Russ claims, is that they needed to educate people on what their product was.

Keywords: Awards; Beer; Beer Culture; Sprechers; Water Street Brewery

Subjects: 1980s; Brewing; Business; Career; Craft Breweries

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Map Coordinates: Milwaukee, WI
00:18:21 - Location Evolution

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Partial Transcript: [John]: The first your location you had was not the one we're at right now on Commerce St., um, could you tell me kind of how the location has evolved and where you had your brewery.

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch describe the process of finding a space to start their brewery, at first starting at an old bakery near their house. Using their own money, they renovated that space, and used equipment that was a "Frankenstein" operation, commenting on how the industry has changed since they started.

Keywords: Bakery; Beer; Brewery; Equipment; Location

Subjects: Brewing; Business

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: Milwaukee, WI
00:21:18 - Brothers in the Brewing Business

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Partial Transcript: [John]: As you were getting the brewery going, you said you were living with each other, what's it like to start a business with your brother, and to work together for as long as you did?

Segment Synopsis: Russ and Jim Klisch answer the question of what it's like working with their brother, which they claim to "get a lot."

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Brother

Subjects: Business; Career; Family

00:22:15 - First Beer/Early Business

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Um, so in 1987 you have your first, first uh production beer come out. What was it, and uh, how-where was your first account y'know what was it like y'know to be a brewer, a-a small brewer in the late 80s/early 90s?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch talk about their first beers and their early brewing experiences in Milwaukee during the 80s/90s. They talk about their first accounts in River West, and their strong sales during their initial years that were continuously waiting for them to make another barrel. They talk about the community that the Riverwest neighborhood created around their beer, citing that as one of their major successes. The increased capacity led to the purchase of the space they now own on Commerce St., as the city allowed the brothers to save the historic building from being torn down as a "non-industrial business."

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Lager; Lakefront Brewery; Pilsner; River West

Subjects: Brewery; Business; Community; Location; Milwaukee, WI

GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: Milwaukee, WI
00:26:38 - Unique aspects of Lakefront Brewery Tours

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Partial Transcript: [John]: So in this space, I mean, Lakefront has really come into its own as kind of, one of the places everybody has to go in the town, to go on the tour.

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch describe Lakefront Brewery's unique aspects, especially with their "fun" tours that never had a script, realizing that people wanted to "drink beer and be entertained." They go through the different Milwaukee artifacts they show throughout their tour, such as the Brewer's Bernie's Chalet and the Laverne and Shirley's theme song.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Lakefront Brewery; Tours

Subjects: Brewery; Location; Milwaukee, WI

00:31:02 - COVID Impact

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Partial Transcript: [John]: We'll get back to some of the more unique aspects, but you mentioned COVID. How has the brewery-how has COVID been?

Segment Synopsis: Russ Klisch talks about how Lakefront Brewery has been affected by COVID, citing that "on-premise" sales have dropped dramatically, and "off-premise" sales have not fully made up the difference, as well as many physical changes made to the beer hall.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; COVID; Pandemic Response

Subjects: 2020s; 2021; COVID-19 Pandemic; Pandemic

00:32:22 - Lakefront "My Turn" Series

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Partial Transcript: [John]: One thing that the brewery does is the "My Turn" Series. So, can you kind of explain what that is and how it came to be?

Segment Synopsis: Jim Klisch describes Lakefront's "My Turn" series, where they let a chosen employee can make their own kind of beer that they want to drink, and talks about how that affects their business by supporting the employee, and allows the brewery to see what the public might want to see more of.

Keywords: Brewing; Employee; Lakefront Brewery

Subjects: Brewery; Buisiness; Public

00:33:35 - Gluten Free Beer and Sustainability

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Partial Transcript: [John]: That's fun. Um, you have the-is it the first gluten free beer in America?

Segment Synopsis: Russ Klisch talks about Lakefront's work with the federal government to make the first officially labelled gluten-free beer. He and Jim them comment about how being the first certified organic brewery, and sustainability means to them, citing that they want to support organic products and be stewards of the environment to protect their world.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Environment; Lakefront Brewery

Subjects: Brewery; Government; Sustainability

00:35:40 - Diversity-working on

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Diversity in the brewing industry is a big topic right now, um, are there any steps that Lakefront is taking to try to be more diverse? Or what are your thoughts on that?

Segment Synopsis: Russ and Jim Klisch talk about how Lakefront Brewery handles diversity, both in terms of gender and race, claiming that they do better than others in the industry around Milwaukee, but there's still a ways to go.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Diversity; Job; Lakefront Brewery; People of Color; Work

Subjects: Brewery; Diversity; Gender; Race

00:37:29 - Independent Brewery Competition

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Partial Transcript: [John]: Um, a couple of questions just to wrap up. Um, there's, um, there's obviously a lot of craft breweries in America, there's over 8,000 [Jim]: Still growing

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch talk about how competition in the beer and alcohol industries affect Lakefront, arguing that it is daunting work. Russ claims that in order to stay relevant, they need to continue experimenting and trying to appeal to "fifty percent" of their consumers, which he says are people ages 21-29. Jim says he has seen a full circle, as the public demand is light beers, something that originally Lakefront was trying to get away from in the 80s.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; Competition; Customers; Seltzers; Youth

Subjects: Beer Industry; Brewery; Drinking Culture

00:39:51 - Next era of Lakefront Brewery

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Partial Transcript: [John]: So, um, I think one question to kind of wrap up is, Jim you're retired now?

Segment Synopsis: Jim and Russ Klisch speak on what the "next era" for Lakefront entails now that Jim is "semi-retired". Russ claims for right now, they're trying to get past COVID. They continually have new products and are continuing to improve on may aspects of their business. Russ ends with a statement about how he and Jim never took investment money or had someone co-sign on their loans, which has allowed them to run things the way they wanted to without as much red tape.

Keywords: Beer; Brewing; COVID; Pandemic Response

Subjects: Brewery; Business; COVID-19 Pandemic; Future; Lakefront Brewery