With Brews and Food to Fuel
Story by Nick Rasmussen
Photography by Joe Laedtke
Long before the term, “craft beer” originated, before carbon fiber bike frames, and before our food sources started calling out the words, “organic” and “local,” there were simply beer, bikes and food. While we generally think of these three things as separate elements of our culture, their synergistic relationship actually dates back over a century. These days, in Wisconsin, it turns out that our cultural DNA fuses our American identity by way of our European heritage.
Imports Made Local
If you live in or near Milwaukee, Mequon or Madison, chances are that you’ve heard of the Lowlands Group. Lowlands is behind some grand cafes: Cafe Hollander, Cafe Centraal, Cafe Bavaria and Cafe Benelux. If you’ve visited any of these eateries, you’ve likely noticed a consistent theme: European-inspired fare, a Belgian-tilted beer list … and bikes. In Western Europe, the intersection of these three seemingly unrelated interests all converge and coalesce into one societal ideology. This construct served as the philosophical inspiration for Lowlands as they began to build their brand.
Dan Herwig, Director of Brand and Marketing for Lowlands, says that their beer-and-bike concept was really influenced by the culture in The Netherlands, most notably in Amsterdam. One of the top two cities in the world for biking, Amsterdam remains a crucial cog in the constantly growing network of urban biking. It’s no surprise that the city consistently ranks on top 10 lists for beer for a geological confluence of two distinct beer innovators, Germany and Belgium. If you dissect the dynamic that biking and beer have upon Dutch society, you will find a connective tissue known as “gezellig,” a word conveying a feeling of coziness and conviviality. It’s this feeling that Lowlands ultimately captured and re-imagined here in Wisconsin. Featuring a brewing collaborative with one Wisconsin brewery—Central Waters in Amherst—as well as two Belgian breweries—Brouwerij de Musketiers and Brouwerij Van Steenberge—to co-produce beers, Lowlands facilitates Belgian brewing excellence with American innovation.
The momentum continues to increase as Lowlands has opened two new locations in the past year alone—Mequon and Madison—but the growth isn’t random. According to Herwig, locations that are on or near some sort of biking infrastructure are given careful consideration. Lowlands also organizes recreational group rides, in addition to sponsoring multiple cycling teams and races, including the annual Downer Classic criterium.
For those who prefer to takes drinks with them to a location, Eurostyle, Fyxation in Riverwest can help. Fyxation was founded in 2009 but has really caught a tailwind in recent years with the continued popularity of urban biking and environmental consciousness. While Fyxation sells bike components and accessories, their true appeal, at least for me, is that they sell their own brand of bike frames, as well as fantastic accessories for transporting beer. Yes, we are talking about a marriage of bikes and beer when you can carry home a 6- pack or growler on your bike using one of Fyxation’s caddies. Now that is true Wisconsin ingenuity.
From City … to Countryside
To see some county seats a la that same-named race in France, try Tour de Farms. But be sure to get your name on the list in January—they’re already sold out this year. Organized by Braise RSA, this casual 25-mile ride every September seeks to re-acquaint riders with nature and a sense of their own individual well-being. Tour de Farms stops at three farms providing the Milwaukee area with CSAs and RSAs—Willoway Farm in Fredonia, Wellspring Farm in West Bend, and Rare Earth Farm in Belgium. Tour de Farms gives insight into farming on a local level. Visiting these farms strengthens the connection of grower to restaurant, to consumer, and gives a firsthand look at our where our food is coming from.
Lunch and dinner during Tour de Farms is made fresh from ingredients grown by the featured farms and prepared by chefs from Milwaukee-area restaurants. Post-ride refreshments involve locally-brewed beers from the likes of Lakefront Brewing, Milwaukee Brewing Co. and more. Delicious food and drink en plein air aside, some of the most memorable and persevering moments from the Tour de Farms happen during chats with the farmers, and in conversation with like-minded cyclists, foodies and beer geeks. In line for food or riding down long country roads, you find new friendships that transcend exercise, food and drink.
In our city, one with such a rich and enduring old-world beer traditions and a new-world food scene, it’s no surprise that new breweries, beer gardens, taprooms, restaurants and food trucks continue to pop up every month. But what might have been surprising to some —prior to this article, of course—is the blending of these European aspects of our Wisconsin culture with biking to strike a balance in lifestyle, health and sustainability. Look no further than the strategic placement of our beer gardens, which all fall on, or near, a bike path.
While Milwaukee won’t likely make national headlines for urban cycling innovations anytime soon, bike-friendly groups like Lowlands, Fyxation, Braise RSA and others continue to head up initiatives that make it easier, safer and more enjoyable to mix the wellness and community of biking with food and drink that form the fabric of our festive city.
Nick Rasmussen has been a self-proclaimed beer geek ever since he took his first sip of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA back in 2009. Born in Stevens Point, WI and now residing in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, Nick is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server, a home brewer and a passionate food zealot, particularly with regard to organic, locally-sourced vegetarian and vegan food. When he’s not writing or brewing beer, you can find Nick either running or biking along the lakefront, or out dining with his fiancee, Katie.