Brenner Brewing Co. is an independent, craft brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that melds its founder’s passion for brewing beer with his lifelong devotion to Milwaukee’s arts scene. From featuring the art of different local artists on every new beer released, to creating a volunteer program that rewards participants with free beer for giving back to local nonprofits, diplomaed Master Brewer, Mike Brenner, celebrates his hometown with every aspect of the operation.
FOUNDER/BREWMASTER, MIKE BRENNER
Just a couple months into his first semester at UW-Milwaukee, Mike Brenner dropped out to of college to play guitar and accordion in Milwaukee-based Cajun and Blues band, John the Conqueroo. After 400+ shows in Milwaukee, two months busking in New Orleans, and gigs in 19 states, Brenner returned to school, this time at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado.
During the three short semesters Brenner spent at CSU studying fine art and creative writing in the early 90s, he was serendipitously exposed to Colorado’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Upon returning to Milwaukee, Brenner enrolled at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, and spent weekends trying to recreate his favorite Colorado brews at home. A semester abroad studying at the historic Bauhaus Universität in Germany inspired Brenner to start exploring more traditional beer styles as well.
In May of 2000, just a couple weeks after receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from MIAD, Brenner started working with a group of local artists to form the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN). During his tenure as MARN’s Executive Director, Brenner worked tirelessly to elevate the art community by providing business, educational, advocacy, mentoring, and exhibition resources to visual, performing, and literary artists.
While MARN was well recognized as a cornerstone of the city’s arts scene, Brenner realized that what was missing in Milwaukee was a growing base of young art collectors. In February of 2004, Brenner opened Hotcakes Gallery in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood to feature affordable paintings and drawings, as well as conceptual installation art. Half of the artists shown at Hotcakes were from Milwaukee but the other half came from other parts of the world, and Hotcakes very quickly started participating in the most prominent art fairs in Chicago and Miami.
In the Summer of 2008, Brenner was doing freelance graphic design, consulting as the Artistic Director of Historic Turner Hall Ballroom, working as Executive Director of MARN, owned Hotcakes Gallery — and sleeping on an air mattress in the back of his gallery. As the economy started to decline Brenner realized people were becoming more interested in the free beer in the keg than the art on the walls at the Hotcakes openings. Brenner knew it was time to rethink what he was doing. Instead of running a nonprofit that had to constantly beg the descendants of Milwaukee’s beer barons for grants, he should build a brewery that would support artists directly.
Just a couple months later, Brenner was enrolled in the MBA program at UW-Milwaukee and began taking classes at the Siebel Institute of Technology, America’s oldest and most respected brewing school. Every week Brenner would brew a 20-gallon batch of beer in his mom’s garage to test and develop recipes. He still knew a ton of people that owned art galleries or ran nonprofits, so he would give the beer away at their openings and fundraisers to get feedback and spread the Brenner Brewing name.
In 2010, after receiving his MBA, Mike Brenner launched Cheers to Volunteers, a program to bring together groups of community-minded individuals to volunteer at local nonprofits. After giving a few hours of their time to make Milwaukee a better place, Brenner would take them to a local bar and buy them beers to thank them.
In September of 2010, Brenner began Siebel’s full-time Master Brewer Diploma program that alternates study between Siebel’s Chicago campus and the Doemens Akademie in Munich. The program included trips to many of Brenner’s favorite breweries in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.
Full of inspiration and Master Brewer’s Diploma in hand, Brenner returned to Milwaukee and began writing his business plan and looking for investors.
By the time Mike Brenner began brewing beer on his 30 barrel brewhouse in April of 2014, he had already converted a 7,000 sq. ft. parking garage into a state-of-the-art brewery and the adjacent turn of the century warehouse into a massive art center containing two art galleries, an event/performance space, and twenty-two art studios.