Even though he went to law school, Peter Zien always wanted to own a brewery. Perhaps it was in his blood. Zien is a longtime resident of San Diego, but his mother is from Racine.
"I think because my mom is from this area she didn’t get mad when I told her I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore, I wanted to brew beer," he says.
In 1995, Zien started a California-based microbrewery called AleSmith Brewing Company which specializes in handcrafted ales in a variety of styles. Currently, AleSmith Beer offers 10 year-round beers and five seasonals, including the customer-favorite, Speedway Stout, a Russian imperial stout.
Other products include a Belgian strong ale called Horny Devil, a classic scotch ale named Wee Heavy, and Old Numbskull, a West Coast-style barleywine.
The company brews about 12,000 barrels a year and about 1,000 people tour the facility every week. It has also won numerous awards.
Zien started out with just a few employees. Today, he employes 26 people and his product is available in 11 states, as well as in Japan and Denmark.
Wisconsin very recently became one of the 11 states.
Last month, Zien, along with his wife and HR coordinator, Vicky, and tasting bar supervisor and marketing specialist, Abby Heilbron, traveled to Milwaukee to introduce the product, host beer dinners and further investigate the local brewery scene. They also traveled to Madison.
"We feel that AleSmith and Milwaukee – all of Wisconsin – were meant to be together," says Heilbron. "Brands such as Pabst, Schlitz and Miller have shaped the historical landscape for beer. I believe part of the reason you have such a deep respect for craft beer in Milwaukee is because of the pioneers of beer that called Milwaukee home. Plus, Milwaukee’s reputation for being such a kind, welcoming city is so cool and inviting, it makes you want to sit down and meet the locals and share beers with them."
AleSmith will have limited availability in bars, with an increased presence coming over the next few months. Currently, draft beer is available at Rumpus Room, 1030 N. Water St.
"Wisconsin is one of the first states to get our draft offerings outside of Southern California," says Heilbron.
Bottles of AleSmith are available at Discount Liquor, some Sendik’s, Downer Avenue Wine & Spirits, Woodman’s and Ray’s Wine & Spirits.
While in Milwaukee, Heilbron was impressed by the city’s commitment to local craft beer.
"There was not a single place I walked into that didn’t carry a local-to-Milwaukee beer," she says. "That’s a great indicator of Milwaukee’s passion for craft beer. The Milwaukee beer scene is long and storied history and one that this Southern California girl grew up knowing about."
Heilbron has worked for the company for about seven years.
"I find myself to be a little unique in that I managed to get a job and then career with my favorite brewery ever," Heilbron says. "Beer is a magical thing to me, in all aspects. The process of making beer is hard work, scientific, meticulous and exhausting. The finished product is elegant, complex, artful and worth every ounce of hard work."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.