Nicole Henzel loves beer. And not all beer – good beer. Her days of light beer and "Milwaukee’s Beast" are over. Hence, working at Brenner Brewery, 706 S. 5th St., is a great fit for her.
OnMilwaukee.com recently stopped in during a Friday night happy hour and chatted with Henzel about beer and New Zealand and beer and life and beer and cupcakes and beer. And beer.
OnMilwaukee.com: So. Let’s talk about beer.
Nicole Henzel: I love beer.
OMC: Hey, so do I! Did you always love beer?
NH: I remember being a kid and my dad and my uncles were drinking PBR and I would be waiting to get that one sip out of the can. I thought it taste disgusting; I was a kid. And then I went to college and discovered terrible beer, which was cheap but easy to drink. Finally, around 22, I got into craft / micro beer. I realized there were so many more options out there than a Miller Lite or "Milwaukee’s Beast."
OMC: What do you like about Brenner Brewing?
NH: I like Mike’s (Brenner) passion for brewing. And I honestly like all of the beers on the menu. I also really like how he is connected to the art community and able to connect that to his beer. Each label was designed by a local artist and will have a code you can scan with your phone to get more information on the artists and a playlist of local bands.
OMC: Have you traveled around to a lot of other breweries?
NH: I have. This summer, I went to 10 breweries in 3 1/2 days.
OMC: Wow, where did you go?
NH: It all started because we were going to see a band play in Indiana and so we decided to go to one brewery, Bare Hands, because a friend of mine knows the guy who started it. From there, we decided to check out Motor City in Detroit, Three Floyds, Evil Czech, Olde Peninsula Brewery, Gonzo’s BiggDogg, Rupert’s Brew House, Greenbush, Round Barn and 18th Street Brewery in Gary, Ind.
OMC: What makes a good brewery tour?
NH: I like to hear the story behind what they are doing and why they are doing it. I like how Mike tells his story during the tour about how he got to where he is today. The process of brewing beer is similar, I like hearing more of the details about what makes them special or different.
OMC: Do you prefer cup in hand tours or sampling at the end?
NH: Cup in hand is the way to go. It’s nice to enjoy a beer while you’re learning about it.
OMC: Are you a home brewer?
NH: I’m not. But there is beer being brewed at my house right now, and my dad’s a brewer. I have learned a lot from my dad doing it and have been excited and interested in what he brews. So maybe it’s in my future.
OMC: Have you lived in Milwaukee your entire life?
NH: I lived in Greenfield until seventh grade and then my family moved to Germantown where I lived until I went to college at UWM.
I decided I wanted to live in New York, so I stayed at UWM online and moved to New York for a year. Then I came back, graduated with a bachelor’s in education, and decided to move again.
OMC: Where did you move then?
NH: I moved to New Zealand and I taught there for a couple of years.
OMC: What did you teach?
NH: It’s called New Entrance – it’s basically like kindergarten except the kids don’t all start on the same day at the beginning of the year, they start on their fifth birthday instead. So, I had kids who had been in school for six months and kids who'd been there for one day.
Before starting, I didn’t think it could work, but it really did. The kids who had been there a while taught the new kids how to do things.
OMC: Did you like New Zealand in general?
NH: I loved everything except the winter, which ran from the end of May through August. It’s 35-40 degrees and rainy and no one has heat – they all use space heaters and electric blankets, which gets expensive, and also, everything is damp and cold. Everyone thought because I was from Wisconsin that I wouldn’t mind the winter, but I was cold and wet all the time. I never felt warm.
However, I really liked the travel opportunities. Being an island, literally you can drive an hour and be in a completely different climate and type of city. I went on a huge tour of the island and got to experience a lot of things from sky diving to climbing a glacier and swimming in the Bay of Isles.
I went to Australia, Fiji, Singapore – trips that I never would have been able to take while living here.
OMC: It sounds great. Why did you come back?
NH: My friends and family and because Milwaukee seems to have this magnet that no matter how many times I leave, it pulls me back. I think people in Milwaukee are people you don’t find anywhere else. There’s a sense of community you don’t find anywhere else, and a lot of great restaurants and breweries. Having gone away and come back I really take advantage of what the city has to offer.
OMC: Do you have a lot of plans and goals for the future or are you taking life one day at a time?
NH: I used to have this idea of what my life would look like and thought ‘this is where I’ll be at this age’ but life showed me that that’s not how life happens and I’ve really started to accept that and take things as they come. And it’s worked out. I had no idea I would be working at a brewery and that I would absolutely love it.
OMC: You brought cupcakes to work today. Are you a baker?
NH: Yeah, my grandma and my mom were both bakers. I do it for fun, but I also don’t need to eat 48 cupcakes, so I bring them to work. Sometimes I even put beer in them.
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.