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Announced after a years-long COVID-fueled delay, Leinie's and the Brewers are now in the final stages of prepping the J. Leinenkugel's Barrel Yard brewpub at American Family Insurance Field for its Monday, April 3 debut, when Brewers take on the Mets in the season home opener.
We stopped in Friday morning to take a look at how the place is shaping up with only a month to go before Opening Day’s 1:10 p.m. first pitch.
While the brew system is not yet installed and it might appear there's a long way to go, Brewers President-Business Operations Rick Schlesinger is confident work will be competed on time.
"The best thing about the home opener is it can't be moved, so everything has to get done," he says. "A lot of things in the ballpark are getting done, but this obviously was our major construction project in the off season.
"Hunzinger (Construction) has done a lot of projects here and they've always managed to get it done on time and this will be no exception. We're very pleased with progress and the best thing about construction is the last 30 days you see a lot of the finishes and the fixtures and all of the aesthetics that come into play, because the back of the house stuff and the kitchen stuff is mostly done."
The new three-barrel brewery and restaurant was announced in mid-December as a replacement for the Restaurant to be Named later, which was rebranded in 2019 after the closing of Friday’s Front Row Grill in the left field corner.
"As you look around, it's paint, it's fixtures going in," says Hunzinger Senior Project Manager and Director of Commercial Interiors Kevin Lally, of the work currently underway. "A lot of the hard tile and other amenities over at the bar area.
"As with most projects these days, the supply chain continues to be a little bit of an issue so we're still waiting on some fixtures that are coming in the next few weeks. So that's what we're watching closely to make sure we can wrap up and deliver for Opening Day."
The large space has a 27-foot-long bar with 48 tap lines that offers views out over the field, as well as a smaller Brew Bar just inside the entrance with 16 tap lines. Guests will be able to carry beer out of the restaurant back to their seats.
Running along the windows facing the stadium interior will be table seating, including some picnic table-style seating.
Across from those are some built-on banquettes, above which is a trio of engraved abstract wood panels showing outlines of area lakes like Nagawicka, Three Lakes Chain and Eagle River Chain.
The whole place, Schlesinger says, is meant to have a "lake feel."
The panels, like all of the furniture and fixtures, were created by Three Sixty, a Milwaukee design and build firm.
At the far end of the venue is the Brew Room, a rentable events space that has two outdoor patios with views not only across the field but also straight down into the dugout.
Lally said that the fact that things like the kitchen footprint and ceiling heights have basically remained unchanged has helped progress.
At least two new beers each month will flow from the on-site brewhouse, which Schlesinger says will be installed in time to create the first brews on-site in time for Opening Day.
Two examples – Hot Stove Rye and Brew City Pale Lager – were on draft to sample at December’s announcement.
Although there will be exclusive beers brewed for the Barrel Yard on-site, Schlesinger said that especially popular ones could expand beyond the stadium.
"The plan right now is to have the beers exclusively here," he says, but if things are so popular, far be it for me to deny the public what they want. If there's a beer here that really takes off, that Leinenkugel's decides they want to take to market, I'm certainly open to that because the good news is they'll come up with some other beers here.
"There always is going to be a beer offered here that is going to be exclusive to the ballpark. Could those be offered to market? Sure. But we'll always have enough variation here."
Leinenkugel’s Master Brewer John Hensley has been leading a search for a brewer to operate the stadium system and Schlesinger says that a brewer has been, ahem, tapped for the position.
“We are looking to have our first brews just as the season starts,” Hensley told me in January. “As a brand new brewery we’ll have to do some shakedown brews just to make sure everything is working properly but to also see how things translate between the Barrel Yard and the pilot brewery in Chippewa (Falls).”
Those first test beers were brewed at the seven-barrel pilot system installed in the Leinie’s Lodge at the Chippewa Falls brewery.
The Barrel Yard will be the second baseball stadium in the area to install a brewery. Lake Louie fired up its system at the Lake County Dockhounds' Wisconsin Brewing Company Park in November.
A number of other Major League stadiums also have breweries or brewpubs in-house, including in Denver and Atlanta.
Milwaukee's Ramlow/Stein is the project architect for the redesign which has seen the space under a massive revamp.
Though the food menu will be announced closer to the opening date, Schlesinger did offer some insights into what we can expect.
"We're doing menu ideation right now and finalizing all that," he says. "It's a menu that will appeal to the baseball fan who wants cheese curds, hamburgers, sausages, but also some different items that maybe appeal to somebody a little more discriminating taste.
"Then there'll be a different the menu for non-baseball game days – a little bit wider menu, a little bit broader offerings. But we're trying to appeal to our fans and our fans are telling us what they want, and based on the fan survey that we've done, I think the menu is going to really resonate with them."
The Barrel Room will offer a variety of ticket packages for game days, but on those days fans can still walk in and order drinks to carry out. Details on tickets and more can be found at BarrelYardMKE.com.
"We're certainly honored to partner with the Brewers to deliver a unique brewery experience for fans," said Leinenkugel's President Tony Bugher at the announcement.
"This project has been a big one and we're really looking forward to opening. We know fans will enjoy the opportunity to try new beers, brewed right here, that they can only get at the Barrel Yard."
Brewers' food and beverage partner Delaware North Sportservice is currently hiring for positions at the ballpark, including at the Barrel Yard. Details and online applications here.
An in-person hiring event is slated for Saturday, Feb. 25 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the stadium.
"It's a big investment that the club is making in partnership with Molson Coors and, and they've been great partners on this and Hunzinger's been doing great work and getting this all done on schedule and, equally important, on budget."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.