By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 06, 2022 at 9:02 AM

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee! OnMilwaukee Dining Month is served up by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and Wollersheim Winery & Distillery.

Last summer, Old World Wisconsin opened its new brewhouse, the first phase of its historic brewing exhibit, and has hosted Badger State brewers, held beer book events, brewed beer on a daily basis and explained the brewing process to visitors to the historic site in Eagle, operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

As work continues to restore the 1906 Wittnebel Tavern moved to the site from Old Ashippun, Historic Brewing Experience Coordinator Rob Novak – who previously worked at Draft & Vessel, Raised Grain and Black Husky – has been cooking up programming, including a homebrewing day.

I attended the debut of that all-day event in mid-September, which is expected to return in spring, and which sent me home with a fermenting batch of ale that I am currently bottle conditioning in my basement.

“That was our inaugural homebrewing day and I think I learned a lot about what people expect from the experience and how we might tweak it to broaden the appeal,” said Novak a few days later.

We arrived at 9 a.m, and after a little introduction, got right down to work, milling grain, boiling water over a wood fire for the mash and continuing all through the process before departing around 3 p.m. with our wort, to which we added yeast when we arrived home to start the fermentation process.

All along the way, Novak explained the processes and what they do, discussing the period tools and equipment and sharing the history of brewing in Wisconsin. He also explained ways in which those processes are similar and different from current methods.

We also tasted samples of other beers made in the brewhouse and we had a tasty and appropriate lunch of brats and some incredible pillowy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (that were more like muffin tops).

“We will gather feedback from attendees to get a sense of what parts of the class were most valuable and interesting,” said Novak. “I’d like to incorporate one or more of our historic farms into the program in the future; getting the group out onto the site would be fun.

“I’d also like to figure out how to send folks home with finished beer the same day as the workshop.”

Our small group mostly had some homebrewing experience – except, perhaps notably, me – Novak said.

“It was neat to hear people say that this inspired them to brew again,” he added. “For many it had been several years since they last brewed.”

But, said Novak, he’s hoping that future brew days won’t draw only homebrewers.

“I’d like to broaden the appeal of the workshop. Ideally it would provide knowledge and insight into homebrewing while also accommodating beer history buffs, and history buffs in general.”

He’ll have some time to tinker with the program, as autumn brings cooler temperatures, and we all know where that leads.

“Our brewing season wraps up (around now) and we will winterize the brewhouse in early November,” said Novak. “We will do more historic brewing workshops starting some time next spring, most likely in late April or early May.”

Make yourself a calendar note to check the Old World Wisconsin website around then, so you can sign up for the brew days when they return.

In the meantime, here’s a little taster of what we did on our brew day...

Talking malt and other grains

talking maltX

Milling the grain


Adding hot water to grain


Stirring the mash

stirring mashX

Vorlauf to clarify wort


Testing levels


Draining wort from mash


Sparging to rinse residual sugar from the mash


Keeping a log


Moving wort to boil kettle


Weighing hops

weighing hopsX

Whole cone hops, grown on site, added to boil


Hops grown on site, awaiting picking


Sampling other beers brewed on site


Spent grain feeds animals at Old World Wisconsin

spent grainX

Straining hops as wort is moved to coolship to cool


Emptying wort from coolship

emptying wortX

Filling fermenters to take home

filling fermentersX


Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.