The Ultimate Guide to Milwaukee Summerfest and Milwaukee Beer

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This guide was originally created in 2017 and updated in 2018 (and will continue to be updated in the future). The guide covers local breweries, brewery tours (where and when) and a ton of tips for first timers (and reminders for us veterans).

Here are some quick links to this rather long guide:

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What is Summerfest?

While Summerfest is most often known for having over 800 acts play over 1,000 performances on 11 stages we can’t forget about the beer!

When is Summerfest?

Summerfest 2017 is the festival’s 50th edition and will take place from June 28 to July 2 and start back up on July 4 and run through July 9. Note: Summerfest is closed Monday, July 3 (they started doing this a few years ago which I understand but still dont love).

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First timer at Summerfest? Here are 30 or so quick tips from someone that goes every year and likely has gone for some 20+ years now (holy cow).

  • – Dancing on the tables is permitted and encouraged. You may be judged slightly if you are doing it at 2PM but who cares – have some good clean fun and dance!
  • – Bring friends. Lots of them. Try and bring as many as possible. That said do have a plan on where to meet and remember to check your phone so that you dont have that lone friend lost and looking for the group.
  • – Try to not lose your friends. I swear every year at least one person wanders off to the hotel and doesn’t tell anyone. Or just up and leaves for another stage (I was guilty of that in recent years)
  • – I highly suggest you check out the promotions page and see what offers there are for the day(s) you are going. Sometimes you can get in free by wearing a tshirt of color X or by bringing Z number of food items to donate.
  • – Tip your bartenders. They are putting in long hours and likely putting up with a few jerks. Plus some are volunteers and the money goes to a local charity/group/cause.
  • – Plan for the weather to change from when you first get there. You are RIGHT on Lake Michigan and rain/wind/cold can quickly move in after the sun goes down.
  • – Plan to bake in the sun all day. ESPECIALLY on days when it is only 72 or 75 degrees out. You rarely are in shade at Summerfest.
  • – Weekends will be packed. You won’t notice it until 5PM when suddenly things seem somewhat busy and next thing you know it will be 7 or 8PM and everything will have a line and walking the midway will slow down.
  • – Learn where the bathrooms are! Look at the map and take note of which stages you are going too and where they are.
  • – Get cash BEFORE you get there. Yes there are ATMs but that means fees.
  • – Also if you get cash before you can control your budget (food, beer, shopping) better for the day.
  • – Parking does get more and more difficult each year it seems. Plan on parking costing anywhere from $15-30 depending on where and when you go.
  • – Get a hotel if you arent local. There are lots of hotels downtown and nearby.
  • – Oh and book hotels EARLY. As early as possible. Prices will only go up as the months and weeks get closer and closer. Last minute hotels downtown will run you at least $200 and easily jump to the $300-400 range as places fill up.
  • – There are park and rides with shuttles. Take a look at using them if possible. Note that the hotels on College Ave are MUCH cheaper than downtown.
  • – Wear walking shoes – you will likely walk a TON. Or you will stand in place a TON. Either way, wear walking shoes.
  • – Some bartenders/staff might not like it, but stacking cups as the day goes on does help you keep track of how many beers you have had.
  • – Tip your bartenders. Always tip your bartender!
  • – Don’t forget to eat. Seems obvious but between walking, shows, beer, bathroom breaks, and trying to find that vendor you can forget.
  • – Pace yourself. The sun and beer will take a toll on you as the day goes on and before you know it you will be leaving 15 minutes before the 10PM headliner even starts.
  • – As the day goes on everything will take longer. There will be lines to get in, for bathroom (mostly for the ladies but even for the guys at times), for food and beer, and just about anything. For every hour you are there just figure things will take 5% longer and after 8PM it moves to 10% for each hour.
  • – Remember: Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Unless you dont pace yourself then you are screwed anyways.
  • – I HIGHLY recommend that if you are going to want to sit and eat you get it BEFORE 7-8PM (at the latest) as seating just about anywhere will become quite hard (and only get more difficult)
  • – Wear sunscreen and ladies the sun will get you (men too) – so any weird sandel straps or shirt straps will show the next day.
  • – Leave the midway and walk towards the water. There is a walkway over there with great views. Over the past few years Summerfest has also added small stages, more vendors, things for the kids and a fair amount of seating as well.
  • – If you are picky about your beer/alcohol pay attention to where the stands are that serve what you want. Not all locations serve the same beer and some only do draft while others only do plastic bottles.
  • – Good seats go quick. As the day goes on people will start to “camp” on certain seats at the stages. Eventually you will need to stay put somewhere if you want a good seat.
  • – Also, get there as early as you can. You have until about 6-7 when people will start to really secure seats and if you dont have one by 8-9 it will get harder and harder to get in the first 10 (or even 20) rows.
  • – Tip your bartenders. Always tip your bartender! Yes I know this is listed twice.
  • – Visit local restaurants and breweries while in town. There is a TON else to see and do in Milwaukee.
  • – Summerfest IS family friendly but do know that once the sun goes down and it hits 9-10PM some people arent.
  • – Mosh pits will happen. Bleachers or not they will happen for some artists.
  • – If you are underage don’t try it. They ID everywhere, there are wrist bands and cops all over. Save your money and just wait a few years!
  • – See a band that you wouldn’t otherwise go and see. Over the years I have found a ton of new (or just new to me) acts that I am now a huge fan of.
  • – The food is good so don’t be afraid to eat a ton of it.
  • – Yes there is a “Dancing Guy”. The video below will introduce you to Chris!
  • – Lastly, have fun!

And that is Chris aka “Dancing Guy”.

2018 Summerfest Daily Admission Promotions

This new section for 2018 highlights many of the daily promotions that can help you save some beer money (or just some money) before you even step foot inside of Summerfest.

  • Wednesday, June 27 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm
    JOHNSON CONTROLS “STOMP OUT HUNGER” DAY WITH FOX 6 MILWAUKEE
    All patrons arriving between noon – 3:00 pm who donate 3 non-perishable food items will receive 1 FREE weekday admission ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only. Donations will be accepted at the Mid Gate as well as the North and South Gates. All donations benefit Hunger Task Force.
  • Friday, June 29 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm – NEW THIS YEAR
    SHOW YOUR COLLEGE PRIDE DAY
    All patrons arriving between noon-3:00 pm wearing a shirt or hat representing the participating colleges or universities will receive 1 FREE weekday admissions ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only. Shirts or hats ONLY from the following colleges or universities will be accepted: Alverno College, Bryant & Stratton College, Cardinal Stritch University, Carroll University, Concordia University, Lawrence University, Marquette University, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Area Technical College, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Stop by the Mid Gate Promotions Booth to receive your ticket. Also, make sure to stop by your school’s booth at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater Forecourt to say hello and show your support!
  • Saturday, June 30 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm (while supplies last)
    GOODWILL DAY
    The first 1,500 patrons receive 1 FREE general admission ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only, when presenting an original specially marked receipt showing a minimum purchase of $10.00 made at a Goodwill Store & Donation Center between June 1 and June 30, 2018. No copies or hand written receipts will be accepted. Arrive early as this is a popular promotion.
  • Sunday, July 1 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm (while supplies last)
    KOHL’S FAMILY DAY
    The first 2,500 patrons who donate 3 nutritious non-perishable food items for kids will receive 1 FREE admission ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only. Suggested items include: canned chicken or tuna, fruits canned in 100% juice and low sodium vegetables. All donations benefit Hunger Task Force.
  • Sunday, July 1 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm
    SUMMERFEST MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY WITH NEWS/TALK 1130 WISN
    All active-duty military personnel and veterans, along with up to 4 family members, who present their Military ID at the designated turnstile at any gate will be admitted FREE.
  • Tuesday, July 3 • 12:00 – 4:00 pm
    DIRECT SUPPLY SENIORFEST DAY
    All patrons age 60 and up will be admitted FREE when they check in at the designated turnstile at any gate. Those seniors will also receive an offer for $2 off a food and beverage (non-alcoholic) purchase over $10. Spend the day enjoying music spanning a range of genres including: Under the Streetlamp, The Booze Brothers, Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra, Downtown Harrison, the Direct Supply Golden Idols, Professor Pinkerton & The Magnificients and many more.
  • Tuesday, July 3 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm
    H.O.G.® MEMBER DAY AT SUMMERFEST
    Receive 1 FREE weekday admission ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only, when presenting a valid H.O.G.® (Harley Owners Group®) card. One admission per card. In addition, H.O.G.® members will have exclusive access to the Harley-Davidson™ Hospitality Deck located at the Harley-Davidson™ Roadhouse between 12:00 – 9:00 pm. Limited space; first-come, first-served. Once the deck reaches capacity, access will be on a “one out, one in” basis.
  • Wednesday, July 4
    DOWNLOAD THE SUMMERFEST APP FUELED BY PEPSI
    There’s no better guide to the lineup, stage schedules and entire Summerfest experience! While supplies last, 15,000 FREE digital general admission tickets, valid only for July 4th, are being offered when you download the Summerfest App and claim your free ticket. Limit 1 per device.
  • Thursday, July 5 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm
    SENTRY FOODS AND DEAN’S MILK & ICE CREAM CHILDREN’S FEST DAY WITH TODAY’S TMJ4
    All patrons arriving between noon – 3:00 pm will be admitted FREE! Spend a fun-filled day with the family enjoying Children’s Fest activities including the Map of Fun and the Family Ticket Package drawing. Select food vendors will offer discounts on food and beverage items.
  • Friday, July 6 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm (while supplies last)
    RED LOBSTER DAY – NEW THIS YEAR
    The first 750 patrons who show a receipt of purchase from Red Lobster during its Lobster and Shrimp Summerfest event between May 28th and July 6th will receive FREE admission to Summerfest valid only for the day and time of the promotion.
  • Saturday, July 7 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm (while supplies last)
    NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL “MAKE A CHILD SMILE” DAY
    The first 1,500 patrons who donate new or gently used children’s books (preferably picture books and early readers for children, birth through age 10) with a $10 minimum value will receive 1 FREE admission ticket, valid for the day and time of the promotion only. All books collected will be donated to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.
  • Sunday, July 8 • 12:00 – 3:00 pm
    SUMMERFEST “FAN APPRECIATION” DAY PRESENTED BY MEIJER
    All patrons arriving between noon – 3:00 pm will be admitted for FREE compliments of Meijer and Summerfest!
  • MILWAUKEE BUSINESS JOURNAL POWER LUNCH
    All patrons presenting an original coupon (printed in the Milwaukee Business Journal) at any ticket window will receive 1 FREE weekday admission ticket valid noon – 2:00 pm that same day. Duplications will not be accepted, original coupons only.

Summerfest Food and Shopping

I won’t go into detail but in 2017 I can tell you that I had a sub from Cousin’s Subs (lunch), a gyro (dinner) and the second day I had a burger for an early dinner before leaving. There are tons of things to snack on and smell no matter where you turn.

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Then there is the shopping. There are few large areas of vendors selling everything from one of a kind art, home made soap, t-shirts, shoes, Milwaukee/Summerfest branded gear and more. You could literally spend a good amount of the day just wandering through all the vendors if you wanted (don’t worry you can get food/beer and still hear music during your shopping).

Summerfest Map from 2009

Summerfest Map from 2009

Where is Summerfest?

Man you ask a ton of questions. Didn’t I just give you like 30 tips on Summerfest? For more specifics on hours, exact location (it is downtown Milwaukee right on Lake Michigan) and any other specific questions I highly suggest you get the most updated information from Summerfest.

The rest of this guide is going to JUST focus on beer at the fest and around the downtown areas of Milwaukee.

Sorry to those breweries to the North, West and South of Milwaukee but you will have to wait until the next version of this guide!

Milwaukee Beer Guide (Summerfest Edition)

You will quickly notice that Miller (Lite) rules Summerfest. Well technically Miller and its sub brands do but Miller is a big sponsor and much of the beer sold there is one of their brands. That said there are some other local beers usually available. Lakefront Brewery has been there for some years now and in 2016 got to move to a bigger location (very good news). Water Street Brewery has had their location on the South End for as long as I can recall. There they usually have multiple bartenders serving beers and taking food orders. I dug into the Summerfest site for a beer list and once the festival opens I will personally go and validate the list (which I did the first weekend!).

So here are some breweries/beers that you should be able to find at Summerfest in 2018. This list will be updated for 2018 soon and when I visit opening weekend I will double check things!

Miller

  • Miller Lite
  • Miller High Life
  • MGD
  • Miller Lite Fresh Tank Beer

Coors

  • Third Shift – Amber Lager
  • Coors Light
  • MGD
  • Miller Lite Fresh Tank Beer

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Water Street Brewery

  • Water Street Bavarian Weiss Beer
  • Water Street Old World Oktoberfest
  • Water Street Honey Lager Light
  • Water Street Punch You In the IPA
  • Water Street Brewery Midnight Lager

Blue Moon

  • Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat
  • Blue Moon Belgian White

Terrapin

  • Terrapin Hi-5
  • Terrapin Hopsecutioner
  • Terrapin RecreationAle

Lakefront

    2017-summerfest-lakefront-brewery

  • Lakefront Clutch Cargo Double IPA
  • Lakefront Eastside Dark
  • Lakefront El Wisco
  • Lakefront Pils
  • Lakefront IPA
  • Lakefront New Grist (Gluten Free)
  • Lakefront Riverwest Stein
  • Lakefront Eazy Teazy
  • Lakefront Happy Glamper Leisure Ale
  • Lakefront Soaker

Leinenkugel

    2017-summerfest-leinie-lounge

  • Leinenkugel’s Anniversary Lager
  • Leinenkugel’s Canoe Paddler
  • Leinenkugel’s Original
  • Leinenkugel’s IPL
  • Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
  • Leinenkugel’s Wisconsin Red Pale Ale
  • Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss
  • Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss (Not 100% as I didn’t see it in 2017 but it may be there)
  • Leinenkugel’s Northwoods Lager
  • v

The Steel Brewing Company

  • Steel Reserve Spiked Watermelon
  • Steel Reserve 211 High Gravity Lager

Pilsner Urquell

  • Pilsner Urquell – Available exclusively at Klement’s Sausage and Beer Garden.

Milwaukee Brewery List

milwaukee-brewery-list-2017

While my list may miss one or two you can pretty much find all of the downtown Milwaukee breweries here on this site. There are a TON of breweries right downtown but there are also some just North in Glendale, South 2 miles of the Historic Third Ward and just 1.5(ish) miles from the pocket of breweries like Brenner, MKE and Mob Craft Beer. There is also Urban Harvest in Walker’s Point which is also just South of the main area that you will likely be in a hotel/parking lot for Summerfest.

If you are coming from Chicago be sure to check out some of these Southern breweries for a quick bite and beer or if you are coming from Green Bay or North of Milwaukee do check out the breweries in Glendale.

milwaukee-brewery-tour-list-2017

Milwaukee Brewery Tours

Sadly most only offer tours on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. There are a few exceptions however but then the times are right smack dab in the middle of the day so you will need to plan accordingly. I STRONGLY recommend that you plan ahead and book tickets for those that offer them. Lakefront Brewery WILL SELL OUT and if you are thinking of going on the weekend I STRONGLY suggest you buy your ticket days or weeks ahead. The Miller tour is a bit West of the city so if you get there early you should be okay. The Milwaukee Brewery Tour is also quite popular and with the ability to drink a fair amount while you wait… you really should get there early!

In short – plan ahead, buy tickets (they typically are just $6-$10), and get there a bit early.

Daily Brewery Tours

Fri and Sat Brewery Tours

Fri, Sat, Sun Brewery Tours

Sat and Sun Brewery Tours

There are MANY other breweries in the area and a short drive away but these are the only nearby breweries with tours.

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