Tommy Vandervort, our founder and co-owner, took a circuitous path to Enlightened. He’s worn a lot of hats: philosopher, Alderman, Americorps member, and he’s done everything possible in the service industry. It was through his time at various restaurants that he fell in love with American and Belgian styles of craft beer. One Christmas, his parents left him a homebrew kit under the tree, and he connected his love of drinking beer with a love of making it. He made a lot of friends in the Milwaukee craft beer scene, and in January of 2013 he decided to take the plunge and found the brewery you’ve come to know as Enlightened Brewing Company. He laid the groundwork and soon compelled his friend James Larson to come on as Head Brewer.
James Larson, our co-owner and Director of Operations, has been a passionate home brewer since the age of 18 because they don’t make fake IDs for redheads. His first beer was a pale ale, and the very first bottle still sits, unopened, on his shelf.
James received a Master's Degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, a city you can walk up hill to get to the bar and uphill to get home. Prior to joining us, he enjoyed an internship in Operations at Bell's Brewery Inc. located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He’d known Tommy for a few months prior to joining Enlightened full time, initially as Head Brewer, in October of 2014, as Tommy was finishing up his tenure bartending at The Rumpus Room, just a few miles north from our brewery.
Our brewery began in room 207 of the Lincoln Warehouse, where we were brewing a half-barrel at a time. As our reputation grew, so did our ability to churn out our flagship and experimental beers. While we enjoyed our 500 square foot home, the demand for our beers was higher than the size of the room allowed for output, and we had no space to pour our brews for thirsty friends! Because we love Bay View so much, we began work in the spring of 2016 on an expanded production space and taproom, which opened to the public in the late summer of that very year.
With the opening of our taproom came more work than ever before. Mike Guten, who started with us as a brewer in October of 2015, stepped up to the plate and became our Head Brewer in the winter of 2016. Mike, an old high school pal of James, reconnected with him while living in Colorado, and soon moved back to Milwaukee to work with us. Having seen the industry from many sides, Mike’s known for years that the brewing industry was the only place for him, and we couldn’t be happier to have him here at Enlightened.
For the foreseeable future, we’re going to keep making our year-rounds—The Imperative Pale Ale, Cream City Brix Cream Ale, Kettle Logic Amber Ale, and Prototypical Porter—while continuing to experiment with various styles of one offs and rotating seasonals. You can find our beers at our taproom (2020 S. Allis St, Milwaukee WI 53207) or at many fine bars and restaurants in the greater Milwaukee area. Originally starting as a draft or keg only brewery out of necessity, we will be setting our sights on bottles and cans with our expanded space and hopeful future growth.
Our Philosophy of Beer: Keep it simple! We make what we like to drink, and we also love to explore new approaches to tried-and-true styles.
“Drink it Down, Enlighten Up!”
Enlightened Brewing Company, LLC.
Image Credit: James Steeno
The Bay View area was an important one in the early industrial development of the Milwaukee. In 1855, the first train depot in the area was constructed here on South Bay Street, creating a new link between Milwaukee the bustling port of Chicago, 100 miles to the south. Then, in 1868 the Milwaukee Iron Co. was established, and Bay View quickly turned into a thriving village of steel workers.
On May 5, 1886, this working class solidarity would result in tragedy when Wisconsin National Guardsmen fired on a crowd of striking workers, killing seven. Known as the Bay View Massacre, this event was the worst display of government backlash against organized workers in state history.
Bay View's early days as a village helped create a degree of self-sufficiency for residents of today. The main thoroughfares of Kinnickinnic Avenue, Howell and Oklahoma, among others, are dotted with shops and restaurants, and other entertainment venues -- in fact, over the past decade, the small, independent character of these main streets have attracted a number of young entrepreneurs to the neighborhood.
Today, Bay View is home to some of the best food and beverage establishments, parks, events, and people anywhere in Milwaukee. Enlightened Brewing Company is happy to call this neighborhood our home.