Two guys sit on the back porch drinking beer, chatting about their brews and brainstorming ways the beverage could be better.
This quintessential Milwaukee scene has led to more than one homebrew recipe. But when the two guys are Justin Aprahamian and John Lavelle, headier things can and do result.
Aprahamian, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Sanford Restaurant, and Lavelle are the like minds behind Like Minds Brewing.
Milwaukee’s newest brewpub opened its doors at 823 E. Hamilton St. Oct. 4, after a yearlong effort almost derailed by the Department of Revenue and a somewhat arcane state law that prevents restaurant and tavern owners from obtaining brewing permits.
In 2015, DR officials invited Aprahamian and Lavelle to brew elsewhere, specifically Chicago. The pair responded, establishing a 30-barrel brewing system last November in an 8,000-square-foot former Goose Island Beer Co. storage facility on Chicago’s near northwest side.
Earlier this year, the brewing upstarts found a way to work around local restrictions and have established a corresponding seven-barrel system and kitchen operation in the 5,000-square-foot space formerly home to Hamilton, a cocktail lounge.
The Chicago brewery will remain, eventually focusing its efforts on different types of sour beers, Aprahamian says. For now, the pair’s 30-barrel flagship brewery is providing beer for the Milwaukee location as the new brewery and restaurant get underway, with Lavelle tending the brew kettle.
Why in the world would an award-winning chef for one of Milwaukee’s most upscale restaurants enter the highly competitive world of craft brewing?
“That’s a very good question,” says Aprahamian, 32, with a laugh. “I’ve always been interested in beer and find it more accessible than wine, but maybe that’s a generational thing.”
Aprahamian met Lavelle, a beer enthusiast with an IT background and a head for science and math, at a series of Milwaukee-area beer dinners. Conversations, including some on the proverbial back porch, began to focus on taking a culinary approach to brewing and working with layers of flavors.
Before they knew it, Aprahamian and Lavelle left the back porch and joined the brewing industry.
“In beer, as in food, balance is really important to us,” Aprahamian says. “We wanted to build complexities into our beers and match yeast and hop strains for maximum impact.”
One of the pair’s earliest efforts, dubbed Archimedes after the ancient Greek mathematician, does just that, Aprahamian says.
The India pale ale was brewed with 100 percent Brettanomyces, a wild yeast found on fruit skins. It’s got a character often described as “funky,” and it pops up in a lot of Belgian beers.
In the case of Archimedes, the Brett, as its known, did an exceptional job extracting the tropical strains from the hops and maximizing the beer’s layers of flavors.
“We’re really pumped about the results,” the chef-turned-brewer adds. “We always think there’s room for improvement, just like we do in the kitchen. If that philosophy works for food, there’s no reason it won’t work for beer.”
Archimedes, with 6.5 percent alcohol by volume, is one of nine beers on tap at Like Minds’ Milwaukee location. Other offerings include Exiled (6 percent ABV), a dry Saison brewed with Rishi Tea and lemon peel; Flora (7.3 percent ABV), a 100 percent Brett sour brown ale aged in red wine barrels; and Horehound (9 percent ABV), a double IPA brewed with Mandarina Bavaria, Hüll Melon, Ekvanat and Mosaic hops.
“Our brewing philosophy is that we want to make great representations of beer styles that build layers and use complementary flavors,” Aprahamian says.
Like Minds’ kitchen is taking the same approach to what Aprahamian describes as “dressed-up bar food.” The kitchen is being run by former Hinterland sous chef Paul Funk and former Sanford line cook Jimmy Cababa.
The menu includes achiote grilled sirloin with grilled market beans and tomatillos, feta cheese, pipian salsa verde, sesame seeds and toasted pepitas ($20); Philippine rice noodles dressed with grilled squid, glazed carrots and radishes, and fish sauce ($12); and hop leaf tabouleh, prepared with bulgar wheat, tomato salad, apricots and, of course, hop leaves ($11). Like Minds also offers its version of the “Butterburger,” made from ground chuck and shortribs, topped with smoked foie gras butter, pickled grilled red onion and fresh watercress and served on a Miller Bakery Pretzel Roll ($12).
Thus far, there has been no word from Culver’s on this last menu item, but Aprahamian has heard from one would-be competitor. Lawyers for Francis Ford Coppola Wines have issued a cease-and-desist order for Like Minds’ Archimedes IPA. The demand was made to avoid confusion with Coppola’s own brand called Archimedes, a Bordeaux-style wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes that the filmmaker-turned-winemaker named after his Uncle Archimedes.
“But they were very nice about it and said we could exhaust our current stock without having to pull it from the shelves,” Aprahamian says. “I asked it they would be willing to send us some of their old wine barrels so that we could age our sour beers in them and I think they are considering it.
“I’m so exited,” he added enthusiastically. “I feel like we’ve already been noticed!”
Like Minds is at 823 E. Hamilton St., Milwaukee. The kitchen is open Tuesday–Saturday, 4–10 p.m. The bar is open the same days 4 p.m.–midnight. Telephone: 414-239-8587.