City Lights Brewing should have been open by now.
But after a sneak peek at the brewery, 2210 W. Mount Vernon Ave., and a sample of the brewery's Brown Ale, the nearly yearlong wait appears worth it.
City Lights will open Feb. 1. The new brewery is aiming high — as high as the red brick tower anchoring the former Milwaukee Gas Light Company building designed by Alexander Eschweiler at the beginning of the 20th century.
"When I walked in three years ago, this is exactly how I envisioned it," said brewery president Robin Gohsman said looking at the nearly completed taproom.
Gohsman's son, Jimmy, serves as brewmaster. And David Ryder, former vice president of brewing, research, innovation and quality for MillerCoors, signed on as chief innovation officer.
It's taken this long to renovate the former Gas and Light building from its former life as a coal gasification station to production brewery and taproom. There were trenches to dig for the brewhouse — that's when they found the working rail line under the floor.
Inside, the building stretches the blend of modern and contemporary design. What looks like subway tiles are really the original brick work, which was hand-glazed by Tiffany in Chicago. The soaring ceilings, once painted black, have been shined to a natural wood color.
Reclaimed wood — practically a requisite for any new brewery — forms a patchwork on the walls of the taproom. From the bar, patrons can look at the 30-barrel brewhouse through a glass window and sliding glass barn doors that flank either side. Look closely: A crane from 1899 left in the building has been repurposed to hold the milled grain in place in the brewhouse.
Jimmy Gohsman took the old floor and fashioned it into five tongue-in-groove table tops, two drink rails for the bar and two 8-foot-long public tables for the taproom. An old ladder will hold merchandise in the corner where tours begin.
"We found the original architectural drawings of the windows and had them recreated to Eschweiler's specifications," Robin Gohsman said.
It's an old building, but not an old mindset. Under the bar are stations for recharging electronics.
A modern addition is a vintage time clock on the wall. Patrons will be allowed to punch in and out and each month; prizes will be given to those who spent the most time at the brewery.
The plan is to offer food via a fully operational commercial kitchen fashioned out of a 1974 Airstream Land Yacht they have named the Riverstream Cafe at City Lights. Expect food pairings and pub food when the cafe and patio open in April, if weather permits.
But the beer is the centerpiece. The first four in the lineup are the Brown Ale; Amber Ale; a session IPA of 4.5% ABV; and a stronger IPA, with an ABV of 7.2%. No fancy names for the beers, said Ryder. In addition to Gohsman, brewers include Paul Johnston and Ryan Burac. They expect to brew 7,000 barrels during the business' first year.
The building next door, part of the complex and boasting the same tall ceilings, is saved for production and a canning line. Beer flows in pipes from fermenters in the brewhouse to bright tanks in the production building. The cooler is 46 feet long and 20 feet wide. Robin Gohsman said they have a goal of 50 full-time employees in the production area.
Other goals include bringing "completely different historic beer styles to life," added Ryder, who has secured recipes from long ago that he wants to try out. Tours will include the history of beer styles being produced.
"We want people to be excited about what beer can be," he said.