What happens when you mix an engineering physicist father with a love of brewing beer? You get Inventors Brewpub. This quirky yet cozy brewpub can be found inside the American Legion Hall facing the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington. It features a dozen taps of craft-brewed Inventors beer (a beer ticker in the bar counts 281 barrels brewed since its inception), a delicious menu of eats, a friendly, inclusive atmosphere where you can bring the whole family from your newborn to your grandpa, and the unique theme of science- yep- science.
The bar room is perfect for grabbing a tasty beer after work or enjoying a meal with friends- the walls are decorated with hand-painted illustrations of the brewing process as well as the names of the proud members of the Inventors Mug Club. The bar boasts Inventors’ tap beer plus more than 80 different rotating bottles and cans of beer.
Cameron Huck, Inventors’ GM and onsite managing partner, says, “every time you come in, you’ll see a new beer.”
The menu includes your typical tasty bar fare, but specializes in poutine, a Canadian entrée made of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Inventors has three poutine options- the Wisconsin Brat, the traditional, and a weekly special.
Stepping into the attached American Legion Hall, you find a warm and cozy space for large meetings, couches for comfortable conversation, and a kid-friendly space filled with board games, brain games, fun displays of inventions and décor created by Inventors’ founder himself.
Inventors typically uses this space for a variety of fun events, including trivia nights, Port’s Winter Market, Inventors Skillz (a monthly, free STEAM program for kids), New Year’s Eve family-friendly pajama party, and special beer dinners. The huge projector screen makes for the perfect place to gather for viewing sporting events, with Inventors sponsoring fun giveaways during the games.
While some of these events are currently on hold due to COVID-19, you can still tour the brewery every Friday after 5 pm. “Just ask,” says Huck.
There is also a Masquerade Beer Dinner coming up February 13th. This dinner is limited to just 26 people and is a socially distanced event featuring four courses and four beers. Huck explains, “what’s cool about our beer dinners is each course is created by a different staff member.” (At time of publication, there are still a few spots remaining.)
Huck has been with Inventors for two and a half years, and has been the onsite managing partner since Inventors’ founder moved out of state a year and a half ago.
Huck has a rich background in the food service and microbrewing industries; in addition to time working for the Lowlands Group at Café Benelux and Café Hollander, he worked on the restaurant side of the Milwaukee Brewing Company for 12 years and helped open the Milwaukee Ale House in Grafton.
The Creation of Inventors
Inventors was founded by Wisconsin native Adam Draeger. He and his wife, Erin, are both UW-Platteville graduates with engineering physicist degrees. Adam started experimenting with home brewing in college, and his hobby turned into a passion.
When work took the new grads to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he joined the local home brewing club. When the couple moved to Pella, Iowa, where Adam was an engineer for Pella Windows, he co-founded a home brewing club, in addition to driving to Des Moines, Iowa where he served as treasurer for another a home brewing club. In the Des Moines club, many members wanted to take the leap to become professional brewers, years later about a half a dozen of Adam’s contemporaries did or started their own breweries.
In 2010, the recession pushed his company into offering severance packages for those who wanted to retire early or leave the company. Adam jokingly asked his wife if she wanted to take the opportunity and move to Colorado. He was shocked when she agreed.
Adam began earning his World Brewing Academy diploma, studying brewing in Chicago and Germany in early 2011. At the same time, his wife found a full-time engineering job working for Raytheon, a government agency in Colorado. Adam was studying for six weeks in Germany when his wife and daughters packed up and moved out west.
“When I got back [from Germany] I called her and was like, ‘So where do I live?’ I’m so glad she told me the truth!” Adam kids.
In Colorado, Adam served as head brewer for Yak and Yeti, the only Nepalese brewpub in the US, and for Colorado Plus Brewpub, earning 17 medals for brewing and working more than 100 beer fests. He felt ready to venture out on his own.
He and his wife had been toying with the idea of moving back to Wisconsin, and his wife wanted to live on the water, so they researched places along Lake Michigan shorelines.
“We fell in love with Port Washington in the first 60 seconds we were there,” says Adam, adding, “in December!”
He found a space in Port Washington that was perfect for a brewpub. He poured his life savings into renovating it- and then, devastatingly, it fell through.
Adam, heartbroken, was preparing to go back to work as an engineer when he received a call from then-Mayor of Port Washington, Tom Mlada, and the city planner, telling him they wanted him to stay. The city planner introduced him to several members of the American Legion in Port Washington. A deal was made, and two weeks after he received the keys to the building, Inventors Brewpub opened for business on Fish Day, 2017.
“I knew I wanted to have a mechanical electrical theme,” Adam says of Inventors.
As a mixed media artist, he created the light fixtures, an Inventors picture made of barley and hops, and several other creative and fun pieces around the brewpub.
Adam managed the business in person until his wife’s job, which had allowed her to telecommute from Colorado, offered her a promotion in 2019 that required her to be onsite. He now communicates regularly with Huck from a distance, since COVID-19 has made traveling to Port Washington difficult.
Fighting Through the Pandemic
Inventors has enjoyed many successful years with its comfortable, inclusive atmosphere. You can come for the beer and stay (with the kids) for its family-friendliness. Adam has three young daughters of his own and explains,
“I knew that Port Washington needed a place for kids to run around and have fun. This is a place you can bring your kids, have fun, but also, there’s beer available.”
Inventors is committed to giving back to the community- it makes donations to the Port Washington Robotics team, it “adopted” Impact Dance during the Safer at Home time last year, and it hosts an annual ornament fundraiser, selling ornaments handmade by Adam, with proceeds going to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.
Keeping the business strong through a pandemic has been a challenge, of course, as it has for all brewpubs. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and COVID-19 has brought new offerings and services to the forefront.
“It pushed us to partner up with Door Dash and create an online store on our website,” says Huck. He explains that it isn’t yet legal to deliver beer in Wisconsin, but beer can be ordered by the howler (32 ounces) or growler (64 ounces) and picked up to-go.
“Some days, most of our sales come from online,” says Huck. “It attracts new people.”
Inventors recently introduced the Lunch Punch card, where faithful customers can earn rewards for frequent dining.
The pandemic has also been a guiding factor in building up Inventors’ outdoor beer garden, with two fire pits and heaters with a lake view. While the tents they attempted to offer guests were no match for Lake Michigan gales, Huck promises, “we’re trying to make improvements every season.”
Inventors is open Mondays and Tuesdays from 4 pm to 9 pm and Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 am to 9 pm. Orders can be delivered through Door Dash or picked up by ordering online at inventorsbrewpub.com.
Inventors is located at 435 Lake Street in Port Washington.
The Inventors logo embodies many of Adam’s interests: The light stands for electrical engineering; the sprocket is for mechanical engineering. The barley stands for both life sciences and brewing, and the stack of metal plates with the word ‘Inventors' represents electro magnetism. It is all displayed in what Adam calls “Homer Simpson nuclear physics green” for chemistry and nuclear physics.