City Lights Brewing prepares for 30% growth, in talks to buy its buildings

As City Lights Brewing Co. in the Menomonee Valley prepares for its third anniversary in February, it is also on pace for another successful year including the potential purchase of its two leased buildings, co-owner and brewmaster Jimmy Gohsman said.

The brewery is in the midst of negotiations to buy the two buildings at 2200 W. Mt Vernon Ave. from Zimmerman Architectural Studio Inc., which purchased the building from Mallory Properties for $7.4 million. City Lights also had a bid on the property.

“We’re very close with Zimmerman. They’re great neighbors. They own the whole property now. We’re in the process of buying our two buildings from them,” Gohsman said.

If City Lights is able to purchase the leased property, Gohsman said he hopes to utilize the whole space more fully through renovations that would include adding taproom seating and event space in the mezzanine. Renovations would be needed as the mezzanine is currently not ADA accessible.

City Lights president Robin Gohsman previously said in August that the brewery also hopes to put a tasting room on the upper level of the tower structure, which would be similar to the seventh-floor Gravity Bar that offers 360-degree views of Dublin in the Guinness Storehouse.

“It would be one of the most idyllic spots in not only the city, but I would say the entire country, to enjoy a beer in,” the president said at a Milwaukee Business Journal event in late August.

Currently, City Lights leases over 1,000 square feet of buildings in the Menomonee Valley. Its taproom and beer system are located on the 5,000-square-foot ground floor of the building adjacent to the river. Next door there is a 5,500-square-foot facility for packaging including City Lights’ only canning line. In the brewery’s taproom there is also another 2,500 square feet in the mezzanine, and outside the brewery is a beer garden that seats 200 people.

“2020 should be a pretty big year,” Jimmy Gohsman said. The brewmaster expects the business to grow by 30%.

Jimmy Gohsman, his brother Andy and his father Robin started their beer venture by contract brewing in Black River Falls under the name Four Brothers. That was in 2015. At the end of 2015, they signed the lease to their Menomonee Valley location and began brewing beer on their 30-barrel system in January 2017.

The West Mt. Vernon Avenue buildings were once home to a coal gasification plan that powered all the city lights in Milwaukee.

“Hence the name City Lights Brewing Company,” the brewmaster said.

In its first year, City Lights produced just shy of 2,000 barrels. In year two, it was about 3,200 barrels. Gohsman said that he expects about 4,500 barrels at the end of 2019 and 6,000 barrels next year.

City Lights is currently distributed in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Chicagoland area. After a three-month summertime gap in Minnesota distribution, the brewery began working with a new distributor, which Jimmy Gohsman said will help with growth in the Twin Cities market. In the Chicago area, which Jimmy Gohsman described as a chain-driven distribution state, City Lights will now be sold in Binny’s alcohol stores.

Margaret Naczek, Milwaukee Business Journal

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