“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert famously poked fun of Milwaukee last year on his CBS late-night show, ridiculing the city from his perch in the Ed Sullivan Theater after it lost the Democratic National Convention in the wake of the global pandemic.
When his jokes didn’t land so well in the Brew City, spurring a round of outrage from Milwaukeeans and Wisconsin media, Colbert apologized on air, blaming his offending jokes on one of his writers, a Wisconsin native named Gabe Gronli.
After his apology, the Milwaukee Brewers extended an olive branch: Get on a plane to Milwaukee to take in a Brewers tailgating experience, and see for yourself.
Fast-forward to this August, and Colbert was handing out bottles of Molson Coors-brewed Stephen Cold-Beer, An Apology Amber, to fans outside Milwaukee’s stadium prior to a Brewers game as part of his “Milwaukee apology tour,” which aired Friday night on “The Late Show.”
Just hours before, the TV star and his New York-based crew paid a visit to the Molson Coors brewery in Milwaukee, “collaborating” with brewmaster Troy Rysewyk, a 26-year company veteran who’s now a senior process innovation specialist on Molson Coors’ research and development team, to “brew” a beer that would help Milwaukeeans move on from their anger.
“My goal is to make a beer good enough for the people of Milwaukee to forgive me -- to create a beer that erases regrets instead of causing them,” Colbert says in the segment.
While Colbert and Rysewyk appeared to brew the Apology Amber together in Milwaukee’s pilot brewery, the segment was very much made-for-TV, Rysewyk says.
“He basically dumped some hops into an empty kettle,” Rysewyk says with a chuckle. “But between shots, Stephen seemed genuinely interested in brewing. We talked about hops, what goes into the process and how to taste a good beer.”
Colbert, he says, “is very much like you see him on his show. He’s always on, always in go-mode, so you have to be on your toes. You’re always worried that there’s a joke coming that you’ll be the butt of, but overall, it was a great experience and he’s a fun guy.”
The two spent about two hours in the cellar room shooting video for the segment and sampling the amber beer, which Rysewyk and team brewed a few weeks before on a small, 10-barrel system in the pilot brewery, which brewers use to test and develop recipes and ingredients for new beverages, many of which find their way to market.
“Anything you see that’s new in the market, whether that’s Leinenkugel’s new beers, Vizzy or Topo Chico, all of that comes through the pilot brewery,” Rysewyk says.
Following the shoot, Rysewyk and a handful of Molson Coors brewers attended Colbert’s tailgate, where the comedian played cornhole, sampled local delicacies and yukked it up with the crowd.
While his Milwaukee visit didn’t appear to assuage Brewers fans – Colbert was booed relentlessly by the crowd inside the stadium – he won a new fan in Rysewyk, a die-hard Brewers fan and native Wisconsinite.
“Having him here to show people around the country what a great town this is, I think it’s great,” he says. “Just to play a small part in it – to be an ambassador for Milwaukee and showcase beer’s rich heritage within this culture, was a fun experience.”