It's a beer extravaganza

SIR JAMES PUB owners Jason Rabus and Lindzy Wilborn pride themselves on their knowledge of beer and spirits and are always on the lookout for new products to offer customers. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Yes, customers can pick from an ensemble of more than 1,000 different beers at Sir James Pub in downtown Port Washington.

But owners Jason Rabus and Lindzy Wilborn take pride in more than just a massive menu of beverages. They have become unofficial beer educators, sharing their expertise with customers and helping them find what best suits their taste buds to alleviate their thirst.

“I really love challenging people,” Rabus said.

People will enter the bar who say they only like a certain beverage, and Rabus goes to work on broadening their beer horizon.

“To see that awakening in them” is one of his favorite parts of the job.

Others come in and claim they don’t drink beer. Rabus can convert them too.

“Beer’s not what you think it is,” he said.

Wilborn was one he had to win over.

“I was a martini girl when he met me,” she said. “He got me to drink beer.”

Rabus said he gave Wilborn a peach wheat beer. She loved it.

Then he had to get her unstuck from one beer. She has come to enjoy Belgians and bocks.

After 11 years helping to run the bar, Wilborn can hold deep discussions on types of beer. One of her favorite tactics is to give customers whatever she is drinking on a given day. She tells them to try it “and then they’re drinking it.”

Wilborn and Rabus have helped turn Sir James into more than just a beer destination. It has become the place for workers in the service industry to be after bars and restaurants close.

Wilborn gets wind of all the drama going on in that arena, as well as the good things happening in and around downtown. She also works at The Steerage Dining Saloon in Port and is involved in the local theater scene as well as Main Street, the nonprofit organization promoting the downtown.

Wilborn shares other hotspots with her customers. She knows where to send people for dancing or for specialty shots.

“We’re very much a concierge service to our tourists,” she said. “Every bar in this town has its own niche.”

Patrons are encouraged to check out the rest of the picturesque city on sthe shore of Lake Michigan.

“We really push Port as a destination,” Rabus said.

“Once Sir James lands a customer, it is often a long-term relationship. A contingent from Kansas City that travels to Port to go charter fishing discovered the bar and keeps coming back. Wilborn keeps a running bar dice tally for the group.

Others come from much closer just for certain beers. One customer drives 80 miles one way to buy a few 22-ouncers for $35 each.

Rabus and Wilborn get away from it all at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver designed for those in the industry.

“That’s our one vacation a year. To drink beer in another city,” Wilborn said.

At Sir James, they deal with 26 distributors from Chicago, Madison, La Crosse and Twin Cities’ breweries.

Wilborn posts a message on Facebook each Thursday reporting new additions. Sir James has a stock of 100 to 150 regular beers and it has 18 tap lines. Guinness is a permanent fixture and a pistachio cream ale by Indeed Brewing Co. of Milwaukee is often flowing.

For bottled beer, Wilborn and Rabus have learned a trick to maintaining the liquid’s integrity. UV light causes beer to go skunky. The dark color of the bottles helps repel the light but it’s not foolproof. That’s why some beers in stores don’t taste like they should and why cans are popular, Rabus said.

Sir James kept beer fresh by not having lights in its coolers. Now, LED lights that don’t affect the beer illuminate new coolers behind the bar.

Their selection helped the bar survive the pandemic. Sir James ramped up its takeout business. Rabus drove to Milwaukee multiple times to pick up small kegs called growlers for his bar and  Inventors Brew Pub.

Rabus kept two employees on 3 to 10 p.m. shifts.

“We were able to pivot really quickly,” Wilborn said. “We had kegs of stuff you couldn’t get.”

One of their distributors has local ties. Port native Kyle Gregorash is a co-founder and head brewer at Young Blood Beer Co. in Madison. It releases a few new beers per week and names them after unique phrases.

“The beer names are hilarious,” Rabus said. “We may have sent them a few.”

Beers have titles such as “Sir this is a Wendy’s,” “Crop tops for the homies,” “Shut up pasta boy,” “Monster truck brunch,” “Island divorce attorney” and “She’s Fox Valley rich.”

Sir James coincidentally last year was offering one of Young Blood’s beers, “Plastic Pink Flamingos,” when the real birds were spotted on south beach, the first sighting in Wisconsin.

Given their expertise, Rabus and Wilborn have tried their hand at brewing their own beer but deemed it too time consuming. Rabus was constantly sanitizing equipment.

“We’re better at drinking and explaining the beer,” Wilborn said.

The two do enough glass washing at the bar and are meticulous about it. They don’t have a dishwasher; it’s all done by hand.

Sir James also offers more than 500 hard spirits that change by season. Beers have seasons too. Rabus said on the “wheel of beer” the maibocks, double bocks and Irish ales are getting popular after the holiday beers have cleared out.

“It’s not that we’re replacing a stout with a stout. It’s an entire cooler of stout,” Wilborn said.

She has helped organize Flannel Fest in Port on Saturday, March 2. Seventeen downtown businesses will be offering samples from selected breweries, including two giving nonalcoholic beverages. A trivia walk is included in which participants use their phones to answer questions in each bar.

Sir James is featuring 903 Brewers from Sherman, Texas. Some of the company’s beer names include cotton candy slushy, caramel donut and peanut butter chocolate rice crispy treat cream ale.

The beverages still taste like beer, Wilborn said, but the first taste is a burst of the name’s flavor.

“People really like the flavored beers,” Rabus said.

From March 1 to 9, Sir James is holding Port Beer Week that offers a bingo card with 12 spots. For the month, Sir James calls itself Sir Jameson Pub. Besides beers, the bar carries more than 250 whiskeys, the most in Ozaukee County.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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