6 Bright Spots For Local Craft Beer In 2020

Let’s remember the positive moments as we raise a glass to 2021 and the eventual return to busy breweries, bars and taprooms.

1. New Breweries Opened

It clearly wasn’t an easy year to start a business, but more than a few new breweries made the leap. Burlington added a pair with the opening of The Runaway Micropub (1039 E. Chestnut St.) and Low Daily (700 N. Pine St.). Wizard Works Brewing Company (231 E. Buffalo St.) took over the Third Ward space once occupied by Broken Bat Brewing. Faklandia Brewing (3807 S. Packard Ave.) found a home on the south side and Supermoon (3145 S. Howell Ave.) released its first beers, a pair of wild ales, in November. Give these new arrivals a try.

2. Established Breweries Expanded

The new Explorium Brewpub is located in the Third Ward’s historic Pritzlaff Building. Photo courtesy The Explorium Brewpub

The pandemic didn’t stop the expansion of a few existing breweries. Explorium Brewpub opened the doors of its swanky Third Ward location (143 W. St. Paul Ave.). Broken Bat Brewing (135 E. Pittsburgh Ave.) expanded into a space large enough to include an indoor Wiffle Ball field. Eagle Park Brewing (S64 W15640 Commerce Center Pkwy., Muskego) added a massive 20,000-square-foot facility in the ‘burbs. It’ll be exciting to see these new spots filled to capacity when the pandemic is a thing of the past.

 

 

3. There Was Plenty of Time for Innovation and Experimentation

In 2020, breweries had the time to experiment, and that benefits all beer drinkers. Sahale Ale Works brought back its FoBAB award-winning TEOTWAWKI Brown Ale and Good City Brewing launched its small batch Indigo Series. Gathering Place Brewing formulated plans and obtained the equipment needed for a pilot brewery operation in Bay View. Third Space Brewing added to its already impressive barrel-aged portfolio with Deconstructed Dessert: Mocha Pie, a series of six barrel-aged stouts. These are a small sample of what was happening locally, and expect the innovation to continue well past 2020.

4. The Dawn of Curbside Pickups, Presales and Drive Throughs

When the pandemic forced shutdowns it decimated on-premise beer sales. Total stats from 2020 aren’t in yet, but according to the Brewers Association the third quarter saw a roughly 25% percent decrease (from 2019) in beer sales in taprooms, bars and the like. While that may not sound dire, the third quarter was actually an improvement over on-premise sales in the second quarter. In 2020, the craft beer drinking public still wanted its beer, but just couldn’t enjoy it in crowded taprooms. Breweries turned to presales and curbside pickups to fill their patrons’ needs. New Barons Brewing Cooperative went so far as to create the Beer Drive-Thru, where multiple breweries sold their brews to customers who didn’t even need to get out of their cars. One big positive to the presale and pickup model is that it makes limited beer releases decidedly less stressful—once you’ve secured your order online it eliminates the need to stand in a long line and wait to purchase a special brew. I’m guessing (and hoping) we see a few of these practices continue after the pandemic is over.

5. Breweries Got Creative When Connecting to Their Community

It’s hard to replace the connection that breweries build with patrons through bustling taprooms, brewery tours or live events. But outlets like Zoom, Facebook and Instagram helped by offering an online touchpoint. Third Space moved its weekly Brewmaster’s Toast online and offered some insights into the business with Sippin’ with Sales on Instagram Live. Several breweries hosted their regular trivia nights online. Arguably, no one embraced digital quite like MobCraft Beer. They hosted a weekly online happy hour, had frequent Zoom beer pairings, held both a Sour Fest and Stout Fest online, and even created a virtual flip cup tournament.

6. Local Breweries Gave Back

It’s not easy to be generous when the future of your business isn’t certain, but scores of locals showed their altruism during a tough time. A few breweries joined the cause of brewing All Together IPA, a collab created by Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company that benefitted hospitality professionals. Even more area breweries crafted their version of Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout, a Weathered Souls Brewing collaboration intended to raise awareness for the injustices that people of color face. City Lights Brewing released Essential Pilsner, which benefitted the Hunger Task Force, and MobCraft offered its help to the Believe in Beer Relief Fund, which supports craft breweries and brewers guilds, by brewing a barrel-aged fruited sour ale. Faklandia went so far as to offer free Thanksgiving dinners for those in need. These are just a few examples of the generosity Milwaukee brewers showed in 2020, and it’s inspiring to see.

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Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 20 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for a few years more.