Sahale Ale Works

Let’s Reflect on the Best of Milwaukee’s Year in Craft Beer

This year proved to be another busy year for Milwaukee’s craft beer scene. There were plenty of highlights and amazing beers to mention, and here are a few that stood out for me. Here’s looking forward to a great 2020.

Best Events

Crafts & Drafts Spring Beer Fest

This year was my time attending Crafts & Drafts Spring Beer Fest. I had the opportunity to volunteer as a beer pourer at the spring beer fest (it’s actually more of a tasting) hosted by Discount Liquor at Serb Hall. What I discovered is that it’s an absolute gem. The list of pours included regional rarities like Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, Heady Topper Imperial IPA, an exclusive rum barrel-aged Central Waters Twenty One with cherries, and too many more to mention. The beauty was that it was extremely well run by the Discount crew and lines to taste these specialties were easily manageable. Crafts & Drafts benefits the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance, which makes it even better.

The Annual Bottle Share

For four years now, I’ve been a part of an annual winter bottle share at Champps Americana (1240 S. Moorland Rd.) with a small group that includes beer guru Tom “Grynder” Ciula, beer reporter Kathy Flanigan, Milwaukee Magazine editor Chris Drosner, and Champps owner Tony Lewanovich. Drosner and Lewanovich had to bow out this year, but the three of us who made it enjoyed a few rare beers and had a good conversation about craft beer in general. It’s a great group, and it’s a small event that I look forward to every year.

Best Day for the Locals

In October, three local breweries claimed medals at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Denver. MobCraft Beer took home a gold for Low pHunk Sour Ale, City Lights Brewing Hazy IPA grabbed a silver in a competitive category and Third Space Brewing Unite the Clans Scottish-Style Rye Ale earned a silver, the beer’s third medal in three years. It was an impressive haul for Milwaukee breweries.

MobCraft’s Henry Schwartz, second from left, with, foreground from left, Cary Jaworski, Paul Mott and Nick Cusatis of Third Space Brewing at the Great American Beer Festival. Photo courtesy of Henry Schwartz  

Best in Taprooms

Best New Addition to the Milwaukee Taproom Scene

Hacienda Beer Co. (2018 W. North Ave.) did it right when they opened their Milwaukee offshoot. The chic design combines ample woodwork, sleekly modern furniture, dark greenish-blue hues, exposed brick and large windows the peer out onto the bustling corner of Farwell and North Avenues. And, oh yeah, the beer list is pretty tasty too.

Hacienda North Avenue
Photo courtesy Hacienda Beer Co.

Best New Addition to the North Shore Taproom Scene

Matt Hofmann took his considerable brewing talents from (now shuttered) St. Francis Brewery to his own Sahale Ale Works (1505 Wisconsin Ave., Grafton) this summer. He brews a wide range of styles extremely well (the hazy IPAs here are very good, but also try a stout if there’s one on tap), which should keep the small taproom bustling with craft beer fans and locals looking for good beer.

Beers Worth Mentioning in 2019

I’ve decided that putting a “best of” beer list has become too difficult to try. So many great beers come out each year and it’s unfair for me to omit those I simply didn’t have the chance to try. So, here are a few notable brews I was lucky enough to try in 2019.


Revolution Brewing Café Deth Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout: I’m not sure that anyone in Chicago is barrel aging as consistently well as Revolution. The coffee flavor led the way, but a subtle hint of vanilla won me over. Exceptional balance has been the hallmark at Rev.

Half Acre Bodem IPA: The perfectly balanced IPA hints at the trend of juicy IPAs, while not forgetting the piney hop bite that made the style a favorite among craft beer drinkers.

Half Acre Vanilla Benthic Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout: This potent stout medaled at this year’s Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (FoBAB) in Chicago. The vanilla doesn’t overpower the decadent bourbon-barrel aged stout.

Locals (Sort Of)

City Lights Imperial Coconut Porter: The standard City Lights Coconut Porter is outstanding, and amping it up doesn’t hurt a bit. Big dark chocolate flavor, just the right amount of coconut, and a potent 10.5% ABV made it one of the best local beers I tried in 2019.

Lakefront Brewery Black Friday V Imperial Stout: The $100 per bottle price tag didn’t hamper buyers who scooped up the extremely limited stout on Black Friday. More than five years in a barrel resulted in a stout that was thick and intense, combining oak, vanilla and even hints of tobacco.

New Glarus Berliner Apfel: A delightfully refreshing brew that somehow manages to capture both the sweetness and tartness of green apples. New Glarus and fruit are a match made in beer heaven.

1840 Brewing Cashmere Sweater Hash Cash IPA: A double dry-hopped beer that, while juicy, doesn’t venture too cloyingly far into Juicetown. Just one of many great beers put out by 1840 last year.

Good City High Density Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout: A thick and rich stout aged for three months in port wine barrels and six months in bourbon barrels. It’s boozy and offers just a hint of dark fruit. Good City did extremely well with this outstanding brew.



Dan Murphy has been reviewing bars for Milwaukee Magazine for roughly 15 years. He’s been doing his own independent research in them for close to 25.