St. Francis Brewing has seen some changes since Matt Hofmann took over as brewmaster in early 2017. One of the biggest is a steady flow of barrel-aged beers.
You’d think that Matt Hofmann’s job would be really easy.
The brewer arrived at St. Francis Brewery (3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in May 2017 with an impressive resume at a brewery that had established itself on the south side since opening in 2009. Adding to that was the fact that Milwaukee was in the midst of a craft brewery boom. But all of those seemingly positive aspects have also become challenges Hofmann has to overcome.
For one, it’s not easy experimenting with an established lineup of six year-round brews that includes standard styles like Wrath Amber Ale and Envy IPA.
“I definitely had a challenge,” said Hofmann. “My goal right off the bat was to make my mark on this place, and I actually pulled back on that to slow the transition. We have 14 taps, and six year-rounds, which we maintain. The other eight taps I can essentially do what I want with. But I have to keep in consideration that a lot of our clients like the more traditional, straight-forward beers.”
Hofmann has managed a few creative takes on traditional brews and currently St. Francis is pouring more unique options like a Lemon Basil Berliner Weiss and Chocolate Saison with Lavender.
Another really good way to make a mark, and attract attention from local beer aficionados, is limited bottle releases. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, the brewery is releasing Belgian Sunset, an amber ale with sweet cherries aged in merlot barrels. It’s the second in a series of three barrel-aged Belgians. The third beer in the series is Belgian Eclipse, a barrel-aged Belgian stout slated for release in October.
The first limited release by St. Francis under Hofmann’s watch was Snuggle Bunny Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout. The January release was a big success, and all 200 bottles of the beer sold out in 30 minutes.
Hoffman has experience with well-crafted limited brews. While at 3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan he helped develop Midnight Bourbon Barrel-Aged Black Wheat Ale and Veneration, a delicious barrel-aged Belgian quad that debuted in 2016. Hofmann’s background also includes stints at Avery Brewing and Lakefront Brewing.
An explosion in local breweries over the past few years has given beer drinkers plenty of choices. An existing brewery like St. Francis is at the risk of being forgotten among the newcomers. Limited beer releases are one good way to combat that.
“I love doing barrel-aged and wood-aged stuff, they’re fun to play around with,” added Hoffman. “St. Francis isn’t on the radar of a lot of metro Milwaukee beer drinkers. It’s hard to change that with all of that competition. People like shiny things, and that’s OK. We still sell beer and haven’t dropped off any.”
Belgian Sunset Aged in Merlot Barrels
St. Francis Brewery (3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
Saturday, Aug. 18, 11 a.m.
$10 each (limit two)