How Milwaukee’s Breweries Are Using Beer to Give Back

Brewing a one-off beer specifically to raise money for a worthy cause has become commonplace in the craft beer industry.

In early May, City Lights Brewing released Essential Pilsner, and announced that proceeds from sales of the beer would benefit the Hunger Task Force. With a second batch of the beer in the works, it appears that Essential is here to stay.

“We’re hoping this one sticks around for a while,” said City Lights brewmaster Jimmy Gohsman. “Selfishly, I hope it becomes a mainstay because I love a crisp pilsner and I think this one is solid. I’m a bit biased obviously, but it’s a great pilsner and it is selling well with great reviews, so we don’t want to stop making it, and I don’t want to stop drinking it.”

Initially, 100% of the proceeds have benefited Hunger Task Force. That level of charity, while admirable, is difficult to sustain if the beer becomes a regular that takes up valuable brewing space.

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“We foresee future batches benefiting the Hunger Task Force at some level, but not at 100% of proceeds,” added Gohsman. “It’s tough to have a beer like that in rotation, but doable. But when there is an opportunity to help the local community it’s hard to say no. We’ve donated some food to them before, and believe in their mission, so it made sense to us. Now more than ever people need help with food and it was one way for us to help out.”

Charity is ingrained in the brewing community as a whole, and in Milwaukee this seems especially true. Places like Gathering Place Brewing and Third Space have regular taproom fundraising nights and Good City sponsors community service events.

Recently, plenty of locals have stepped up with a pair of charitable collaborations. Milwaukee-area breweries 1840 Brewing, Component Brewing, The Fermentorium and Third Space participated in brewing All Together IPA, a collab started by Other Half Brewing Company in Brooklyn that benefits hospitality professionals during the pandemic shutdown. Other Half shared the basic recipe and a label template, and breweries decided on their own take on the style.

Similarly, MobCraft Beer worked with the nonprofit Bottleshare to create a blended sour ale that benefits the Believe in Beer Relief Fund to support craft breweries.

In early June, Weathered Souls Brewing created a collaboration to raise awareness for the injustices that people of color face. According to the collaboration’s website, Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout is currently in the works at 1840 Brewing, Good City, Broken Bat, Component, The Fermentorium, Third Space and Tank 8. Many local taprooms have also donated a portion of their proceeds to social justice causes.

“I think the industry is so generous and community focused because the overwhelming majority of us are grateful to be doing what we’re doing,” explained Gohsman. “The majority of us chose the industry because we love it, and the culture and way of life are hard to compete with. A big part of that is the sense of community at the local brewery level not only with the employees but also the patrons. So, when that extended community needs help, and we are lucky enough to have a platform to be able to help, not only do we feel a sense of obligation to do so, but at the same time humbled that we have that opportunity. At least for us, it’s kind of our way of giving back to the community for supporting us and allowing us to continue to do what we love.”

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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.