How the Brewing Community Is Reacting to Coronavirus Fears

We’re in uncharted territory when it comes to how to respond to the coronavirus. Breweries and bars are public gathering spaces, and therefore on the forefront of prevention.

Our everyday lives have been upended by fears of coronavirus and the measures taken to stop its spread. Schools have closed, travel has been suspended and even the NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled. Venturing out in public isn’t the same, and this has proven true for local breweries and beer-related establishments.

The first stunning news from the beer community came from a press release sent on Thursday (March 12) when Lakefront Brewery announced that it was closed to the public until further notice — no tours, no Beer Hall, no fish fry, nothing for the public. (Beer production will continue as usual.)

A day later, Good City Brewing announced it was temporarily closing its Downtown taproom adjacent to Fiserv Forum. Its owners cited the suspension of the NBA season and other events that brings thousands of potential customers within feet of their front door. On the same day, Third Space Brewing posted on Facebook that it is suspending brewery tours and currently not filling growlers, but keeping the taproom open.

Closing or limiting access to a popular gathering place is a tough decision but should be applauded when the goal is to benefit the community.

“It was difficult since we will be having some big days and nights in the next few days,” said Russ Klisch, president of Lakefront Brewery. “We will be taking it in the shorts financially, but our employees would be taking it harder if they got sick and we didn’t make the decision. Since our place on some days brings in over a 1,000 people I felt it was the proper thing to do. We only have one chance to stop (the spread of coronavirus) and get out ahead of it.”

Commitment to Cleanliness

Many breweries and bars sent notes on social media and press releases explaining that they’re remaining open, and outlining the cleanliness measures that they already take. For example, Robin Gohsman at City Lights Brewing mentioned that since opening, his brewery has common areas professionally cleaned and sanitized daily. He also mentioned that he’s told employees to stay home if they don’t feel well and asks that his guests do the same.

Others are operating similarly.

“We won’t make any significant changes at the moment other than adding additional cleaning procedures, which entail hitting ‘danger zones’ like door handles and sink handles with a sanitizer spray on a regular basis,” said Matthew Hofmann, owner of Sahale Ale Works. “We will make changes as things progress and as needed if it comes to that.”

Added Casey Rataczak, owner of the beercentric Camino bar in Walker’s Point: “We have some hardline rules for staff that aren’t anything new: If you’re sick stay at home, wash your hands often, sanitize surfaces after customer use, be healthy by eating well and getting enough sleep. I told my staff that we’ll get through this, but we have to be careful and clean.”

Tough on Hourly Employees

When people stay at home and don’t frequent the bars, breweries and restaurants they usually spend time in, hourly service industry employees take the brunt.

Added Klisch: “I will be paying our service employees their normal wage until March 21 and then we will reevaluate. If no cases are reported in Milwaukee by then, we will look at reopening. If there are several cases in Milwaukee, the Beer Hall will stay closed. We have around 20 full-time and 80 part-time employees that will be affected.”

“This is not a decision we take lightly as it has ripple effects across our entire business, and most importantly our valued employees, customers, and vendors who have made our business what it is today,” said Dan Katt, co-owner of Good City, in a press release. “We are working to minimize the impact on our staff and the business overall, but this is unequivocally the biggest challenge we have ever faced.”


Customer Concerns and Responsibilities

A list of pandemic-related closings or altered business practices would be too large to show here, and would become quickly outdated as the situation is in flux. If you’re unsure about whether to have a beer or two at your favorite taproom or bar, check with them first with a phone call or social media. 

If you plan to head out of the house, be sure to practice your own personal measures (frequent hand washing, bringing hand sanitizer, etc.) to help with the cause. And, of course, if you’re feeling sick, stay home.

If you feel fine but prefer to practice some “social distancing,” a stop at the bottle shop could be in order – or perhaps it’s time to thin out your beer cellar.




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.