According to the Brewers Association, more than 7,000 breweries were pouring their creations in 2018. That's the most ever in the United States. The craft beer scene is alive and well, and there were more than few highlights (and a lowlight or two) in 2018.
My Favorite Beer Events of 2018
Each year, the list of quality beer events and festivals seems to increase. This year was no exception. I picked three that stood out, two of which were as much about the people I was surrounded with as the beer I was drinking.
– Wisconsin IPA Fest
The second annual fest at Third Space Brewing (1505 W. St. Paul Ave.) brought together brewers from all over Wisconsin. As a judge, I was able to taste some amazing IPAs (and, admittedly, a few not-so-great pours). The fest is extremely well run by the hosts, and it’s a great chance to talk to some of the best brewers in the state. Third Space’s Upward Spiral took home the trophy.
The chance to taste every variant of 2018 Bourbon County Stout (actually, every one except the standard Bourbon County) was too good to pass up. The street fest was crowded, but controlled, and the sunny November day was brisk, but not too cold. The beer was juuust right. For the record, the dark chocolate and orange flavor combination of Midnight Orange was my favorite.
– Unofficial 3rd Annual Beer Writers Bottle Share
For the third year in a row, I headed to Champps (1240 S. Moorland Rd.) for an important winter meeting with beer expert Tom “Grynder” Ciula, Journal Sentinel beer scribe Kathy Flanigan and Champps owner Tony Lewanovich (Milwaukee Magazine editor Chris Drosner also made it for the first time). We shared a few rare bottles — I hadn’t seen a Founders Bolt Cutter Barleywine in years — and discussed the state of the craft beer industry and important items like whether cellaring barrel-aged beers is really necessary. I could spend more than a few hours with that crew sipping a beer or two and I’m thrilled that we’ve made it a yearly occurrence.
Welcome Back Old Friend
After a three-year sabbatical, Central Waters Peruvian Morning returned. The barrel-aged coffee stout is as good as I remember it.
Best National Recognition for a Local Brewery
Third Space Brewing made a trip to Denver for Great American Beer Festival in September worthwhile. The brewery took home silver in the Rye Beer category with Unite the Clans and claimed a bronze medal for Unbridled Enthusiasm in the highly competitive Imperial India Pale Ale category.
Biggest Local Brewery News
Milwaukee Brewing Company and Raised Grain Brewing both locked down snazzy new spaces in 2018, and the Fermentorium announced plans for a spot on North Avenue. But the news in May that Good City Brewing was expanding into a space adjacent to Fiserv Forum (the arena wasn’t even named at the time) was a biggie. Not only does the new spot give Good City a high-profile and high-traffic space, but it also allows them to develop their sour program.
A Fond Farewell
After four years of pouring beers in Bay View, D14 Brewery & Pub was shuttered. Owner Matt McCulloch was a strong advocate for the Milwaukee brewing community, but the changing demographics of the neighborhood, restrictive brewery laws and a few other factors forced him to close.
Trending Beer Styles of 2018
The popularity of hazy IPAs certainly didn’t diminish. According to the Brewers Association, the Juicy or Hazy IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival drew the most entries with 391. The style was also decidedly more prevalent among entries at the Wisconsin IPA Fest.
Brut IPAs also gained popularity in 2018, and a few local brewers (Gathering Place and Vennture to name two) successfully tried their hand at the dry style. Full disclosure, I’m not entirely sold on brut IPAs or their longevity. We’ll see what 2019 brings.
Bad Beer Trend of 2018
Last week, Deschutes Brewery announced that it was laying off a sizable portion of its employees (reports ranged from 7 to 10 percent) and provided another example of a large craft brewer needing to scale back. Similar news came from standout breweries like Lagunitas and New Belgium in 2018. The rapid addition of new breweries around the U.S. is a good thing, but when beer fans prefer local or regional brewers, the bigger breweries that played a huge role in starting this whole craft beer thing suffer and have to find a way to react.