In mid-November, I took a trip to Goose Island Prop Day in Chicago, a normally packed street festival where lucky attendees purchase and sample the latest Bourbon County Brand stouts.
There were no crowds this year. No lines. No waiting. No in-depth conversations with beer nerds about what year’s batch of Bourbon County variants is the best. The event entailed driving up to Goose Island’s Fulton Street location, opening my trunk, waiting for the kind folks at Goose Island to put a box of barrel-aged stouts in my car, and heading on my merry way.
This is how rare beer releases work in a pandemic, and this is why Black Friday 2020 will be unique.
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Changes This Year
Lakefront Brewery got Milwaukee’s Black Friday beer scene started in 2011 when it released Black Friday IPA. Since then, Lakefront has drawn long lines that form in the wee hours of the morning the day after Thanksgiving. This year, there won’t be a line. The brewery has decided to distribute all 5,000 bottles of this year’s Black Friday Imperial Stout to local liquor stores.
“It wasn’t hard to make the decision,” said Lakefront founder Russ Klisch. “We will miss everyone, but it is the correct thing to do. I’m sure a lot of our customers, as much as they like the day, wouldn’t have liked coming down and our employees would not be looking forward to having to deal with the crowd. We’ll be back next year and looking forward to then. I do have some employees telling me that it will be nice not to wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to start preparing for the day this year. This will be the first Black Friday that I, and my employees, can sleep in, in a long time.”
The Stress-Free Nature of the Online Preorder
The pandemic has changed the game in 2020, but it hasn’t put a damper on Black Friday. There are limited beer releases happening all over the Milwaukee area. A few require taproom visits, but a majority allow for preorder and pickup.
I’m all for the camaraderie and the occasional bottle sharing that happens while waiting in line for a rare brew, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time standing in them. But I much prefer buying online and making a quick stop at a brewery to load up on my already purchased goods.
“We like the preorder method for barrel-aged releases because it creates a more efficient process and spreads out the visits from customers over a larger period of time,” explained Third Space Brewing co-founder Andy Gehl. “That’s obviously important during a pandemic but it also allows us to better serve each customer. We started shifting to this model even before COVID. The only real downside is the loss of the line party before sales open. While customers will miss that part of the line, those unsanctioned events have always created their own set of problems for the venues so I don’t think you’ll find many brewery managers upset with the change.”
Several locals are combining preorders with taproom availability, making sure that safety protocols are in place. This blend provides better access to rare Black Friday beers offered by a brewery.
“I think we’ll see a decent split. We have many patrons continuing to use contact-free curbside pickup, and with five releases on Black Friday, I’m anticipating an influx of pick-up orders on the 27th,” said Elise Strupp, event and programming manager at MobCraft Beer. “Offering preorders has been a great way to ensure people can still get the beers they want without feeling like they need to subject themselves to a line or busy taproom experience.”
There are plenty of outstanding beers to choose from on Black Friday (and a few on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). Choose your path wisely.
Wednesday, Nov. 25
7481 HWY 60, CEDARBURG AND 6933 W. NORTH AVE.
The Beer: Blackout Wednesday features cans of several variants of Sweater Weather Imperial Milk Stout, including S’Mores Sweater Weather, Car Bomb Sweater Weather and Ugly Sweater Weather made with vanilla, black tea, raisins, figs, black currants and spices.
Details: Preorder starts Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 8 a.m. Taproom opens and pickup begins at noon.
1505 WISCONSIN AVE., GRAFTON
The Beer: Drinksgiving means the release of Three The Hard Way Triple Milkshake IPA made with Galaxy, Sabro, Citra, Azazza and El Dorado hops.
Details: Preorder starts at noon but isn’t required. Pickup starts at 5 p.m.
5519 W. NORTH AVE.
The Beer: Vennture releases Night Crew Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and barrel-aged Second Helping Dark Saison made with cascara and orange bitters.
Details: Bottle sale happens outside starting at noon.
Friday, Nov. 27
342 E. WARD ST.
The Beer: Plumpy Black Fruited Sour with blackberry, black currant, black cherry and lactose joins New Skäl Imperial IPA. If you can’t make Black Friday, 1840 will also be offering growlers of an assortment of previously sold beers from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Details: Online presale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Pickup is scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. on Black Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
2970 N. BROOKFIELD RD.
The Beer: Night Out Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels and an extremely limited Impossible American Strong Ale aged in Old Fitzgerald barrels (that clocks in slightly higher than an already potent 20% ABV).
Details: Bottle sales run from noon to 5 p.m. Look for the blue tent on Pleasant Street for ordering pickup from your car.
135 E. PITTSBURGH AVE.
The Beer: Benny Tequila Barrel-Aged Mexican Lager and 762*, “The King” Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout.
Details: The beers are actually being released on Nov. 20 but they’ll be on tap on Black Friday. The taproom is open from noon to 10 p.m.
2018 S. 1ST ST.
The Beer: Promo Code Chocolate Coffee Stout and Purple Ribbon Fruited Kettle Sour made with acai, coconut and banana. A portion of the proceeds benefit a cancer charity.
Details: Preorder from Component’s website. Taproom is open noon to 9 p.m. on Black Friday.
823 E. HAMILTON ST. AND S64 W15640 COMMERCE CENTER PKWY., MUSKEGO
The Beer: Dragonfruit Orange Mango Slush Sour Ale, The Smores Cheesecake Incident Cream Ale, Koko Kleiber Imperial Stout made with maple syrup and coconut, and for members only a barrel aged version of Koko Kleiber. Note: Koko Kleiber is a collaboration with Horus Aged Ales, a small brewery based in Oceanside, California that does some pretty amazing work with stouts.
The Details: Sales start at 11 a.m. at both locations from outdoor tents. No drive-through will be available to keep the neighbors at both spots happy. Those waiting in line are required to maintain social distancing and wear masks.
5300 S. 76TH ST. AND 143 W. ST. PAUL AVE.
The Beer: Four barrel-aged variants of the awesomely named Milwaukee County Stout.
Details: If you want all four you’ll have to do some work. MCS Gold, aged in honey whiskey barrel and blended with Willett bourbon barrel-aged MCS, is available at the Greendale location. MCS Silver, aged in rye barrel that held maple syrup, is available at the Third Ward location. Reserve a table at either location on Black Friday between 6 and 11 a.m. for a chance to reserve bottles of MCS. Bottles not held for reservations can be purchased by ordering online at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, for drive-through pickup between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
But wait, there’s more. Two other variants, Maker’s Mark Barrel-Aged MCS and Buffalo Trace Barrel-Aged MCS, will be available at all four area Total Wine locations.
811 E. VIENNA AVE.
The Beer: Two light and two dark. The light side is represented by Lakeside Sunrise Imperial Golden Ale made with Wonderstate coffee and cajeta Mexican caramel, and Lakeside Sunset Imperial Golden Ale made with coffee and cajeta and aged on bourbon oak chips. The dark is Autumn Night Campfire Imperial Stout with juniper berries, orange peel and star anise or the Fireside Negroni Imperial Stout made the same way but aged on vermouth oak chips.
Details: Preorder starts Nov. 19. Taproom and pickup hours are from 2 to 8 p.m.
2108 N. FARWELL AVE.
The Beer: Three beers are on the menu. The latest Indigo Series beer is Giant Monitor Pastry Stout with peanut butter, toasted coconut and cocao nibs. The other two releases are Dual Nature Imperial Wheat aged in Cognac barrels and Silent Sun Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter with raspberries.
Details: Good Citizen loyalty members get access to preorder and pickup on Wednesday. To-go orders (online or in-person) are available out of Good City’s back garage.
2018 E. NORTH AVE.
The Beer: A big four-beer release includes Velvet Bulldozer Imperial Rye Stout made with lactose, vanilla, cacao and espresso, Art of Decay Barrel Fermented Sour , The Come Up Honey Double IPA (a collaboration with Good City Brewing) and True Hallucinations Double IPA.
Details: Preorder now. Pickup begins at noon.
530 S. 2ND ST.
The Beer: Milwaukee Honey Barleywine is made from locally-sourced honey and available in bombers.
Details: Preorder now. Pickup begins on Black Friday.
505 S. 5TH ST.
The Beer: Five to choose from including Kringle Monster Imperial Pastry Stout brewed with sea salt caramel pecan Kringle and Kringle All The Way, which is a blend of Kringle Monster and a barrel-aged stout. Three oak-aged sours include Existence Fig Belgian Style Sour Ale, Existence Grand Cru Belgian Style Sour Ale and Sour Golden Gale.
Details: Order online at noon. Taproom and pickup also begins at noon.
1725 DOLPHIN DR.
The Beer: The yearly release of cans of Santa’s Sack Christmas Ale as well a few Paradocs Red Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial IPAs bombers.
Details: A convenient beer drive-through runs from 10 a.m. to noon. Both beers will be on tap starting at 11:30 a.m.
7208 W. NORTH AVE.
The Beer: The big release of the day is a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cocktail Sour. A 3 for $30 deal includes a bottle of the sour, a Whiskey Barrel-Aged Honey Saison and Novemberfest Marzen.
Details: Preorder now. Taproom opens and pickup begins at noon.
1505 W. ST PAUL AVE.
The Beer: Black Friday is just the beginning of Third Space’s Deconstructed Dessert Series, which features six variants representing ingredients of mocha pie. The first beer in the series is Mocha Pie Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout-The Beer, which is available on Black Friday.
Third Space will also offer Double Barrel Nexus of the Universe Stout aged in brandy, bourbon and rum barrels; and they’ll have Bourbon Barrel Braggot.
Details: Preorder now. Taproom and pickup begins at noon.
1024 S. 5TH ST.
The Beer: Six cellared 2018 releases—Whisky Porter, Bourbon Brown, Whiskey Scotch Ale, Big Ring Bourbon Red, Chocolate Bourbon Espresso Amber and Imperial Chocolate Whiskey Stout. Urban Harvest is also releasing 2020 Two Step Belgian Dark Strong Ale in the taproom at 1 p.m.
Details: Urban Harvest is posting an ordering link on its website and Facebook page at 9 a.m. on Black Friday. Pick-up details will be provided after the order and hours of pickup are between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
231 E. BUFFALO ST.
The Beer: The Golden Butterfly Passionfruit Sour is available on tap and in crowlers.
Details: No presale. Taproom opens at noon.
7808 W. LAYTON AVE.
The Beer: A whopping 12 Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout varieties are hitting the tap lines. As if that wasn’t enough, they’re also offering eight different varieties of Bourbon County Stout on tap and in bottles.
Details: This is a biggie. Get there right at 11 a.m. when it starts.
5031 W. OKLAHOMA AVE. AN 919 N. BARSTOW AVE.
The Beer: One package that includes 2020 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and a few variants and one package that includes a combination of six Lakefront Brewery Black Friday variants from 2019 and 2020.
Details: Discount Liquor may not be a brewery, but its Bourbon County Stout event has become a staple on Black Friday. Discount is running a raffle for these rarities. Register by email until Monday, Nov. 23.