By: Matt Kenevan
With a quick search on the worldwide web, I saw Wisconsin is home to around 147 breweries. That’s not an exact number; so don’t go bonkers on me if I’m off by a couple. Think about this, though: that’s an average of at least two breweries per county. So, what’s all the buzz about?
In my time, I have traveled throughout the country and visited many micro- and craft breweries. Some make lagers, many make ales, almost all make IPAs now, while some specialize in porters or stouts. Some have barrel-aging programs, while others make sours. Sour beer. I realize that might sound like a mistake, but when intentionally done, and done well, it is one of my favorite beer styles. Some breweries have a lot of financial backing and have state-of-the-art equipment; while some need to sell every ounce of beer they can just to keep the doors open and the water running. I’ve been to breweries that have slides or tree houses like playgrounds for grown-ups. Some have taprooms and patios. At some breweries you drink beer that was just put into the kegs that very same day. I’ve been to a sixth generation brewery founded in 1860 that is still family owned and operated today. I’ve been to dozens of young breweries that have just opened this year making very small batches. I’ve been to breweries growing ingredients and producing beer on farms. Some breweries are non-profits donating all proceeds to causes such as hunger and homelessness, wildlife conservation, injured firefighters, military veterans and more.
The point is that breweries today are like snowflakes and there are no two alike. After Prohibition ended, America’s breweries were making the same general style of beer—pale lagers—and differentiated themselves by geographical location, as well as marketing and brand management. Now, in the midst of the craft beer movement, micro- and craft breweries are offering a rich diversity of styles that push the boundaries of what beer can be. If you don’t like one, then you try another until you find what suits you best. Many of Wisconsin’s breweries celebrate localism, making small batches for friends, family, and new faces from their communities as a labor of love. They are fixtures in their communities and reflect their values.
I get asked if and when there will be too many breweries. The answer is there will always be room for those making great beer with great passion. Those who don’t have great passion and don’t make great beer will likely sell their equipment to someone else who wants to see if they have what it takes to make a livelihood in brewing.
Every community deserves at least one local brewery to call its own. Beyond the obvious benefit of making craft beer, breweries help boost local economies by creating new jobs and supporting sub-industries. Whether you are a farmer growing barley and hops, a trucker hauling kegs, a printer making labels, a store selling beer, a marketing company selling advertising, a committee putting on a festival fundraiser, or just someone who wants to support local business, that glass of local beer is much more than just a refreshing beverage—it’s life.