On May 24th, the East Town Association, the organization behind Jazz in the Park, Bastille Days and many more of our favorite Milwaukee affairs, put on “Craft Beer Connections.” The event was part of East Town Association’s networking series and was hosted by Milwaukee Brewing Company.
Attendees got to mingle and try unlimited half pours of Milwaukee Brewing Company’s tap beers before listening to a panel of Milwaukee craft beer experts. The panel consisted of Jim McCabe, founder and owner of Milwaukee Brewing Company and the Milwaukee Ale House; George Bluvas, Director of Brewery Operations for Water Street Brewery; Jeff Hamilton, President of Sprecher Brewing Company; and Jim Klisch, co-founder and Regional Sales Manager of Lakefront Brewery.
All four panelists shared their passion and stories around craft beer’s humble beginnings in Milwaukee. When Sprecher opened in 1985 and Lakefront opened in 1987, they were truly paving the way for all of the small Wisconsin breweries that were to come after them.
“We started out as imitators… and then we became innovators,” said Klisch.
It was Randy Sprecher and particularly the Klisch brothers (it was Jim Klisch’s brother Russ that convinced him to quit his engineering job to go into the brewing business) that inspired and aided McCabe and Bluvas in the start up of Milwaukee Brewing Company and Water Street Brewery respectively.
One would think that being competitors, the atmosphere would be tense with the four largest Milwaukee craft beer producers sitting side by side. On the contrary, there was a feeling of fraternity and camaraderie in the brewery. The world of craft brewing is not craft brewer versus craft brewer- it’s the craft brewing world versus the macro breweries. While the craft beer segment continues to increase as the sale of beer overall declines, craft beer only makes up five percent of all beer sales.
Still, as Hamilton shared a statistic he had recently heard, there are currently 2,051 breweries in the United States. Only 52 of those breweries are macro breweries, and the number of start up breweries increases every day. As craft beer consumers we now have more choices than ever.
However, as a craft brewer this creates new problems. While the craft beer segment continues to grow, liquor stores have limited shelf space. With that in mind, McCabe, Bluvas, Hamilton and Klisch urged the audience to buy local.
After the panel discussion and taking questions from people in the audience, all four panelists stuck around to mingle and discuss everything from home brewing set ups to sports. The one thing all four refused to discuss in the brewery was local politics.