Cheers Appleton!

Annual Downtown Craft Beer Walk ready for another round

by Tim Froberg

When he wasn’t inventing bifocals and stoves, starting libraries, and editing drafts of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was known to knock down an ale or two.

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” is a quote frequently attributed to Franklin.

Another deep thinker from that era, Thomas Jefferson, wasn’t averse to hoisting a few cold ones, either.

The third president of the United States once remarked: “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.”

Our country’s founding fathers nailed it. Beer is a beloved brewed beverage to be relished. It’s been around a long, long time and is getting bolder and better.

Events such as Appleton’s Downtown Craft Beer Walk give the public an opportunity to experience the latest and tastiest beer available in the Fox Cities. The annual walking event – scheduled for May 14 – allows participants to stroll through Downtown Appleton and enjoy craft beer samples at different bars and restaurants.

The event will include 16 businesses, and will be divided into two walk options: the East End Walk and the West End Walk.

Restaurants and bars on the East End Walk are Fratello’s Waterfront Restaurant, Mr. Brew’s Taphouse, Stone Arch Brewpub, Wooden Nickel Sports Bar & Grill, Olde Town Tavern, Bazil’s Pub, Jim’s Place, and Rookie’s Sports Bar and Grill.

Businesses on the West End Walk are The Bar on the Avenue, Fox River House, McFleshman’s Brewing Co., Appleton Beer Factory, Spats Food & Spirits, D2 Sports Pub, Ambassador, and the Bent Keg.

Tickets for the standard walk are $20. Participants can enjoy two 3 oz. samples from several different venues on the walking routes.

A special VIP Walk for $30 a ticket is also available, offering additional stops and beer samples.

A variety of different businesses are sponsoring the popular event, which is being coordinated by Appleton Downtown Inc. To get more information and a schedule, or to purchase tickets, go the ADI’s website, or call ADI at 920-954-9112.

“It’s something a lot of people really look forward to,” said Abby Reich, marketing and communications manager at ADI. “We’re in Wisconsin and a lot of people really appreciate craft beer. There is a large audience that is super into craft beer. They like going to a variety of different places and enjoying the different types of beer.”

The Downtown Craft Beer Walk started in 2016 and is a popular event that has grown significantly.

“It’s an opportunity for us to kind of shine and put a little more attention on the brewing side of the business,” said Steve Lonsway, co-owner and head brewmaster at Stone Arch Brew Pub. “It’s good for the community. You’re seeing more and more brewpubs popping up in our community and that’s a good thing. It gives us an advantage over other communities because brewpubs are very popular, and it may get people to visit our community rather than another.”

Craft beer is defined by the Brewers Association as beer made by smaller, independent brewers. Craft beer involves different brewing techniques than used by larger breweries that mass produce huge quantities of beer.

Craft beer is also considered to be bolder and more flavorful than typical beer. It often uses higher quality wheat and barley and non-traditional ingredients such as fruit, honey, and even coffee beans to produce complex yet tasty brews that are generally higher in alcohol.

Today’s IPAs, amber ales, sours, and doppelbocks don’t taste much like a Miller High Life, Bud Light, or any other mass-produced beer.

“Everyone’s palate is getting more mature – people want and expect more,” said Lonsway. “Look at bread. Look at coffee. It’s the same thing. When I was growing up, all you had was Wonder Bread and Folgers. Now, there’s a Starbucks on every corner. Now you have Breadsmith.

“People work hard. Today, they want to spend their hard-earned dollar on quality, not quantity. That’s where craft beer fits in. They’re not going out to the bars to drink six, seven, eight beers. They’re drinking one of two and maybe pairing it with a dinner choice.”

According to the Brewers Association, a total of 8,764 craft breweries operated in the United States as of 2020 – a jump of more than 3,500 from 2016. 

Some trace the microbrewing and craft brewing movement back to the late 1960s. However, it really began picking up steam in the 1990s when many began brewing their own beer in their homes. The end product wasn’t always a first-rate beer, but it exposed people to different flavors and types of brews and led to a spike in the creation of actual brewpub businesses.

“Back in the early nineties, a lot of people entered the brewery spectrum,” said Lonsway. “But the quality wasn’t always there. It was an interesting time. All of a sudden you could go to school for brewing beer. You could get a degree for it.

“Then, there was just a huge surge in the mid-nineties. That’s right when I started to get into it, and I got into it at the right time.”

The craft beer-microbrewing industry kept growing into the new millennium, then experienced another major jump around 2012, according to Lonsway.

“The neat thing about the spike is that the quality went up quite a bit,” he said. “It got so much better. I’m a lot more comfortable going to new breweries today than I was back in the 1990s. Back then, you never knew what you were going to get. Now, you pretty much know you’re going to get a good beer.”

What’s the current rage?

“I’d say sour beers and hazy pale ales are the big thing right now,” said Lonsway. “Hazy pale ales have been a thing for a good year now. Anything on the hoppy side of the spectrum has been dominant on the market for the past five years or so.”