The rise of craft breweries in Wisconsin was celebrated with raised glasses Thursday, Sept. 26, during Craft Brewery Day. Gov. Tony Evers led a statewide “cheers” from La Crosse.

In Superior, Mayor Jim Paine joined WEDC Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Aaron Hager and Regional Economic Development Director Lance Ausing for a toast at Thirsty Pagan Brewing.

“In 2011, we had 73 craft breweries,” Ausing said. “In 2018, we had 178.”

Statewide, craft breweries employed more than 16,000 and made a collective $2.3 billion economic impact in 2018. They brew 5.4% of the beer made in the state and sell 11% of the beer purchased in Wisconsin; 88% of the craft beer brewed in Wisconsin is sold here.

“So hats off to all of you who are enjoying craft brews,” Ausing said.

The businesses serve as economic drivers and community anchors, Hager said, attracting visitors and often restoring historic buildings to settle into.

A state WEDC grant helped Thirsty Pagan expand into the Soo Line Depot, 1615 Winter St.

With the May move, the Superior business is on tap to produce up to 350 barrels of beer in 2019.

Head brewer Kathleen Culhane crafts 20-30 types of beer a year at Thirsty Pagan, from sours, stouts and lagers to Belgian strong and a hazy IPA that sold out immediately.

“This summer has been just off the charts busy,” Culhane said.

She’s currently making cold-weather brews. Guests can expect the return of the popular hazy IPA, Culhane’s light lager “Plaid Jacket with Skinny Jeans,” a mint stout and a doppelbock in the next few weeks.

Craft breweries do more than impact the local economy, Paine said. They offer people a place to gather for a pint of beer or a slice of pizza to talk, celebrate and connect.

“Craft breweries are great community spaces,” he said.

Patrons and employees at Thirsty Pagan Brewing listen to Lance Ausing, regional economic development director with WEDC, speak on Wisconsin's inaugural Craft Brewery Day, Sept. 26. Superior was one of eight cities around the state where officials shared a toast to celebrate craft breweries. The small businesses create a big economic impact, Ausing said.  (Maria Lockwood / mlockwoo@superiortelegram.com)
Patrons and employees at Thirsty Pagan Brewing listen to Lance Ausing, regional economic development director with WEDC, speak on Wisconsin's inaugural Craft Brewery Day, Sept. 26. Superior was one of eight cities around the state where officials shared a toast to celebrate craft breweries. The small businesses create a big economic impact, Ausing said. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwoo@superiortelegram.com)

Birkie taps Earth Rider

To celebrate Craft Brewery Day, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation announced it has tapped Superior’s Earth Rider Brewery to provide the official beer of the Birkie.

Earth Rider Beers were served at the 18th running of the Birkie Trail Run Festival on Sept. 28. In addition to the Birkie Trail Run Festival, Earth Rider Brewery will serve their brews at every major foundation event throughout the year, including the Birkie Tour, February’s Birkie week festivities, the Fat Bike Birkie and more.

"We are thrilled that Earth Rider is the official beer of the Birkie," said Tim Nelson, founder and president of Earth Rider. "As someone who has experienced Birkie Fever firsthand, it's exciting to help contribute to the culture and atmosphere of Birkie events."