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Economy & Business

In Milwaukee, Black Friday Shopping Starts With A Limited Edition Beer

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Lakefront Brewery
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Lakefront Brewery attracts hundreds of beer lovers when its Black Friday Beer goes on sale the day after Thanksgiving

Well before dawn on Friday, hundreds of Milwaukee beer lovers will line up to buy a limited edition brew. Lakefront's Black Friday Beer doesn't go on sale until 8:00 a.m. But customers will bundle up and wait for hours, in what's become a new holiday shopping tradition.

Four years ago, Lakefront Brewery started offering a Black Friday Beer. Lakefront only sells it at the brewery, just north of downtown, and only on the day after Thanksgiving.

"We get people usually lining up at midnight the night before. The line goes all the way down the patio, all the way around, halfway down Commerce Street. And usually by about 11.00, 12.00 the next day, we're usually sold out," Terrance Toliver says. He's Lakefront's production supervisor.

Here's how Matt Krajnak, who works in sales and marketing, describes the crowd: "Generally, its beer fans. You know, beer geeks."

He says the first year Lakefront underestimated demand, brewing only about 1,500 bottles of its Black Friday Beer, selling out "lightning quick." This year's batch will fill 5,000 bottles. It's a variety called Russian Imperial Stout, which Lakefront ages in bourbon barrels for months.

"There is some lingering flavors of bourbon. Couple that with oak character that's just in the barrel, vanilla, and a lot of people say tobacco, hazelnut, coconut, that type of flavor. All that comes from the barrel aging," Krajnak says.

Shortly before Black Friday, workers truck the barrels from a warehouse to the brewery in order to bottle the beer. They have to make adjustments to the production line. Packaging Manager Brad Spring says that's because Black Friday Beer comes in larger bottles than Lakefront's other varieties: 22 ounces, instead of 12 ounces.

"We have to change over parts on our filler and our labeler for the bottles that are bigger around, bigger circumference, so they can fit into the filler to be filled and so they can pass through the labeler," Spring says.

Milwaukee Magazine's Dan Murphy says the harder you have to work to get a bottle of beer, the better it tastes.

The large dark bottles zip along the production line. They wend their way to the packaging area where they're boxed up until they go on sale at 8:00 a.m. on Friday. Shoppers will be able to buy up to three of the bottles, at $15 each.

Scott Schrank of Wauwatosa already has plans for his. "I'll drink one of them right away, and then I'll save the other two for later."

Schrank has made it to the Black Friday event all but one year. He likes to line up between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

"I know some people get there a little bit later. But for me and for the friends that I go with, part of the experience is getting there early, and we bottle share while waiting in line. So we kind of try beers that other people bring, and as long as the weather's not too bad, it's really a lot of fun," Schrank says.

Beer lovers in other cities also enjoy the hunt for specialty brews over Thanksgiving weekend, according to Milwaukee Magazine's Beer and Bar Reporter Dan Murphy. He says in the last half-dozen years, a number of breweries and liquor stores have begun selling holiday blends on Black Friday.

"These specialty releases and kind of limited beer sales have rode along with the rise in craft beer. You know, the more people clamor for craft beer, the more people want the originals, the rarities, things their friends can't get," Murphy says.

Murphy says the harder you have to work to get a bottle of beer, the better it tastes.

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