Kathy Flanigan is a Tap Milwaukee reporter who writes about, among other things, the beer culture in our 2017 host city. She is also writing a book on the breweries of Wisconsin and so is one of the foremost experts in the state. We caught up with her via an emailed interview to ask about her job and the local beer scene.
I see you have worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 22 years. When did you take on the role of craft beer reporter and how did it happen?
Funny story. I am a general assignment reporter for features and entertainment. Three years ago my editor wanted me to take on a part-time beat. She suggested women. I did some research. I tried some ideas out. There is no part-time when you’re talking about half the population. Then I wrote about women and beer. And I kept writing about beer.
It was serendipitous timing. Craft beer really started to take off here then.
You are writing a book on the breweries of Wisconsin. Where did you get the idea for that? How much work is it and how long will it take?
I wish I could take credit for the idea. Globe Pequot came to me (thanks to a recommendation from beer-and-food writer Lucy Saunders). I’m a third of the way in visiting breweries and I have — heart palpitations here — two and a half months to finish it.
Again, the timing works because here at the Journal Sentinel we’ve developed an interactive guide to every brewery in the state. I’ve been using that to help me get to each of them. I think I’m at 50 right now. There are 140, give or take.
Is it discouraging to write a book about something that will be out of date likey before it is published?
I’m writing it so that the book will still be a valuable guide to the state’s regions, some of which I really hadn’t visited before now. And they’re beautiful areas. New Glarus is nestled in rolling hill farm country. Central Waters is a solar and taste achievement in central Wisconsin. Driftless Brewing is smack in the middle of the state’s organic farming region. The beer is good. The food is good. The scenery is beautiful.The breweries are the cherry on that sundae.
You mentioned Milwaukee is “behind” in the craft beer boom but recovering quickly with the onslaught of new brewery openings this year. Why do you think Milwaukee, with its rich beer history, is behind the times now?
I ask people that all the time. Some say there was a strong loyalty to Miller here. Relatives, friends and neighbors have worked or worked there. Miller is a great investor in the city — the Brewers play at Miller Park, for example. I drive past the brewery everyday on my way to work.
We had three great craft breweries here for a long time. Sprecher, Lakefront and Milwaukee Brewing. Now the city is attracting more entrepreneurs and natives, who moved elsewhere to brew, feel like they can come home and own their own brewery now. Any old way, it’s a good time to be in Brew City again.
And who are these new breweries planning to open?
No official opening dates:
You have worked in the newspaper industry a long time. Does craft beer reporting rank up there among your most fun roles?
Yes. But I should probably expand, right? We have great business reporters who cover the business of beer. I sort of picked up on the cultural side of it — who drinks it, who makes it and what are their stories. I have always like that part of journalism and storytelling.