Lake Country residents continue to slake thirst with microbrews
Craft brewers reach record volume share in 2014

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

March 18, 2015

Hops & Leisure co-owner operators Lisa and Mark Paliafito, left, before their newly-renovated space at 1225 Robruck Drive in Oconomowoc. Al Leofilos, right, is a partner in the new craft beer venture. 
Ryan Billingham/Freeman Staff

OCONOMOWOC — With a desire to increase the awareness of its locally brewed beers, the owners of Leisure Brand Beer will open a brewpub this week in Oconomowoc — just as interest in small-batch beer hits an all-time high.

According to the Brewers Association on Monday, for the first time craft brewers reached double-digit volume share of the marketplace at 11 percent in 2014. Last year, craft brewers produced 22.2 million barrels, and saw an 18 percent rise in volume and a 22 percent increase in retail dollar value, according to the Brewers Association. Retail dollar value was estimated at $19.6 billion.

Al Leofilos said he and business partners Mark and Lisa Paliafito want to take their brand of Leisure Beer to the next level by opening Hops & Leisure in the former Sammy’s Taste of Chicago at 1225 Robruck Drive, Unit A. He anticipates it opening today or Wednesday after final city approvals are received.

The interior has been redone to create a brewpub environment and a brewery will eventually be on site. Currently, the Delafield Brewhaus is making the four Leisure Beer brand beers. There will also be tapas, sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs inspired by Sammy’s on the menu. People can buy a growler of beer at a growler station, which Leofilos said is one of the most advanced pieces of equipment in the industry. In addition to its own line of beers, Hops & Leisure will have more than 25 beers available for sale in-house.

Taps and growlers at Hops & Leisure, a new craft brewpub opening in the old Sammy’s of Chicago, 1225 Robruck Drive, Oconomowoc.
Ryan Billingham/Freeman Staff

Oconomowoc was selected as the place to start Hops & Leisure because Al, Mark and Lisa hail from there. “When you are branding your beer you have to have great community support,” Leofilos said.

While larger cities have big beer venues, smaller communities need brewpubs, which are trendy, he said. In the future, he hopes there will be more Hops & Leisures in Lake Country.

“There is a business aspect to the beer and there is a living passion aspect of it,” Leofilos said.

‘It’s in our heritage’

Josh Kuffer, assistant brewmaster at Sweet Mullets Brewing in the Town of Oconomowoc, thinks it’s going to be a tight market for two microbreweries in the city, but that every brewer has a different approach.

“There are so many different styles of beer and so many ways of making beers,” he said. “It’s really creativeness behind the different brewers.” While Lake Country has becoming an increasingly popular place to open brew pubs and breweries, Kuffer said it’s more of a national trend that connects well in the state.

“Really Wisconsin is a great place for good beer,” he said. “It’s in our heritage and our German culture.”

Kuffer thinks eventually the market will reach its limit for microbreweries, but for now there is room for growth.

“With the total beer market up only 0.5 percent in 2014, craft brewers are key in keeping the overall industry innovative and growing. This steady growth shows that craft brewing is part of a profound shift in American beer culture—a shift that will help craft brewers achieve their ambitious goal of 20 percent market share by 2020,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, in a statement. “Small and independent brewers are deepening their connection to local beer lovers while continuing to create excitement and attract even more appreciators.”

The number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2014 grew 19 percent, totaling 3,464 breweries, with 3,418 considered craft broken down as follows: 1,871 microbreweries, 1,412 brewpubs and 135 regional craft breweries. Throughout the year, there were 615 new brewery openings and only 46 closings.