By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jan 24, 2009 at 11:31 AM

Even in a beertopia like Milwaukee where we pride ourselves on creating our own quality craft brews, it's always nice to welcome a newcomer to the table.

The Silver Spring, Md.-based Hook & Ladder Brewing Company made its way to Wisconsin in fall 2008 and perhaps you've seen it in the beer department at Whole Foods or on the shelves of the "Blatz Cave" at Blatz Market & Liquor, but have you tried it yet?

The beers are flavorful and easily drinkable, but there's more than a crafty combination of malt and hops that sets this company apart from other craft breweries. If you look at the names of its beers -- Backdraft Brown, Ember Amber, Lighter -- you start to notice a common theme. The brewery and its varieties are named for firefighting, as Hook & Ladder founder and head brewer Rich Fleischer is a 15-year volunteer firefighter.

But Fleischer's passion goes beyond a noticeable name game. He and his brother / business partner Matt founded Hook & Ladder in 2006 on the premise of giving back to the community; theirs and everyone else's. In 2007, they initiated the Penny in Every Pint and A Quarter in Every Case programs. Through these efforts, Hook & Ladder donates $4 from each barrel and 25 cents from each case sold to local fire departments and burn centers in every area where their beer is sold.

In Milwaukee, the Fleischers are working with Columbia St. Mary's burn unit and in Madison they are partnering with the burn center at the University of Wisconsin.

Their efforts have led them to donate more than $50,000 nationwide.

Fleischer attributes his company's rapid growth -- Hook & Ladder beer is now available in 20 states and, according to "The New Brewer" magazine, experienced the greatest percentage growth of any non-brewpub craft brewer in the United States in 2007 -- to its mission-based model.

"People have taken an affinity to that -- they want to help their local firefighters and community," he says. "We're a national brand that gives back on a local level. We're able to help a lot of people and that's exciting to us and to the consumer."

Hook and Ladder began with three original recipes: the Golden Ale, gold medalist and the 2007 Great American Beer Festival; the Backdraft Brown, champion of the 2008 Washington Post Beer Madness competition and Hook & Ladder Lighter, a lower-calorie ale.

In late 2008, the brewery introduced two new brews: the Ember Amber and the Pipe & Drum Irish Ale, a smooth, mild hop beer with a dry finish.

"Ember Amber has really been a popular one," says Fleischer. "It's a blend of our Golden Ale and Backdraft Brown. We've been mixing them at the taps for years but we've finally bottled it at the brewery."

For now, Ember Amber is only available as a part of the new variety 12-packs. Fleischer says he and his brother are having fun experimenting with pilot brewing back at the lab and hope to have a new seasonal to launch this summer.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”