At this point in time, we are only about 1 1/2 weeks away from our inaugural tour – “Microbrews & Other Tastes of Wisconsin”. We are a bit excited, a bit anxious and honestly, just a bit stressed out; custom group tours are a lot of work to set up! Our leisure travel agency – GetAway Travel Service has been in operation since 1998. Over that time, we’ve sent thousands of our wonderful clients on many fantastic vacations covering almost all of the globe. We’ve also handled our fair share of group travel – destination weddings, cruise groups (Caribbean & Alaska), spring break groups, bachelor/bachelorette trips and many others. This is now our first fully custom group tour dedicated to the art of craft brewing. The complete tour itinerary and all of the tour experiences have been shaped through our efforts. We’ve made the luxury motor coach arrangements, the tasting notes booklet, and the meal arrangements. We’ve worked with all of the craft breweries to set up timing and customize the experience for our clients. We cannot possibly stop at all the breweries & brew pubs in Wisconsin, but we do think our selection for this tour is first class. Our agency is located in southeast Wisconsin about 30 minutes outside of Milwaukee. While there is certainly some fantastic craft breweries (Lakefront, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Sprecher) and brew pubs (Hinterland, Water Street, Saint Francis, Milwaukee Ale House) in Milwaukee area, we decided to focus on taking people to less trafficked locations in southwest and central Wisconsin.
Here we go with Day 1.
The initial tour pickup point is in Waukesha, Wisconsin. From there we will make a short 40 minute drive to Tyranena in Lake Mills. If you like India Pale Ale, you may already be familiar with their highly rated Bitter Woman IPA which can be found on tap at many great bars in Wisconsin. Tyranena beers are named for local legends and all of them have a great back story that entwines the beer with local lore. For example, Rocky’s Revenge is an American Brown Ale that pays homage to the legend of a giant serpent that was supposedly around to protect the sacred stone tepees which are now at the bottom of Rock Lake. The stone tepees themselves are immortalized in Stone Tepee Pale Ale. Get it? It all weaves together in wonderful fashion and is a great example of local brews telling the story of where they are from. It does not matter if the legends are real or imagined, the beers are great, and the stories make the experience all the more rewarding.
Our next step is a bit of a drive further west, but it’ worth any additional effort to get to the quaint hamlet of Potosi. The Potosi brewery began in 1856, and after 120 years of operation, was shut down and basically left to rot for 30 years – the story is told on this excellent video. The video was shot as part of the Comeback Wisconsin Beer Movie. (can’t wait to see it soon!). The great state of Wisconsin was once the epicenter of a brewing in the United States, with over 240 breweries in 1880, and now it is all coming back with over 70 Wisconsin breweries and counting, in 2012. Potosi is one of the greatest places to experience all of this history. The brewery has been restored and in addition is also host to the National Brewery Museum. One of the greatest assemblies of American brewing collectibles anywhere is now here in a permanent home. Of course the trip is not complete without sampling some great Potosi craft beer. Brew master Steve Buszka, originally from Kalamazoo Brewing Company (now Bells) is serving up some brews that are making new history here in Potosi. Hopefully they will still have some Tangerine IPA on tap for our visit. If not, there are still many year-round and seasonal options that will provide for an inspired tasting.
While Potosi also has a great brew pub, we will be moving on to Mt. Horeb for dinner. Perhaps originally best known for the carved wooden trolls found along the “Trollway”, Mt. Horeb is also home to the iconic Grumpy Troll Brew Pub. With a gourmet pizzeria upstairs and a brew pub on the main floor, the Grumpy Troll has everything we’ll need to satisfy our hunger and thirst. With typically 12 brews on tap at any give time, there is much to choose from. Both German and American style lagers, Belgian style triple, Erik the Red Amber ale, Farmhouse ale with local honey, Amnesia Baltic Porter, and an Imperial IPA named Maggie, after Margaret Thatcher, the ex-prime minister of Britain (she’s diplomatically bitter). The Grumpy Troll truly takes you on a beer tour of the world. But don’t worry, Wisconsin is very well represented on this tour with the Hop Farm Pale Ale made with 100% Wisconsin grown hops and barley. While the troll himself may have a scowl and be grumpy, we’ll be merry and happy trolls ourselves after this tour stop.
That’s all we can get done in the first day, so we will head to Madison area for our overnight.
Good Morning – welcome to Day 2 of our tour! Let’s start the day out right with a distilled spirits tasting.
Don’t forget, this is the Microbrews and Other Tastes of Wisconsin Tour; other tastes does not always necessarily mean food. Tucked in the Madison area between Lakes Wingra, Monona and Lake Wauseba is Yahara Bay Distillers. With a portfolio of spirits that keeps expanding, this will be a great morning stop. The premium vodka, gin, rum, whiskey all begin their lives inside “Carl”, a very handsome 90 gallon copper still. There is something for everyone here; even if you are not a cocktail drinker, you will still appreciate the local Lemoncella and Holz’s Apple Crips Liqueur.
Well we cannot linger too long at Yahara Bay, it’s time to head north. Everyone in the Midwest has heard of Stevens Point Beer, and we are going to tour the brewery. There is more to Point Beer, than just the Point Special Lager that you may already be familiar with – they also have an amber, a brown, a blonde, a black, a white, a pale ale, and a wheat beer. Point also has their own “premium” line of Whole Hog limited release brews. The Barley Wine is a worthy gold medal award winner at the 2012 World Beer Championships. My advice, drink some now and “cellar” a few bottles and try it again in a year or 2, you will not be disappointed.
You’re in Wisconsin – where’s the cheese? Honestly there are a lot of cheese options in Wisconsin, some are described as artisanal, some are a bit more mainstream. In the small town of Rudolph, there is the Dairy State Cheese Company – a perfect blend of both the gourmet and the mainstream – squeakiest curds ever and other fantastic styles for every pallet. This place is such a regional gem, that if you do not go here, you will not be able to find it’s cheese. No website, no Facebook, no twitter, just cheese. Oh and the prices are so low, that they only accept cash or checks. This is not your big city cheese monger- you are in ruralville USA folks!
Dinner tonight is at the Great Dane Brew Pub in Wausau. With 4 pubs in Madison, the 5th and newest one in Wausau is definitely the one located the furthest north. Some beers are unique to each of the Great Dane locations, so it is definitely not a been to one, seen ‘em all sort of place. The Wausau pub opened in 2009 after extensive interior renovations to a historic local building. The beer sampler is served on an aptly shaped dog bone platter. With tasty food options including the requisite fried cheese curds appetizer, dinner here is sure to please. Great Dane also makes it’s own sodas: Root Beer, Cream Soda and Ginger Ale. At this time, I don’t know for certain what will be on tap for our beer choices, but typically they have special cask ales available. Tapped directly from their British Firkin Casks, these beers have typically undergone a secondary fermentation and dry hopping. What’s a firkin you say? A firkin is just an old English unit of volume. 1 firkin of beer is equal to nine imperial gallons or a quarter barrel of beer. Couldn’t we just say they have some special quarter barrels on tap instead? No, firkin is a much better word and is more firkin fun to say.
That was a great day 2, but we’ll need to rest up as day 3 is packed!
Day 2 started with a pleasant taste sensation at Yahara Bay – Day 3 is changing things up a bit and we will have our first taste sensation of the day at family owned and operated Nueske’s in Wittenberg. The best Applewood smoked meats in the state/country/world/universe are right here at the company store in Wittenberg. It is the only complete retail facility they have. Bring a cooler with on the tour, as you will be wanting to fill it up with all of your great finds at this store. Not to be missed is the Applewood smoked bacon and the smoked pork chops. If you’ve never been to Nueske’s, you’ll be thanking us for turning you on to one of states greatest culinary secrets.
While you may want to spend the whole day sampling and shopping at Nueske’s we need to move on to another local treasure, but this one is in Wausau. Redeye Brewing Company is hosting a special beer and food pairing lunch. I’ve blogged previously about Redeye, discussing their artisan food and handcrafted beer. There are couple of things that make this tour stop special – the only place to experience Redeye beer and food is at the brew pub, AND head chef David Lorio is creating a special beer and food pairing just for our group. This will be a stop to savor…Beer & Food…gourmet, artisanal, enough said.
You’ll learn to appreciate what a great beer destination Wausau really is, because after lunch at Redeye we load up the bus and will drive about 10 blocks and unload ourselves at Bull Falls Brewery. While one of the new kids on the block, Bull Falls is also all about history. Bull Falls pays homage to German beer purity law that originated in the year 1516. The Reinheitsgebot legally codified the only ingredients that could be put into German beer: water, barley and hops (they did not know about the yeast in 1516, you need to fast forward about 300 years before Louis Pasteur figured this part out!). I can just picture the German barley farmers lobbying campaign pushing this forward, while the wheat and rye farmers all protested. At Bull Falls, you’ll find some of Wisconsin’s best lagers that fit the Reinheitsgebot framework, including unique and rare styles such as Zwickel Beer. Smooth and naturally cloudy this beer style comes from the middle ages direct to your palate today. A unique tour, great beers and a really cool growler filler for any brew that you’ll want to take home are all here at Bull Falls.
The next stop is Plover and the brewery that has put Plover on the brewing map is O’so Brewing Company. As a result of his long love of home brewing, Marc Buttera and his wife Katina opened a brewing supply store – Point Brew Supply. Sometimes our hobbies just take over everything we do and one thing led to another for the Buttera’s and O’so Brewing Company was born and yes the beers are O’so good. The brewery was packed to the rafters during our visit last year, and they have since taken the brew supply store and brewery to a new larger location in Plover. With lots more room, they also were able to add a Tap House. Their main stable consists of The Big O, Hopdinger, Rusty Red and the multiple award winning porter – Night Train. They also have many special releases; here in Wisconsin, the deer hunting season is a huge event, and nothing helps the food go down easier at deer camp than O’so Doe in Heat seasonal. My favorite seasonal is the highly rated Lupulin Maximus. If you are a hop lover then, this beer is worth the effort to seek out. It’s a big Imperial IPA with whole hop cones in every bottle! At O’so they are passionate about their beers, but they certainly want to have fun in their work – me too.
Well the tour is coming to an end, but on the way back towards our starting point let’s stop for some dinner. Located on main street in West Bend is the Riverside Brewery & Restaurant. This restaurant has it all, a refined menu with great sandwiches, steaks and seafood – we have never been disappointed here. Special things happen at Riverside, not many Wisconsin breweries make a Abbey Dubbel Ale, using 100 pounds of honey and fermented on oak. OK, this is a bit of a tease because the Broken Abbey Dubbel Ale, may not in fact be available while we are there, but there surely will something else every bit as special. That brings up a good point in that almost all of our breweries and brew pubs make varieties that are only seasonally available. So one trip won’t be enough, you will need to go back again and again. What better way to do it than on a tour where you can leave the driving to us!
We hope you enjoy the tour – we look forward to doing this again. As of the date of this posting, there is still some space available for the March 29-31, 2012 inaugural – so don’t hesitate – call (262-538-2140) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) us soon.