In a state once home to more than a few beer giants, including Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz and Miller, it’s now the little guys that are making a big splash. Hundreds of one-of-a-kind beer formulas in Wisconsin end up in frosted mugs, bottled or kegged. The recipes come from home brewers who go pro, trained chemists who find a thirst for fermenting, and even former engineers who design adult beverages that mix at-home ingredients with Old World techniques.
An anonymous Czech proverb quips, “A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.” So order a sampler or grab a growler for home and hop from one frothy laboratory experiment to another on your pils-grimage to these 10 mostly lesser-known Wisconsin breweries.
1327 Huron Ave., Sheboygan
One of Wisconsin's newest craft breweries, 3 Sheeps is already making an impression on beer afficionados. In 2012, owner and brewer Grant Pauly left his family's concrete business to pursue his dream of brewing beer. Today the brewery churns out nine brews, including Baad Boy, a surprisingly smooth black wheat ale. Tours of the Sheboygan brewery are offered Fridays at 5 p.m.
10440 Florida Ave., Hayward
Pair beer bread or Hot and Angry Pretzels (both contain grain used in beer brewing) with a cold tap of River Pig, an American pale ale. Brothers Jason (the brewer) and Will (the chef) Rasmussen work as a team. Tours are arranged by request, or customers can sit in the dining room and watch the brewing in the basement below. Dive into whitefish, trout or perch from Great Lakes waters, then take home a “Dead Fish, Fresh Beer” T-shirt. A splash of Honey Wheat goes into the batter for deep-frying.
351 Allen St., Amherst
Earth-friendly practices are priorities at this microbrewery in central Wisconsin, which added 24 solar panels in 2009. Shine On, a red ale, celebrates this solar energy system that heats water and provides radiant heat. Spent grain goes to farms, where it’s used as livestock feed and compost. The brewery’s three original labels from 1998 – Ouisconsing Red Ale, Mud Puppy Porter, Happy Heron Pale Ale – remain in production, but now almost 20 beers make the lineup. Seasonal brews – Bourbon Barrel Barleywine and Cherry Stout – have won Great American Beer Festival gold medals. Try a pint in the Tap Room, open Fridays and Saturdays.
2011 S. First St., Milwaukee
Stacked. Exposed. Red Vixen. Hopped Up ’N Horny. Sexy beer names separate the brewery and its Horny Goat Hideaway, a brewpub in Walker’s Point, from competitors in America’s Brew City. Add the sultry Horny Honeys calendar and other edgy marketing devices that extend onto the cocktail list (Horny Palmer, made with sweet tea vodka and lemonade) and grub menu (Hot ’N Horny Burger, with salsa, pepper Jack cheese and chipotle mayo).
7556 Pine Rd., Arena
Yes, the lake is more of a pond, and the village closest to this Iowa County brewery has fewer than 1,000 residents, but in this case, size doesn’t matter. Beermeister Tom Porter has worked at Warped Speed (a Scotch ale) since at least 1999, and his reward is an eclectic array of customers, from taverns to high-end restaurants, around Madison and Spring Green. Look for the seasonal Milk Stout and Louie’s Reserve (a more robust Warped Speed) in November. Company motto: This is livin’. Mission: local beers for local people. Brewery tours are only offered one Saturday every month.
238 Lakeshore Dr., Minocqua
Sip Wild Rice Lager – one of six house brews – which adds nuttiness while paying homage to heritage, with a burger and sweet potato fries (dipped in lemon-ginger aioli) in the family restaurant. Or, match it with pretzels stuffed with prosciutto and cheese at Divano, an adults-only cocktail lounge. Some seating in the historic 1927 building overlooks Lake Minocqua, and select nights showcase musicians of myriad genres, including show tunes, bluegrass and classic rock.
1812 Post Road, Plover
All together now: “I’m feeling oh so happy because I’m drinking O’so beer.” That’s from the chorus of the company’s catchy theme song. Offerings range from the Dominator (a dopplebock) and Picnic Ants (a seasonal farmhouse ale) to Hopdinger (a pale ale) and Night Train (a porter). Tours are offered on Saturdays at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. for $2; proceeds benefit a different charity every month.
1401 St. Andrew St., La Crosse
Despite the name, the beer maker outgrew its basement home on Pearl Street years ago, moving a couple of miles north to bigger digs that allow for six times as much brewing. D.T.B., an American brown ale that took home a gold medal from the 2003 World Beer Championships, is widely available in the La Crosse area, or settle in for a swig of it at the brewery’s Tasting Room, where furnishings are hand-crafted. Enjoy live music on Fridays, and tours and tastings on Saturdays.
59 S. Brown St., Rhinelander
Untapped potential. That’s what Jyoti Auluck decided the Rhinelander beer brand had, so in 2009 she acquired the Rhinelander and Rhinelander Light brands from Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe. She also dusted off the original recipe for Rhinelander Export Lager (known for being sold in 7-ounce “shorty” bottles that the original brewer patented). For now, Minhas still brews Rhinelander beer, but Auluck intends to open a brewery in downtown Rhinelander soon, bringing the Rhinelander brands back to their 1882 birthplace.
20 Pierce St., Black River Falls
Business began on a dairy farm in a semitrailer near the chicken coop. That was 1999, and success meant moving the operation into a hilltop building where beer had been brewed as early as 1856. Today, two beer labels – Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout and Pioneer Black River Red – are as good as gold, by World Beer Cup standards. Production of Cranberry Special Ale, made with cranberry juice, coincides with the local harvest of the tart fruit. Free brewery tours are available Fridays at 3:30 p.m. and by appointment.
As Mary Bergin of Madison ages, she turns into more and more of a beer snoot, preferring local brews of amber hue, and quality over quantity.
Updated: April 7, 2015
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