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Touring Wisconsin's Craft Breweries
Last Updated: 9/12/2013
While the mega-breweries that once made Wisconsin famous have largely disappeared, they’ve been replaced by a flock of innovative craft brewers who’ve put the state squarely back in the center of the beer universe. By mixing traditional European brewing techniques with local ingredients and a deft artist’s touch, these entrepreneurs have created some of the most highly regarded beers in the world – as well as vibrant tourist attractions.
Dozens of Wisconsin’s craft breweries and brew pubs offer tours or tastings and visitors looking for a unique culinary and cultural experience can visit a number of them within just a few days. Here are two suggested itineraries for touring Wisconsin’s craft breweries -- one in the southern and one in the northern part of the state.
DAY ONE: Greater Milwaukee Area
Where else would a beer-tasting tour of Wisconsin start but in the city once know as the “brewery capital of the world?” Although iconic names like, Pabst and Blatz are long gone, today the city is host to an array of uber-successful microbreweries and brew pubs, including the Lakefront Brewery and Sprecher Brewing.
Tour: Sprecher Brewery
Located just a short ten-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee, Sprecher Brewery offers visitors more than just craft beer. The company’s popular sodas – like its beers --are made with local ingredients, including the ginger, ginseng and cranberry infused Ravin’ Red and a honey-based root beer. Beer lovers won’t want to miss the highly decorated Black Bavarian and Oktoberfest, two of the company’s five gold medal winners at the 2009 US Open Beer Championship.
Sprecher Brewery tours are offered throughout the year and include visits to the brewhouse, aging cellar, bottling line and warehouse. After the tour, adults can sample four beers chosen from among 10 on tap and unlimited samples of soda.
Lunch: Solly’s Grille
As you leave Sprecher, you may notice an intoxicating aroma. Just two blocks to the east is Milwaukee’s best known hamburger emporium, Solly’s Grille. A Milwaukee landmark since 1936, Solly’s “butter burgers,” have been named to USA Today “America’s Top 10 Best Burgers” list and featured on Food Network and the Travel Channel. Save room for a chocolate banana malt!
Tour: Lakefront Brewery
From the Blatz, head 5 minutes north for Milwaukee’s historic Brewer’s Hill Neighborhood. Nestled alongside the Milwaukee River is the former “Beer Line” railroad bed, home to one of America’s most unique craft brewing operations, the Lakefront Brewery.
Housed in a century old trolley station, Lakefront Brewery uses an assortment of “experienced” equipment purchased from defunct breweries throughout Germany and the eastern U.S. The Lakefront facility is also notable for its Three Stooges fermentation vats, its Bernie Brewer chalet (a relic from the late Milwaukee County Stadium, former home the MLB Brewers) and its boisterous Palm Garden, a German-style banquet hall that serves traditional Friday night fish fry to the sounds of a live polka band.
Lakefront Brewery Tours cost $6 and are held most days of the week. In addition to a look at Lakefront’s brewing process and facilities, the tour includes four pours of beer, a free pint glass and a drink voucher for select Milwaukee bars. Lakefront is also a Travel Green Wisconsin certified business.
Dine: Historic Third Ward
For a memorable dinner, visitors can find multiple options in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. Once a bustling warehouse district, this neighborhood just south of downtown is now home to an eclectic array of shops, galleries, theaters, nightclubs and eateries, many of which feature outdoor patio dining along the Milwaukee River. Riverwalk favorites include two excellent brew pubs, Water Buffalo and the Milwaukee Ale House, as well as Rustico Pizzeria. Other notable restaurants in the area include The Wicked Hop, Cocquet Café and Swig.
Stay: The Iron Horse Hotel
Just minutes away in the Menominee Valley is one Milwaukee’s most unique hotels. Located just across the river from the Harley Davidson Museum, the biker themed Iron Horse Hotel offers visitors a heady mix of attitude, class and cutting edge style – all served up in a wonderfully refurbished former warehouse. Finish the night off with a drink in the hotel’s Branded lounge or just soak up the ambience in the ultra-chic lobby area. (Leather attire is strictly optional.)
DAY TWO: Green County
Day Two begins with a drive southwest along I-43 to Delavan, then west on Wis.11 into an area known as “America’s Little Switzerland.”
Tour: Minhas Craft Brewery
Founded in 1845 as the Blumer Brewery and, more recently, operating as the Joseph Huber Brewing Company, this Monroe facility is the second-longest continuously operating brewery in America. Known for decades for its Berghoff and Huber brands, the Minhas Craft Brewery today makes a variety of brands, including several Canadian labels and Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale. The brewery offers a gift shop and museum (both free) as well as $10 tours which are offered at limited times throughout the week.
Stroll: Monroe Courthouse Square
Monroe’s downtown is centered around the Green County Courthouse, a beautiful 1891 Romanesque revival structure with a four-faced clock tower. The surrounding courthouse square is filled with shops and restaurants, including Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern.
Lunch & Shop: Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern
Established in 1931, Baumgartner’s is Wisconsin's oldest cheese store. It offers patrons a wide array of Wisconsin's finest cheeses as well as imported cheese, specialty foods and a wide selection of sandwiches and other entrees. While all are delectable, the locals swear by the oh-so-aromatic limburger on rye sandwich with a mint on the side. (To see the nation’s only remaining limburger producing cheese factory, stop at Chalet Cheese Co-op on your way out of town.)
Tour: New Glarus Brewery
Roughly 30 minutes to the north is the village of New Glarus, where the local Swiss heritage is apparent in its chalet-like architecture. Visitors here will find one of Wisconsin’s most successful craft breweries, New Glarus Brewing, the maker of Spotted Cow, Wisconsin Belgian Red and a host of other award-winning brews. In keeping with the surrounding architecture, the brewery’s new Hilltop Brewery building has been designed in a distinctly Bavarian style. Both New Glarus production facilities offer tours
Dinner: New Glarus Hotel Restaurant
The Swiss are famous for fondue, so naturally you’ll find this delicacy in a number of New Glarus eateries. One of the best is the New Glarus Hotel Restaurant, which also offers services specialties like weiner schnitzel and deep-fried cheese curds. If you can’t get a table there, try the nearby Glarner Stube, another favorite of fondue aficionados.
Stay: Chalet Landhaus Inn & Restaurant
Swiss food can also be found at the Chalet Landhaus Inn & Restaurant, where Swiss-trained New Glarus Chef Mike Neval offers fondue demonstrations for groups of 10. The restaurant offers Swiss and American fare in a well-appointed chalet-like dining room, while the inn boasts an indoor pool and some suites with Jacuzzis.
DAY THREE: Mineral Point
Start Day three by driving a half hour west on Wis. State Highway 39 to the artsy and historic town of Mineral Point. Home to thousands of lead and zinc miners in the mid-1800s (from whom the state got its nickname), Mineral Point today boasts several museums, a state historic site and more than 20 art galleries, many of them in beautifully restored stone buildings that date to the mining era.
Shop and Stroll: Mineral Point‘s Shake Rag Street
Many galleries and shops are located on Shake Rag Street, where many of the original Cornish and Welsh settlers lived. Among the most notable is the Brewery Pottery Studio, which is housed in an 1850s brick building thought to have been the state’s first brewery.
Brewery Creek Inn and Brewpub/Red Rooster Café
Given the focus of this trip itinerary, it’s hard not to suggest the Brewery Creek Inn and Brewpub. Housed in yet another vintage building, it serves its own handcrafted beer and a variety of entrees featuring locally grown and selected organic ingredients. If you have taste for authentic Cornish foods, try the meat and potato filled pasties or ultra-sweet figgyhobbins at the Red Rooster Café.
Tour: Capital Brewery
Located roughly an hour from Mineral Point in Middleton (just west of Madison) is the Capital Brewery. Rated as “America’s #1 Brewery” by the Beverage Tasting Institute in 1998, Capital has maintained a lofty reputation among beer aficionados ever since, with all of its current brewers rated between 88 (highly recommended) and 98 (superlative) by the Institute.
Capital Brewery offers tours Friday through Sunday, and its indoor Bier Stube is open from October through April. During warmer months (May through September), its outdoor Bier Garten is open several days a week and frequently hosts concerts and other special events.
Shop: State Street and Capitol Square
A pedestrian mall connecting the University of Wisconsin campus with the State Capitol square, State Street offers a dizzying array of restaurants and watering holes, funky shops, street musicians and the Overture performing arts center complex. Capital Square also sports some colorful characters, as well as interesting dining and shopping (don’t miss Fromagination artisan cheese store) and, on Saturdays, a massive farmer’s market that takes up the entire Capitol Square.
Dine: Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company
Just east of the square is the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, one of Madison’s liveliest dining establishments. Housed in a Victorian-era hotel building, the Great Dane features a view of the brewing area from the main barroom, a separate main dining area, a outdoor beer garden and a basement rathskeller. The Great Dane usually has a dozen or so house brews on tap at any given time (including several seasonals) and offers a wide variety of hearty appetizers, sandwiches and entrees ranging from ribs to vegetarian burritos.
Stay: Mansion Hill Inn B&B
Walk off your dinner with a leisurely stroll to the Travel Green Wisconsin-certified Mansion Hill Inn. A restored Romanesque Revival villa built in the late 1800s, offers guests a delightful mix of Victorian elegance and modern amenities including wi-fi and Jacuzzis. And the views of the Capitol and lakes aren’t bad either.
If you have time, take a detour 30 minutes east of Madison to visit Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills. Tyranena brews beers with names like Bitter Woman IPA and Dirty Old Man Imperial Porter. Tours of Tyranena are free but are given only when schedules permit. However, the tasting room is open regularly, from Wednesday through Sunday.
DAY ONE: Eau Claire and Stevens Point
Visit some the oldest breweries still in operation in the nation in Northern Wisconsin.
Tour: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Allow a good bit of time for your first stop, as the stories surrounding it go farther back than those of most Wisconsin breweries – a century farther back, in fact. Founded in 1867 by the Bavarian brewmaster whose name is still on the door, Leinenkugel’s is the seventh-oldest brewery in the United States, as well as the oldest business in Chippewa Falls and one of the oldest in Wisconsin. Now owned by Miller-Coors, it is still run by the Leinenkugel family today.
Tours of the Leinenkugel Brewery are free and they begin and end at what has been called “the best brewery tasting rooms in the country,” The Leinie Lodge. As one might expect, tours here have a decidedly historical twist, introducing visitors to the family’s history and their brewing process, as well as historical signage and authentic brewing artifacts. (And yes, sample tastings are also included.)
Lunch: Northwoods Brewpub and Grill
Eau Claire’s Northwoods Brewpub and Grill bills itself as first microbrewery/brewpub in west central Wisconsin. Housed in a sprawling cedar-framed structure, Northwoods Brewpub’s seven-barrel brewing system produces a variety of different craft beers and sodas. The pubs food menu reflects the Northwoods theme, offering bison burgers, elk steaks and fried bluegill, as well as standard sandwiches and entrees.
Tour: Stevens Point Brewery
Head east about 2 hours for Stevens Point, where incredibly there is one Wisconsin brewery with a history longer than Leinenkugel’s – the Stevens Point Brewery. Producer of one of the first lagers ever made in the United States, the Stevens Point Brewery was founded in 1857 and is the fifth-oldest privately owned brewery in the nation. How’s this for perspective: Stevens Point Brewery provided beer to Union troops during the Civil War!
The facility’s 45-minute tour gives a detailed history of the Stevens Point Brewery and includes visits to the brewing, aging, packaging and warehouse facilities. As part of the tour, guests visit the Point Hospitality Room to sample existing beers, new beers and gourmet soft drinks.
Dine: Red Mill Supper Club
On Hwy HH West, you’ll find Red Mill Supper Club. Established in 1937, it offers classic Wisconsin supper club fare, including prime rib, steaks, surf & turf and a Friday fish fry with walleye. The Red Mill’s patio dining room overlooks a pond, fountain and four-season garden.
Stay: The Victorian Swan on Water
The Victorian Swan on Water is a beautiful 1889 Victorian home with an interesting history. Located on the Green Circle Trail, a 30.5 mile trail that loops the city, it is within walking distance from Downtown Stevens Point and is a Travel Green Wisconsin certified business.
If you have more time, be sure to visit Central Waters Brewing Company, just east of Stevens Point in Amherst. This innovative brewery utilizes solar panels, radiant floor heating and recycled grains into its brewing process. Although it doesn’t offer regular tours, its new Tap Room is open Friday and Saturdays in the late afternoon and evening.
DAY TWO: Green Bay
Fall is also football season and Day Two of the itinerary brings visitors to the center of the gridiron universe – Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
Lunch: Titletown Brewing Company
Built in a former Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Depot, the Titletown Brewing Company has been a local favorite since 1996. Its distinctive clock-tower building, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999, became even more noticeable in 2005, the year when the Packer Hall of Fame moved into the new Lambeau Field Atrium complex. As a result, the Hall’s iconic Don Hutson statue needed a new home – and, fittingly enough, Titletown Brewing Company obliged. In addition to a variety of brews including several named after Packer greats of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Titletown offers a sumptuous menu of sandwiches, wraps, salads and entrees.
Tour: Lambeau Field
After lunch, you’ll want to tour football’s version of the Promised Land: Lambeau Field. The Lambeau Field tour begins in the Atrium area, before going upstairs for a look at the exclusive Legends Club. From there, guests are led down through the players’ tunnel and into the heart of the complex. Along the way, they’ll learn all about the incredible history of the team and will have photo opportunities galore. Tours are offered throughout the afternoon, so plenty of times are available. However, be warned: the Lambeau tours frequently sell out so you are best off to call and reserve a spot ahead of time. Save plenty of time to visit the Packer Hall of Fame and the Packer Pro Shop.
Dine: Hinterland Brewery
Like most Wisconsin brew pubs, Hinterland turns out a variety of wonderful craft beers. Unlike most Wisconsin brew pubs, Hinterland offers a wide variety of fresh seafood – and we don’t mean walleye, bass or perch. Hinterland partners with fisherman in Honolulu, Seattle and Maine to procure fresh ocean fish as often as two times a day. They also boast local producer relationships – for items such as fresh game, hand foraged mushrooms and heirloom produce – to produce a menu that evolves with every season. And, the beer is pretty good, too.
Stay: Tundra Lodge Resort
Just minutes from the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field is the Tundra Lodge resort. Although guests here are surrounded by the charm of a Northwoods lodge – check out the crackling 45-foot stone fireplace – they are simultaneously drawn to the steamy allure of an expansive indoor waterpark. Could this be the best of both worlds? We certainly think so.
If your schedule allows, visit Appleton’s Stone Cellar Brewpub located on the banks of the Fox River. Located in a 150-year old industrial building between locks on the river, Stone Cellar is equal parts brewery, restaurant and pub with beer garden. Stone Cellar offers patrons a variety of craft beers and gourmet sodas along with a delightful menu of contemporary American cuisine.