I. Stevens Point (
We arrived a little late to this tour because we didn’t listen to the highway billboards. Regardless, the ladies at Point were accommodating. This one gal, who admitted to being hungover, led us up to the tour, which was already past the mash kettle.
This was my first brewery tour, so my curiosity wound up frequently pulling me towards the front of the tour and asking the tour guide questions. She was less than thrilled about this. In fact, she was incredibly less than thrilled about the entire tour. Turns out she had “one too many Jaeger bombs” the night before. The lesson I learned here? – on a Saturday, everyone at Stevens Point is hungover.
By the end of the tour, I learned pretty much nothing about Stevens Point Brewery and got to barely experience my 3-oz. tasting of the eight beers on tap. I tried for my first time their Belgian White and their “Special” Lager and, perhaps due to the bitter taste the tour guide left in my mouth, I was not too pleased.
So, although I very much enjoy John’s brews of 2012, Russian Imperial Stout, and Nude Beach, my experience with the tour and brewery were not great.
II. Leinenkugel (
As soon as we walked into the gift shop, inside which there were announcements every 15 minutes of the next brewery tours, the corporate smell struck us hard – in case you didn’t know, Leinenkugel is now 49% owned by MillerCoors. Perhaps it was further propagated from visiting a brewery so small and disorganized like Stevens Point before, but I kind of felt like I was in Disneyland more than a brewery.
Our tour guide was very nice, and pretty knowledgeable about Leinenkugel. She shared with us a lot of fun facts and diagrams to give us a better idea of how the brewery operated; this, I appreciated. The brewery appeared to have an industrial and chemical engineering touch to it, because it was obvious they maximized the potential of their resources – reusing water, CO2, and yeast as much as they could.
In regards to beer, we received a 3-oz. glass and three beer tickets. Sadly, however, we were not supposed to keep the glasses – although, I’m not too certain how many people actually abided by this rule.
III. Sand Creek (
Located in the inconspicuous Black River Falls, we had a hard time finding this place. When we finally arrived to it, we weren’t quite sure if it was still a functioning brewery; it looked more like an abandoned building. It was also pretty late in the evening at this point, so that just added another level of eeriness to the experience.
When we walked inside, we saw a man working behind the bar of the pub. So we sat down and started talking to him about the brewery and the beer, neither of which we had heard of or tasted before. The guy was really down-to-earth and knowledgeable. He told us about all the beers on tap in a very enchanting way. He especially sold me on their One Planet Ale, made entirely of ingredients from Wisconsin, and their Hard Lemonade, which to this day is probably the most delicious beverage I have tasted. He even shared with us his experimentation of adding jalapenos to the hard lemonade, which made for a very interesting taste bud ride.
After getting a beer tour of everything that was on tap, the guy gave us a tour of the brewery. Despite his audience being just my friend and I, and him sipping his beer all throughout the way, he offered the most amount of history to the beer we were drinking I had thus far experienced. The brewery has an interesting past: at one point, it was owned entirely by women because all the men in the family had mysteriously died – this was before women were able to even vote. Then, conveniently before prohibition, the brewery closed. It then housed things as random as chickens for some time. Eventually, however, it was reopened as a brewery.
IV. Minhas (
When we got to this brewery, we weren’t expecting to enjoy craft beers. And that’s what we got – subpar beer. Despite that, the brewery tour came with a sample pack, a glass, and a lot of fun information about their beer. The property was pretty large, all owned by a brother and sister in their 20s, which I thought was pretty fantastic. The brewery also housed a massive amount of art and brewery paraphernalia – it was kind of like a small museum of all that is beer.
V. Capital (
This tour wasn’t all that memorable. Sure, Capital hits close to home, since it’s located in Middleton. And, sure, I enjoyed the Supper Club they served at the beginning of the tour. But, really, after the previous tours, there wasn’t much I gained from this one. The place has two copper mash kettles and four giant fermenters they accrued from their expansion. Their beer is bottled at Stevens Point, so the place is smaller as a result. But their beer garden is pretty neat, especially when it’s nice outside.
VI. Granite City (
After one of my friends realized I had an obsession with beer, she decided to take me to Granite City, where one of her friends worked and gave us a tour. Since the wort is made in Iowa, there wasn’t much to the place other than the fermenters, which had dummy-proof directions to brew up the beer. I appreciated it nonetheless. Everyone was very nice, the two-pull beer was enjoyable, and the food was very delicious.
VII. Lakefront (
I lost interest in this tour towards the end; it was pretty boring. Moreover, most of the beers on tap were just okay, other than perhaps the IPA, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. What was also pretty cool was that the owner was the one behind the bar, working the taps. Too bad he didn’t actually come on to the tour and say a few words – that would have made the experience a lot more interesting. The tour guide was pretty cool, though; she made a lot of good light-hearted jokes (like how she’s a teacher on the weekdays so this is the perfect job for her on the weekends).
VIII. New Glarus (
What more could a person want from a brewery tour? We started off at the Riverside location, which is all that New Glarus was up until 2007. We then drove up to the Hilltop location. At Riverside, the cellar tank temperature and brewhouse are automatically controlled while everything else is manual; thus, the dry hopped and a lot of the unplugged beers are brewed there. At Hilltop, they are able to produce twice as much beer, probably because a lot more things are automated. Hilltop was the most sparkling clean and organized brewery I had seen – even while we were touring, people all over were cleaning.
The brew crew consists of approximately 5 brewhouse operators, 8 cellar workers, 4 lab techs, and 12 to 15 production workers. According to Chase, our tour guide, who has been working at New Glarus since he graduated high school (now 24 years old, that’s 7 years), the turnover is pretty low. That’s not surprising, since when Dan, who is co-owner alongside his wife, came onto the tour to talk to our group, he stated that one of the three important goals for New Glarus is to be a responsible employer – one that provides a living wage and full health insurance. The other two goals are to be labor and energy efficient and to be transparent.
What Dan meant by transparent is that New Glarus has near-zero advertising; they allow people to take a tour of the brewery freely any time 10 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday. They want their beer, through word of mouth, to be their advertising. They want to be production driven, not market driven. It was never in their goals to be a big brewery. This is why they only have three sales people while most other breweries of their size would have ten times as much. One of the reasons for sticking to sales in Wisconsin is that Dan doesn’t want their message to be diluted; to demonstrate this, he used the example of Capitol’s Supper Club, which has the slogan of “It ain’t bad,” which is a self-effacing slogan of Wisconsin, one that people from other states don’t quite get. Not only is it about the message, but also the excessive transportation costs of shipping heavy glass. So he thinks breweries should stick to brewing locally, like they used to.
In regards to the tour, some especially notable parts consisted of how we got to meet the creator of Moon Man, watch an active brew kettle (something I had not gotten the opportunity to see up until that point), and taste a beer straight from the second fermenter that had not hit the market yet – this last part was pretty epic for me; it was like drinking milk straight from the cow. The beer is called Two Women Lager. The brew uses Bohemian malt, a Germany quality you can taste alongside the clean hop finish.
What was also pretty amazing, especially for a geek like myself, was having Randy, the lab tech, talk to us about the analytics of beer. That was a first for me as well. I was psyched to finally learn how breweries test for IBUs (the bittering units produced by the hops), which, in case you're interested, is through a solvent extraction of isomerized alpha acids using isooctane at a 270 nm wavelength.
At the end of the two-hour tour, Chase led us to a room filled with cheese and beers. I tried Snowshoe for the first time (not bad), their Smoke Rye Ale (a beverage I think would taste spectacular with some ribs or a BLT), and their R&D (Research and Development / Randy & Dan) beer. The best way I can explain the R&D beer is that it’s like a meal in a beer. They still have some refining to do on it, so if it ever hits the market, it might be a while.