By Emily Weiss
In the last issue of The Growler we explored Western Wisconsin, pairing beers from its well-established craft brewery scene with some of the area’s most worthwhile outdoor excursions. In this issue we’re continuing this tour of our neighbors to the east, looking to the charming smaller towns and vibrant larger cities of this swatch of Wisconsin. These fleeting weeks of fall are the ideal time to plan a weekend getaway, not only to drink in the last of the autumn colors but also to make a pilgrimage to some of the state’s best-loved breweries and pubs, warm up by the fire, and sample some unique seasonal (and year-round) beers.
Rush River Brewing’s Lost Arrow Porte
Fly fishing the Lower Kinnickinnic River
Less than an hour from Minneapolis, the Kinnickinnic River, which ultimately empties into the St. Croix, is a Class 1 trout stream (1 is the best class, for you non-fishers out there) that’s easily accessible and perfect for day trips. Bring your own gear or reserve it at Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters, where you can also schedule guided trips and take lessons to learn fly-fishing basics before heading out. The lower, warmer-water portion of the Kinnickinnic River may have fewer trout and more difficult terrain to traverse, but the fish are bigger, the setting is more beautiful, and the quieter banks are much better suited for taking a timeout with this lightly-toasted, smooth-drinking porter. Extra-special bonus: The part of the Kinni, as the locals call it, that runs through River Falls is less than a 15-minute drive from the well-known and well-loved Rush River Brewery.
Hudson Brewing Company’s Amber Salute
Hiking the Willow Falls Trails
Twin Citians know Hudson as a mecca for summertime cabin rentals, a game day hotspot, and the closest place to go for Sunday liquor store runs, but with Hudson Brewing Company debuting this summer, Hudson has now earned a well-deserved spot on the craft beer map. The brewery plans to open a taproom soon and have just begun bottle distribution in the St. Croix River Valley, but if you can’t seem to find its beers in stores head to Pudge’s Bar in downtown Hudson where they have the patriotic-themed beers on tap, including this well-balanced, American-style red ale. Afterward, take the ten-minute drive on County Hwy A to Willow River State Park and walk off your pub lunch on the brand new Nelson Farm trail. This is one of the steepest and longest of the trails in the park, but the payoff is fabulous as the hike ends with a spectacular view of the actual Willow Falls. In the mood for something less strenuous? The aptly named Willow Falls trail will bring you to the same landmark spot, but is more moderate in both length and difficulty.
Dave’s BrewFarm’s The Bruiser
Cross-country skiing in Kohler-Andrae State Park
Since these mid-to-late fall months can be a tricky weather-wise, Kohler-Andrae State Park in Wilson, WI is an ideal destination for between-season outdoor diversions. If you plan to visit the Wilson area before the snow flies, arrange a guided ride on horseback with one of the area’s many stables or take a hike along the nearly two miles of sandy, dune-spotted beaches of Lake Michigan. If you end up making this trek a little later in the season, take advantage of the groomed cross-country ski trails that take you through the more densely wooded areas of the park. Whatever your plans entail, be sure to figure in enough time to visit Dave’s BrewFarm, a husband-and-wife-owned brewery that opened in 2008 and runs almost exclusively on wind-powered energy. The Bruiser, recently released at the Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis, is a smoky, unabashedly high ABV brew that uses a loads of pale malt and Scottish yeast – a beer worth working up an appetite for. Dave’s BrewFarm’s informal taproom is open to visitors on select weekends throughout the year. Check brewfarm.com’s blog prior to your trip.
Lucette Brewing Company’s Shining Dawn Belgian Pale Ale
Sledding at Dunn County Snow Park
Hiking, snowshoeing, and anything that requires you to use your own cardiovascular strength to propel yourself through frozen precipitation may not sound like everyone’s idea of a great day out. Maybe you’d prefer to just…coast. If that’s the case, then pack up your tubes and toboggans and venture to Dunn County Snow Park, a volunteer-built and run sledding/snowboarding/ski area in Menomonie, WI. It’s described as a BYOS (Bring Your Own Shovel) type of place, but since their main audience is children and families, you may want to rethink B’ingYOB. Luckily, the park is within walking distance (or a five minute drive, if you don’t want to haul your sled) of a terrific brewery: Lucette. Drop by and enjoy a couple pints of their Shining Dawn Belgian Pale Ale, a slightly floral, easy-drinking beer that’s a perfect cap off to a day of letting gravity do its thing.
Grumpy Troll’s Dragon Ship Wit
Horseshoes and Swimming at Blue Mound State Park
Blue Mound is the only state park in Wisconsin to have a man-made outdoor pool. There’s beach swimming elsewhere, but if you have kids in tow or just want the convenience and variety offered in the recreational area, this is an ideal spot. Once you’ve worked up an appetite from tossing those horseshoes, head to the Grumpy Troll—a popular brewpub in nearby Mount Horeb, WI. There’s a strong initial banana scent that wafts off the top of their Dragon Ship Wit that fades a bit on the palate, allowing the more grainy character to come through. Just a short smack of bitterness in the finish keeps this beer interesting through and through.
Minhas Craft Brewery’s Huber Bock
Hiking the Cheese Country Trail
Minhas’s brewery is worth visiting purely for the fact that it’s the oldest continuously operating brewery in the Midwest and the second oldest brewery in the country. Their brewery tours are offered on Fridays and Saturdays only and cost $10. Minhas’s Huber Bock, named for one of the prominent families that once owned the brewery, is the best and brightest in their beer galaxy. This mahogany brew has a nice sandy head when poured and notes of both caramel and light smoke in the finish, making it an ideal companion for Wisconsin’s famed cheeses. It’s also a steal, retailing for around $7.00 for a six pack. Throw a few in your day pack along with a hunk of cheddar and stop to sip while hiking the goofy-sounding but moderately strenuous Cheese Country Trail. The trailhead to this 47 mile multi-purpose stretch is accessible from Highway 69 in Monroe, not terribly far from the brewery. ATVs and snowmobiles are also allowed on this trail, but you’ll have to save your beer for after if you’re operating a vehicle.
New Glarus Brewing’s Dancing Man Wheat
Biking the Sugar River State Park Trail
New Glarus’s meteoric rise to microbrew fame was mostly thanks to their flagship brews, Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel, but their seasonals might even outshine their year-rounds. Using 100% Wisconsin-grown wheat, the Dancing Man is one of my favorite very true-to-form hefe-weizens. It pours hazy giving off the clean, warm scent of clove, but has a bright acidity as it goes down which is just the kind of invigorating drink you’ll want after a long ride on the Sugar River State Park Trail. The northern portion of this 22 mile trek demonstrates why New Glarus is referred to as “Little Switzerland,” offering views of the town’s ornate Swiss-style architecture and sweeping farmland.
Pearl Street Brewery’s Dankenstein Imperial IPA
Canoeing the Black River
La Crosse takes its beer very seriously. If you don’t believe me, go during Oktoberfest, when the entire city—young, old, craft-curious or die-hard for their Leinie’s—comes out to play. But Oktoberfest (September 28 to October 6) is an ordeal, and La Crosse’s many breweries are more enjoyable to visit during the quieter times of the year. Rent a canoe at 3 Rivers Outdoors in downtown La Crosse (when it’s warmer…) and spend the day paddling the Black River. When you’re sufficiently sore, return your vessel and head to Pearl Street Brewery, a 30-barrel outfit on the North side of La Crosse that has been in business since 1999. They have a quaint tasting room where they do samples and, if you’re fortunate enough to be there on a Tuesday, FREE HOT WINGS. Cool down with their Dankenstein Imperial IPA. It’s a potent, high ABV beer that is quadruple hopped, producing a resinous, soapy taste with lovely lacing in the glass and low carbonation.