It was a couple weekends ago that my fiancee and I were planning a trip into Wisconsin. Some friends and friends of friends were having a little get-together at a cabin up there somewhere and we were invited. We figured that while we were in the neighborhood, we might as well hit up a brewery or two. And as a possible counterpoint to Kyle’s recent trip to Anheuser-Busch, we planned our drive with stops at the Minhas and New Glarus breweries.
Minhas Craft Brewery
The first stop of the day was the Minhas Craft Brewery, which boasts being the oldest working brewery in the Midwest, and second oldest in the nation (10 beer cred points to the first to name the oldest in the comments, and no Googling). The brewery complex sprawls across a block and a half of Monroe, Wisconsin. Along with their line of Minhas craft beers (mostly exported to Canada), they also own the Huber label, local brews like Mountain Creek and Rhinelander, and Blumer’s soda. Minhas also does a lot of contract brewing for Berghoff and others.
Despite the word Craft being in the name, I’d place Minhas somewhere between a craft brewery and a big production facility. They’re not at the output level of the big breweries, but from what we tasted at the finish of the tour, a lot of their products seem to be inexpensive mass-produced beers for the local market and export to Canada (70% is exported).
The Minhas Billy Bock, 1845 Pils and Lazy Mutt were highlights, mostly in comparison to the other beers. The Lazy Mutt, a Farmhouse Ale, seemed very popular. I had never had a Farmhouse Ale before light, fruity, and easy to drink (and a little boring) apparently the style is big in Wisconsin. Tour highlights included a massive brew kettle, bottling line, Pasteurization oven and storage warehouse, and of course the tour ends in a big tasting room and gift shop with plenty of beers to taste and chotchkies to buy. They sent us off with a 5-pack of beer and a souvenir glass.
New Glarus Brewing Co.
The next stop was the New Glarus Brewery’s brand new Hilltop location, right outside of New Glarus, Wisconsin, which just opened in June. The whole facility is as brand new, clean and modern as a brewery can get. Already running late for the party at the cabin, we decided to skip the free self-guided brewery tour (everyday, 10-4) and headed straight for the tasting room.
As we tasted, the long room filled up with a line of people leading to a tasting counter. A tip for anybody heading to New Glarus: The best strategy seems to be to get a sample of beer, carry it the back of the line, and enjoy it while waiting in line for your next sample. This will minimize the amount of time spent beerless. It got pretty busy on that Saturday afternoon.
These people know how to make beer. Personal highlights included: the Coffee Stout, heavy and deep and dark; the Dancing Man Wheat, a lightly spiced and refreshing weizen; the Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale, with wonderfully balanced Hazelnut and baking spice notes. The Wisconsin Belgian Red is a decent cherry wheat but was simply too sweet for my tastes. New Glarus’s most well known beer is the Spotted Cow, another Farmhouse Ale. This one, like the Lazy Dog from Minhas, is light, vaguely fruity, and easy to drink, but pales in comparison to the other fantastic, much deeper and more intense beers on hand. None of the New Glarus beers are available outside of Wisconsin, but if you’re heading to the neighborhood, it’s worth a visit.