The Caves of Casanova: A Legacy of Beer in Hudson, Wisconsin

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The entrance to the historic caves at Casanova Liquor in Hudson, Wisc. // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

This Saturday marks the 7th Annual Casanova Cave Beer Fest in Hudson, Wisc., but the caves where the festival is held are much, much older with deep ties to Hudson’s brewing history. Thanks to the preservation efforts of the owners of Historic Casanova Liquors and The Nova Wine Bar, modern day beer lovers can take a step into the town’s storied beer past.

Casanova and the brewing legacy at 236 Coulee Rd. began with R.A. Gridley and WYH Brewery in the 1860s. In 1870, the site became home to Hudson City Brewery, who dug the beer cooling caves where today’s festival is held.

The longest running business at the address was the original Casanova Brewery, from 1896–1947. From its establishment until Prohibition, Casanova brewed beer, switching to a near beer and Coca-Cola bottling plant in 1919. The original Casanova Brewery was razed in 1947, and from 1948–2003 the site held a variety of industries before Tyrrell Gaffer purchased the property and restored the Casanova name.

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Casanova Liquor Store in Hudson, Wisc. // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

The current building was in rough shape when Gaffer purchased it. He built a retaining wall into the hill to maintain the integrity of the caves, which run about 100 feet deep and 20 feet wide, and he removed old restaurant equipment that had been stored inside them, salvaging several Casanova-branded bottles he found from the Prohibition-era company’s near beers and Coke. Now, the caves are used for special events like haunted houses and this weekend’s festival.

“The liquor store and [The Nova] Wine Bar are totally separate businesses with the same owners,” Gaffer explains. “They are great counterparts and they play off each other very well.”

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The Nova Wine Bar in Hudson, Wisc. // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

The 2005 opening of the Nova Wine Bar added an entirely new dynamic. While the liquor store offers craft beer knowledge and selection, the attached restaurant gives a chance to try it on draft, and even bring it home in growler form. It forges a unique experience that connects business and customer.

Sharing a passion for beer, of course, has also helped the store to grow its Casanova Cave Beer Fest from the inaugural attendance of 200 to nearly 800 last year. The festival, Gaffer emphasizes, features carefully selected beers and breweries with an aim to keep it intimate.

“We set ourselves apart from other festivals because we pick all of the beers that are to be poured and we try to make sure beers that were poured the year before are not poured again unless they were well received,” Gaffer said. This is the first year that attendance will not increase and he says it will stay at this figure unless the grounds themselves expand.

There will be 52 breweries pouring more than 175 recipes this Saturday, allowing the future of craft beer to step into the pre-refrigeration era where beer was made, aged, bottled, and more within the hillside. While many brands pouring samples are new, the Casanova Cave Fest celebrates the site’s third century of bringing beer to Hudson.

 
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