Chasing the Beer Scene in Western Wisconsin, Part One

By Emily Weiss

In the first issue of The Growler, we played a little game of match-up, pairing beers from Duluth’s burgeoning craft brewery scene with some of the area’s most scenic and thrilling outdoor excursions. But it’s not just our northern neighbors who have much to offer in these respective departments. Wisconsin has been synonymous with beer since the late 19th century and many of the charming smaller towns and vibrant larger cities of Western Wisconsin mentioned in this article are a mere two hour drive from the Twin Cities. The few weeks when late summer fades into early fall are an ideal time to take a weekend trip, not only to soak up those last few warm evenings but to stop by some of the state’s best-loved breweries and pubs get previews of the upcoming seasonal beers.

South Shore Brewing Company’s Northern Lights Cream Ale //
Biking the Ashland Waterfront Trail
Located at the tip of the Chequemagon Bay in Northwestern Wisconsin, Ashland is a historic fur trading town that boasts miles of shoreline and perfect jump off points for trips to both the Apostle Islands and uber-popular summer tourist destination Madeline Island. With access points in Bayview Park and several of Ashland’s other city parks, the Waterfront Trail takes you on a 10 mile loop from the east side to the west side of town. Stop off on Ashland’s main downtown drag, rest up, and procure refreshment at Deep Water Grille and South Shore Brewery, northern Wisconsin’s first legit brewpub. Most everything on the menu here cleverly employs a South Shore beer in the recipe from a malt-crusted pork tenderloin to an ale cheese soup, but the beers perform very well on their own. The faintly sweet aroma and bitter spiciness of their Northern Lights Cream Ale strikes a subtle balance, making this medium-bodied beer as easygoing as your beachside ride.

Northwoods Brewing Company’s Lil’ Bandit Brown Ale //
Disc Golfing at Mount Simon City Park
This one is for all the the bros who are chill enough to still love disc golfing, but have outgrown the ol’ soft-side cooler of Bud Light that usually comes along with the game. Located about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities, Eau Claire is a young, fun college town at its core, making it an ideal spot for a downtown bar crawl. During the day, pack up your discs and head to Mount Simon City Park for a 9-hole short game. This public course has very few obstacles and is suitable for all levels, just in case you haven’t played since your sophomore year. Afterwards, make the 15 minute drive to Northwoods Brewing Company, the very first brewpub in Eau Claire and still one of their most popular. Winner of the silver medal at the Great American Brewfest and best served on tap, the Lil’ Bandit Brown Ale pours clean with almost no head and has a mild chocolate finish. It’s light enough to have more than one, which you’ll probably need to do as you re-cap your game. Note: Northwoods serves a daily-changing selection of pies from the Norske Nook. Order a slice.

Sand Creek/Pioneer Brewing Company’s Pioneer Black River Red //
Camping at Lake Wazee
Camping at one of the rustic sites on Lake Wazee, the site of the former iron mine quarry in Brockway, means absolutely stunning views, a pristine swimming beach, and close proximity to Sand Creek Brewing Company. Their Pioneer Black River Red took home a well-deserved gold medal at the 2000 World Beer Cup in the German-Style Oktoberfest category. With a clear copper color and mild hoppiness, this Märzen style lager has a dry sweetness to it that makes it a great beer to bring to your evening bonfire.

Valkyrie Brewing Company’s Big Swede Imperial Stout //
Floating down the Red Cedar River
Not every activity that takes place in the great outdoors needs to be super rigorous. If you prefer a more passive, deliciously lazy approach to enjoying river scenery, pack your inner tubes and take a float down the Red Cedar River. You can put in at public boat landing on County I just south of Chetek, WI which will give you access to one of the most popular and social stretches of the river. When you’ve had enough sun and fun, dry off and continue on County I and drive about 20 minutes south to the itty-bitty village of Dallas. This blink-and-miss-it spot is home to Valkyrie Brewing Company, a small but impressive outfit that’s been in operation since 1994. Their Big Swede Imperial Stout is a super-strong, very bold-drinking beer with pronounced maltiness and hints of dark fruits and wood. It’s a perfect beer to end the night and pay homage to your modern version of a viking voyage.


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