Tag Archives: breweries

Central Wis. breweries have winning beers on tap

Beer is central to many Wisconsinites, but many of them don’t think of central Wisconsin as a hub for it. That’s a misconception worth changing. The heart of our state features a variety of breweries new and old, some highly acclaimed and others little known outside their communities. 

If you find yourself wandering around the central part of Wisconsin, here are some places to stop in for a cool one or two.

The first brewery on our list also is the oldest. Founded in 1857, Stevens Point Brewery is the fifth oldest brewery in the United States. It even provided beer to Union troops during the Civil War.

The little brewery survived Prohibition, the Depression and other historic milestones under the oversight of a variety of brewers/owners. In 2002, the brewery was purchased by Milwaukee real estate developers Joe Martino and Jim Wiechmann. The pair has continued and expanded on the brewery’s 158-year-old traditions.

Point beers have enjoyed some long-term popularity, including being named the best beer in America in 1973 by the late Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko. Since then the brewery has widened its variety of brews, including the higher-alcohol Whole Hog Ltd. specialty series, seasonal brews and gourmet sodas. The entertaining brewery tour always includes samples.

A growing number of beer geeks have discovered and are reveling in the beers from O’so Brewing Co., located in the Stevens Point suburb of Plover. Brewers James Vokoun and Mark Spilker specialize in the unexpected and their dedication to the craft of craft brewing shows.

Based in the Village Park strip mall off of Interstate 39, just south of Stevens Point, O’so boasts one of the nicest tasting rooms of any craft brewer in the state. The more than 20 tap lines feature nan extensive array of O’so’s well-known, seasonal and one-off brew and a rich cross-section of some of the state’s best craft beers, assuring that there is something for every taste.

If you’re stopping by, make sure you bring your designated driver so you can tap into some of O’so’s extreme offerings, including Grandpa’s Got a Gun (brandy barrel-aged American strong ale), Wheat You Talkin’ ’bout, Willis? (brandy barrel-aged wheat wine) and Spike’s Maple (an American strong ale made with 100 percent maple sap rather than water). At 10 percent ABV, this last beer is sure to “spike” your blood alcohol content.

Travel 20 minutes east of Plover and you will hit the tiny community of Amherst. Within an even tinier industrial park you will find Central Waters Brewing Co., which, along with O’so, has helped make central Wisconsin a craft beer mecca.

Owners Paul Graham and Anello Mollica have expanded on the brewery, first founded in Junction City in 1995, to embrace a wide array of craft beers that have established Central Waters’ reputation statewide. The small tasting room that fronts the brewing tanks offers a comfortable atmosphere and a wide array of interesting brews.

Known for beers like Mudpuppy Porter, Hop Rise Session Ale and Satin Solitude Imperial Stout, all featuring a heron on the label and available in area bottle shops, Central Waters’ Brewers Reserve series is capturing the public’s palates. Our personal favorite is the Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal Award Winner Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout. Produced with 75 pounds of tart Door County cherries added to each barrel, the resulting beer is richly textured, sublimely flavorful and deceptively strong.

The brewery’s Space Ghost Imperial Stout, brewed with Anaheim chiles and Ghost peppers, also got top marks. Buy it if you can find it.

Central Waters isn’t the only brewery to festoon their labels with a heron. The Blue Heron Brewpub in Marshfield — which actually has a white heron in its logo — differs from the previous breweries in also being a full-service restaurant. The beers are balanced by a menu of pub standards and a few out-of-the-ordinary dishes, which received top marks on TripAdvisor and other sites.

Blue Heron regularly features three standards: Honey Blonde Ale, Tiger’s Eye Mild English Ale and Hop Heart IPA. But the brewery also produces interesting seasonals on a revolving schedule.

This month you will find Fainting Goat Maibock and Hip Wader Pale Ale on tap. Tappers Tripel Ale promises to have a little more kick than the rest of the lineup, while Rauch ‘Em Sock ‘Em Smoked Ale and Thunder Echo White Stout are varieties rarely seen. Couple either with the brewpub’s elk burger or “Grown Up Mac and Cheese” and the results will be more than satisfactory.

The Marathon County community of Wausau was originally known as Big Bull Falls when it was founded in 1836, owing largely to the particular bend of the Wisconsin River on which it is located. The name is carried on with Bull Falls Brewery, one of three craft breweries in Wausau. Brewmaster Mike Zamzow has created a variety of brews, some emblematic of the craft brew market and others a little more unusual.

Zamzow comes with a distinct brewing legacy. His great uncle Walter Zamzow was the secretary at Marathon City Brewery in Wausau, which closed in 1966 after operating for 75 years. Bull Falls’ signature beer, Marathon Lager, is based on the original Marathon Superfine recipe. The premium beer, lightly hopped, recreates an area favorite from an earlier time.

Zamzow also brews a Bock Lager, Bourbon Barrel Stout and Hefeweizen in addition to Holzhacker Lager (a Munich-style Helles beer). Midnight Star (a German-style schwarzbier) and Hop Worthy, the brewery’s IPA. The emphasis on lagers, which are more difficult and more costly to produce, sets Bull Falls apart from much of the competition.

Red Eye Brewing Co., also located in Wausau, is another brewpub, this one with a menu emphasizing wood-fired pizza. The menu also lists burgers, paninis and wraps, as well as sides, salads and starters.

Brewer Kevin Eichelberger has taken his brewery a different direction than Bull Falls, with an emphasis on IPAs, Belgian-style brews and other creative fare. Eichelberger’s current tap list includes Bloom (a Belgian wheat beer), Thrust (an American-style IPA), Scarlet 7 (a Belgian-style “dubbel”) and Charlatan (an imperial stout.)

Wausau also is home to one of five Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. locations, the northernmost and the only one outside the Madison metro area. Those familiar with the Madison locations will recognize the beer menu, which includes Crop Circle Wheat, Emerald Isle Stout, Stone of Scone Scotch Ale and other favorites developed by Madison brewmaster Rob LoBreglio.

The Wausau Great Dane also offers a full service food menu much like its Madison cousins.


Stevens Point Brewery

2617 Water St., Stevens Point



O’so Brewing Co.

3028 Village Park, Plover



Central Waters Brewing Co.

351 Allen St., Amherst



Blue Heron Brewpub

108 W. 9th St., Marshfield



Bull Falls Brewery

901 E. Thomas St., Wausau



Red Eye Brewing Co.

612 Washington St., Wausau



Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.

2305 Sherman St., Wausau



Breweries big and small go gluten-free

In Madison, as elsewhere, the craft beer movement is booming, and Trevor Easton is one more veteran homebrewer who’s decided to go commercial.

But Easton’s tiny Greenview Brewing, one of several located in the House of Brews facility on Madison’s east side, has one distinct difference from its competition. Bottling under the “Alt Brew” label, Greenview is the only area brewery — and one of only a few in the country — to exclusively brew gluten-free beer.

By definition, gluten-free beer is made from ingredients that do not contain glycoproteins — aka the offending gluten. Glycoproteins are found in barley, wheat and other cereals used to make bakery goods and beer. Gluten-free beer exchanges a malted barley base for other foundational ingredients like millet, rice or sorghum.

It’s largely health issues that have motivated the creation of gluten-free beer. The cereals used in traditional brewing can trigger symptoms for those who are merely gluten sensitive, as well as those who suffer from celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. Left untreated, celiac disease also can lead to other autoimmune disorders, neurological conditions, short stature or intestinal cancers, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, and complete abstinence from gluten is the only known way to combat it.

That’s the reason veteran brewer Easton set up Greenview Brewing. His wife, Maureen, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007, forcing him to cease his home operation. But in May, he started brewing gluten-free beer using his own one-barrel nano-brewery system, which he says is isolated from other House of Brews operations in order to avoid cross-contamination with gluten.

Easton currently distributes beers on a limited basis in 22-oz. “bombers” in Madison, Stoughton and Whitewater. Two brews currently on the market are his Hollywood Nights Blonde IPA and a more traditional-tasting Farmhouse Ale.

Other Wisconsin brewers also have experimented with gluten-free beer. Sprecher Brewing Co., based in Glendale, brews Mbege and Shakparo ales based on traditional West African beer recipes. 

Both brands, originally created for Milwaukee’s African World Festival, were created from a base of sorghum and millet, traditional beer ingredients in regions like West Africa where barley and wheat aren’t as abundant. The beers weren’t purposefully made to be gluten-free, but it’s a happy byproduct.

New Grist Pilsner Style Beer, brewed by Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, follows the rice-and-sorghum formula to remain gluten-free. Described as “a crisp, refreshing session ale” on Lakefront’s website, New Grist has won a half-dozen awards since its introduction in 2006. (See sidebar, page 26.)

One more Wisconsin entry into the category is Stevens Point Brewery’s JP A’Capella Gluten Free Pale Ale. But be advised, this sorghum-based ale has gotten seriously mixed reviews, so it might not be best as your first taste of gluten-free beer.

Here are other gluten-free beers of interest:

Estrella Daura, bottled in Barcelona, may be the best-known, most widely available gluten-free beer on the global market. It may also be the most critically decorated, winning top awards from the International Taste & Quality Institute in Brussels, the World Beer Championship, and the World’s Best Gluten-free Lager Award at The Beverage Tasting Institute’s World Beer Awards.

New Planet Gluten-free Beer, a brewery in Boulder, Colorado, offers a line of gluten-free craft brands, including pale, amber, blonde and brown ales, as well as a raspberry and Belgian ale. Fans laud the variety and heartiness of the lineup.

When U.K. entrepreneur Derek Green was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1988, he vowed he wouldn’t give up his beloved ale. But it took 16 years and a chance meeting with an eminent Belgian professor of brewing before he could come up with a gluten-free beer he liked. Not surprisingly, he named it Discovery, and it helped launch Green’s Gluten Free Beers. Today there are nine different varieties, but Discovery, an amber ale with subtle caramel and nut nuances, still plays a central role.

Epic Brewing Co. claims it has brewed “a gluten-free beer for everybody,” and that may be the best way to describe Glutenator. The Salt Lake City brewer has eschewed sorghum, the most common ingredient in gluten-free beer, for a blend of light-bodied millet, brown rice, sweet potatoes and molasses, along with plenty of American hops. Like most craft beers, it must be tasted to be understood and appreciated.

Sam Calagione, owner and beer wizard at Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, decided gluten-free beer needn’t be just an experiment in grain. Utilizing a sorghum base like most brewers, he also added honey and strawberries, giving his Tweason’ale a unique profile. Think of it as almost a cider, but not quite.

Lakefront’s gluten-free redefines brewing parameters

Russ Klisch, co-owner of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, believes in everyone’s right to enjoy a beer. And he knows a market niche when he sees one. 

So in 2006, when Klisch learned that a brewery worker’s family member had been diagnosed with celiac disease, it prompted him to explore possibilities for gluten-free beer. 

At the time, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau required beverages to contain at least 25 percent malted barley in order to be legally sold as “beer,” which prohibited anyone with celiac disease from imbibing in his brews. Lakefront could have produced a line of gluten-free alcoholic beverages (as did Bard’s Tale, a brewery in Minnesota), but Klisch decided instead to try and change the TTB policy.

He came up with a plan for a gluten-free beer and submitted it to the bureau, ultimately convincing TTB officials to create a new category, accommodating beer brewed without malted barley. Their entry in that category, New Grist, now accounts for about 25 percent of the brewery’s total production of nearly two dozen brands, according to Matt Krajnak, Lakefront’s communications director.

“New Grist is brewed with the intent of tasting like a pilsner,” Krajnak says. “It’s made with sorghum and rice, so the flavor profile is quite different from, say, our Klisch Pilsner. The high amount of fermentable sugars in the sorghum and rice extracts make it drier than Klisch Pilsner.

“New Grist also has a slight tanginess, or tartness, reminiscent of a cider, which, I think, is characteristic of malted sorghum. I’ve had other sorghum beers, like Green’s Quest Tripel, which is delicious, that have the same tanginess.”

New Grist earned a Gold Award for Experimental Beer at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. Five years later, the beer earned a silver medal in the Gluten Free Beer category at the same event, a step that acknowledged a change in the law and indicated the increased appearance and appeal of gluten-free beers across the country.