Nearly a month has passed since I last chronicled a brewery visit, but I promise it’s not due to laziness; in reality, it’s been that long since I last ponied up at a previously unvisited Chicagoland taproom.
A gap of that length is definitely unusual, but it doesn’t mean my palate has moved on from hazy IPAs and refreshing Saisons. A by and large overflowing summer calendar has dragged me out of town a fair amount, but it’s also allowed me to sample some quality beers in more than a couple unique, off-the-beaten-path locations along the way.
K Point Brewing: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Pure geographical convenience brought us to K Point, as it’s located a hop, skip and a jump off of I-94 in Eau Claire on the road north to St. Paul, which was the final destination of our road trip last weekend.
I’ve come across restaurants that brew their own beer, breweries that make their own coffee, cozy cafes that sell beer and wine, but our visit to K Point was the first time I’d ever experienced…well, I’m not exactly sure a label exists that could accurately describe the quirky establishment.
In a nutshell, it’s a charming nanobrewery directly attached — both physically and theoretically — to a place called The Coffee Grounds, a dynamic hybrid between a coffee house, an organic food store, a café, and a craft beer/wine/cigar shop.
If it sounds like they’re trying to do too much, that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction, but in my opinion, they pull it off with distinction. Oh yeah, and the taproom’s beer absolutely hit the spot…so much so that we purchased a 32-ounce “crowler” of the house Mosaic IPA to go for that evening’s happy hour.
Barrel Theory Beer Company: St. Paul, Minnesota
For the second time in one day, pure geographical convenience led us directly to the next brew stop. Downtown St. Paul’s Barrel Theory is situated about two blocks from our host’s apartment, and as my buddy isn’t exactly a craft beer aficionado, it seemed like the most logical move.
It was just what the hop-lover ordered: outdoor seating on a sunny Minnesota evening and a menu packed with sippy pale ales, spruce-like IPAs and bursting Imperial IPAs.
Seriously, across the spectrum — from relatively low ABV and IBU to the dankest of the dankety-dank — the offerings were flavorful, balanced and frighteningly easy-drinking. In either a taster of a full pint, I enjoyed a total of four: Magic Man, Rain Drops, Shooter McGavin, and my personal favorite — Why Go Hard When You Can Go Home?
To which I counter: why not go hard and then go home?
Turtle Stack Brewing: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Go ahead, take a stab at identifying the primary factor in our decision to start the final night of our road trip at Turtle Stack.
Exhaustive research? Rave recommendation? Throwing a dart at a map?
No, you simpleton! Pure geographical convenience, per usual. It was literally next door to our hotel.
A stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, the taproom is compact and minimalist, while a lack of natural light contributes to a dark, oddly tranquil atmosphere. Though after three days of camping, hiking, beaches and ball games, we were more than ready to get out of the sun, put our feet up and enjoy a laid-back environment, with nothing to do but relax and taste beer.
The offerings were basic but balanced: two IPAs, a Kölsch, an Altbier, a Summer Ale, a Brown Ale, a Stout and a Porter. We stuck to the summery, hoppy varieties, and came away satisfied with our pleasant mini pregame before dabbling in the La Crosse nightlife scene, which I’d describe as “thoroughly Wisconsin.”
You’re reading this blog, so I don’t need to tell you that the craft brewery revolution has officially reached its tentacles into every corner of Americana.
Even so, it’s pretty cool to spend time in some of the small, innovative little establishments popping up across the Midwest, particularly in small to mid-size towns like La Crosse and Eau Claire. It’s clear that wide distribution and massive expansion are not part of the end game for most of them; serving as a gathering place for the local community — where good times and good beer can be enjoyed by all — is typically what it’s all about.
Next time you’re road tripping north, try to carve out an hour or two for these local gems. And don’t forget your camo hats.