If your idea of beer tourism in Wisconsin is going to a Milwaukee Brewers game at Miller Park, touring the 82-acre Miller Brewery, shivering in the Miller Caves, banging back a High Life at the Miller Inn at the tour's end and eating at an Italian joint that used to be Schlitz's Brown Bottle restaurant, your Wisconsin beer itinerary could use an update.
There's nothing wrong with celebrating the storied and largely German tradition of beer brewing in Wisconsin, just as long as you realize it's still evolving. Sprecher Brewing on Glendale, Wis., was founded by a former Pabst brewing supervisor in 1985 and is a microbrew for only one reason -- it's really small. Otherwise, brews such as its Hefe Weiss, Black Bavarian, Special Amber and Light Ale -- as well as seasonal offerings such as its Oktoberfest and Summer Pils -- are brewed in the same German and Eastern European tradition that spawned 80 breweries in Milwaukee alone in the 1880s. The brewery's tours and reserve tastings reflect this, giving visitors insight into the Old World brewing process and pairing the beers with traditional artisan cheese counterparts.
Sprecher, however, looks downright New World compared with New Glarus Brewing. The brewery was founded in 1993, but has copper kettles bought from a German brewery and a new hilltop brewing facility designed to look like a Bavarian village. Before you decide to go on the brewery's self-guided tours, "hard hat" tours of the whole works or its beer tastings, prepare to be distracted by the surroundings. The little town of 2,300 was founded in 1845 by immigrants from Glaus, Switzerland, and has been unmistakably Swiss ever since. The town's flag is a version of the Swiss flag and flies everywhere; Swiss chalet-style businesses and homes line the streets; a Swiss bakery is still in operation; Swiss meat and cheese shops abound; and dishes such as roschti, kalberwurst, spatzeli and cheese and meat fondue are still the fare of the day. If you can process all of that and still have room for a Spotted Cow ale, Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale or a Two Women lager, it'll be well worth the trip.If you want some idea of where modern Milwaukee beer is headed, look no further than the other beer sold at Brewers games and the owners of mascot Bernie Brewer's original chalet from demolished Milwaukee County Stadium: Lakefront Brewery. Founded in 1985, Lakefront consistently pushed convention by offering the first certified-organic beer in America with its Extra Special Bitter, a sorghum rice-based gluten-free beer in its New Grist and a somewhat notorious tour of its former power plant brewery that gives visitors their beer first in the hopes of keeping their attention and allows tour guides to ad lib much of the tour's content. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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