If you live in the Chicago area, and especially if you're a Cubs fan, you are sure to have heard the slogan that Old Style has been using. Of course, the G. Heileman Brewing Company is now owned by Miller and in Milwaukee, not Chicago, so that undermines their point of being local. But I digress.
When Tracy and I were talking about this vacation, it quickly turned into the "B" vacation. We had talked earlier about going to the Leinenkugel brewery, and I wanted to see the new Target field. From there, it quickly fell into place that this would be a baseball (2 games), beer (Leinie's and Miller), and bed and breakfast tour. Let me just say again, look at those first two, I have the greatest wife.
Tracy has a friend, Jason, who runs a beer review site The Greatest Beer of All Time. After hearing about our itinerary of going through Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, he asked if we could pick up some micro-brews that don't ship to our area. We readily agreed. He sent us a list of breweries and we started planning. Jason underestimated one thing. Both of us are...umm...a little OCD. He didn't give us a list of possibilities. He gave us a scavenger hunt. He gave us free license to stop at every brewery and liquor store in the name of a cause.
As everyone in the Iowa City area knows, Dirty John's was our first stop, which knocked out most of the Iowa beers. It also started a trend. The beer guy is your friend.
It's not that the average liquor store employee is necessarily the most knowledgeable about selection, and beer, as with most things, is very much a matter of personal taste. But if you find the actual beer expert at the store, he is an unparalleled resource. He'll recommend options you didn't know about, he'll steer you clear of choices that will only waste your time and money. He'll tell you the schedule if something is due out, or is currently out of stock. And he'll do it cheerfully. He likes beer, and therefore, wants you to like beer. It's fun to talk to him. Iowa City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee; in each we had a great beer guy help us find things, making suggestions all the while. All micro-brews, many regional, things we had never heard of, much less tried before.
So we saw a 2 man bottling operation in Minneapolis at the Flat Earth Brewing Company. We talked with Dave at Dave's Brew Farm, a tiny wind powered brewery. At Leinies we saw a tremendous civic pride over a local story (4th largest craft beer in the country, per the tour), and at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, we found a brew pub that became successful enough to begin bottling and distribution. They all shared a passion for their job, they really enjoy crafting beer. And they all are trying to make something good, while doing something good. Spent grain is used as animal feed. Bottles and cans are recycled. Equipment re-used, heat captured and re-directed, water use decreased. Wind power. Bio-diesel. Contracting for local ingredients and distribution. Oh, and beer me that rock to save water. (That takes a little more to explain, but trust me, a micro-brewery that is going out of its way to encourage people to reduce water flushed in toilets is impressive).
We also hit a couple of wineries, and while the vibe is a little different, the concept of thinking and drinking local stands. Find the what you like, obviously. That's rule number 1. It doesn't matter if it's being produced down the street if it's terrible, but which would you prefer, a local drink that's fresh and tastes great, or something mass produced? I'm just saying, for the most part Bud, Miller and Coors don't do anything for me taste-wise, so this isn't a difficult decision. If I can support the people who are doing something good, I'm all for it. I don't mean environmentally, although that's a bonus, I mean they're making some amazing products. Trying some new things, beer, wine, restaurants, bed and breakfasts was what made this such a great trip. Very little was pre-packaged. Very little was chain.
Thanks for the list Jason, it helped form the framework for the trip. Thanks beer guys for all the information. Thanks for the time, Dave. And thanks to the Milwaukee Brewing Company for having a great tour. It was a great trip.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to do some research to discover what is around here.