You’re in Madison and you’ve done pretty much everything. New Glarus, though quaint, can only entertain the out-of-town relatives so many times. Where else can support a full-fledged day trip? Enter Lake Mills. This small, unassuming town has more than you’d think. An easy 20-minute drive down I-94 from Madison, Lake Mills is a great getaway when Madison is otherwise occupied.
Lake Mills is a town steeped in history and intrigue. The lake itself has a Loch Ness-style myth stating that three pyramids sit at the bottom of the Rock Lake. This lake is also known as Tyranena, a name that was at one time used by the city before the white settlers switched back to Lake Mills. Though aerial photography has not proved the pyramids yet, some locals are hopeful that their story will be vindicated by future academics.
We got our start at Carp's Landing pub and grill. With a Sunday brunch that included house-smoked ribs and brisket, and a menu that featured “Wisconsin’s Best Reuben” we knew that we had to try it out. Located in historic downtown Lake Mills, this place was accessible and spacious. The brunch was buffet style but featured a large variety of options including some surprisingly delicious house-smoked barbecue. The Reuben was indeed tasty, but could have used more of that house-brined corned beef between the bread. A big redeeming quality of Carp's Landing was the $1 mimosas during Sunday brunch—a welcome counterpoint to the beer we’d be sampling later in the day.
|The reconstructed palisades of Aztalan|
After fueling up, it was only five miles east of town to get to Aztalan State Park. I have to admit, my insistence of stopping here was directly due to my degree in archaeology courtesy of Beloit College, but the consensus from the group was that it was both a relaxing and educational way to spend an afternoon. Though discovered in the 1830’s when the first permanent European settlers came to area, much of the settlement was destroyed by local farmers until preservation societies and the government intervened in the 1960’s. Aztalan finally made the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and is now a stare park so that all may learn and enjoy the rich culture of the Mississippians.
|The large mound at Aztalan|
Aztalan is the northernmost site in a series of mound-builder settlements (known academically as the Mississippian Culture) that ranged from northern Florida to Wisconsin. Aztalan featured a series of large mounds built between 900 and 1300 CE and the modern state park even has reconstructed wood palisades to help visitors envision what the site might have looked like in it heyday. We strolled the mounds, read the signs, and learned about the people that called Wisconsin home before our ancestors moved to this beautiful land.
|Chief Blackhawk at Tyranena Brewery|
Needless to say, magnificent ancient societies can take a lot out of somebody. After tromping around the mounds, we had worked up a thirst. Lucky for us, Tyranena Brewery is right down the road from Aztalan. Tyranena has been brewing since 1999 and making some of the best craft beer Wisconsin has seen. They’re one of the first breweries in the state that experimented with bourbon-barrel brews, and have been producing an impressive range of beers that keep both connoisseurs and newcomers to craft beer curious for more. In the sampling room, we had a flight of 9 brews for only $10--a great deal for anybody looking to try the line.
|Going down the line|
Favorites of the day were the two "Brewers Gone Wild!" releases which are only made for a limited time. The HopWhore was an impressive Imperial IPA that kicked you in the mouth with 7.5% alcohol and a whole lot of hops. This thing was bitter. The other was Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter Aged in Rye Barrels. Both the name and flavor was a mouthful. Rye, rye, and more rye was backed up with hefty malt and oak flavors. Simply delicious. Another quirk that we loved about Tyranena was the beautiful Golden Retriever that wandered the sampling room. Apparently there are a few dogs that hang out at the bar. The one we met was very friendly and cultivated a welcome atmosphere at the brewery.
For me, the combination of archaeology and beer was divine. Lake Mills has earned More Than Curds' seal of approval and makes a great day trip for the whole family.