Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Surprise: Woodman Brewery

When I travel Wisconsin, I enjoy to take the back roads.  Not only is the landscape more beautiful, but sometimes you'll find something unexpected and wonderful.  Case in point: Woodman Brewery.

I was driving from Prairie du Chein to Madison one day when I started to get a little peckish.  I knew I should've grabbed a muffin from the breakfast bar at the hotel, but I was in a rush.  As I drove down Highway 133, the Wisconsin River flowing to my left, the gentle forested hills of the Driftless to my right, I approach the hamlet of Woodman.  And there, right in the middle of town, as if to answer all my prayers is the Woodman Brewery.  I opened the screen door and walked in to an empty horseshoe bar.  At the other side of the room is the brewhouse--if you can call it that.  It was barely more than a walled-off kitchen with some large kettles on a stove.  This made One Barrel Brewing look like New Glarus.  Looking around, this is your typical small-down dive.  Electronic dart boards, pool table, big-screens for the Packers.  But the beer on draught was a step up.  Not a Michelob to be found.  Only the mad brews of a beer-frenzied mind.

Suddenly, I'm greeted by Dennis Erb, the owner/brewer/frenzied mind of the operation.  I sit down, he grills up a mighty tasty burger, and we start chatting about the beer.  Dennis is pushing for a more unusual line-up.  At Woodman, you'll find beers such as a red ale infused with rose pedals, a white stout, and a rye-based IPA.  A lot of his beer feature infused flavors: peanut butter porter, jalapeno blonde, molasses bock, French onion saison, and a teriyaki rice lager.  Some of these flavors were a bit awkward but the ones that worked, worked really well.    For a town of 132, this was a serious operation.  All-in-all, Dan has 16 available on draft.  I made sure to bring home a sixer.

Woodman Brewery might not be the most upscale brewpub in Wisconsin, but it sure was a welcome sight for a beer-loving, road-weary traveller looking for lunch.  It's good to know that small towns in Wisconsin are starting to go back to the old ways of supporting the local brewer.  After all, isn't variety the spice of life?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Our Favorite Drives: Highway 23

Wisconsin has a wide range of beautiful landscapes and off-the-beaten-path places to see. What better way then Wisconsin's scenic byways? In that spirit of adventurism, I am starting a new segment for More Than Curds: Our Favorite Drives.
Photo: Wikipedia
First up is State Trunk 23. Often called Highway 23, this road stretches from Shullsburg on the border of Illinois to Sheboygan on Lake Michigan.  The route was established in 1918 and has been popular ever since.  23 sees a wide-variety of landscape, but my personal favorite is in the southern portion, through the Driftless Region.  Here's what you do:

Start your day just off just south of Shullsburg on Highway U.  Follow signs and you'll find the Gravity Hill.  Throw your car in neutral, and it'll begin rolling uphill!  Next, head up to 23 and you'll see Roelli Cheese Haus.  This is a small, artisan cheese plant owned by the same Swiss family for generations.  Stop in to pick up some of the best Wisconsin cheese in the state!  Our recommendation?  The Dunbarton Blue is great with almost any beer in Wisconsin.

Keep driving north and enjoy the view.  You'll drive through some of the gently rolling hills of the Driftless landscape.  This area is hope to happy cows and beautiful vistas of traditional family farmland.  Soon, you'll reach Mineral Point.  This exceedingly quaint town is home to a brewpub, cheesemaker, amazing Japanese cuisine, Wisconsin's Cornish history, and a slew of art galleries and studios.  Take your time and wander the granite-built streets of this near 200-year-old town.

Onward.  On your way north, you'll soon run into Dodgeville.  Dodgeville is home to Wisconsin's oldest courthouse, and Land's End clothing.  Stop by the Land's End outlet for some amazing clothing deals, then explore Wisconsin's mining heritage.  Dodgeville is also gateway to Governor Dodge State Park (one of my personal favorite hiking and camping spots in the state).
Governor Dodge State Park.  Photo: Wisconsin DNR

Photo: TLC
Leaving Dodgeville, you'll find some interesting sights along the road.  On the left is the Don Q Inn, the charmingly eccentric hotel with the Boeing C-97 in front.  Farther north, the road will dip and twist more as the hills express themselves through the forested landscape.  On the ridges, you'll see spectacular vistas of the Driftless, speckled with red barns and black cows grazing on the pastures.  Eventually, you'll come across The House On The Rock.   Built by Alex Jordan Jr. in 1959, House On The Rock is now one of the most famous attractions in Wisconsin.  Some may call it a tourist trap, but I'll let you decide that for yourself.

If bizarre collections in a nonsensical house doesn't appeal to you, maybe you're just at the wrong house.  Not much further up 23 is a house of international fame.  Designed by Wisconsin's own Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin was the personal home of the architect.  Truly a spectacular work of art, the house is just south of Spring Green.  Spring Green is also home to American Players Theatre.  I'd recommend stopping at the Driftless Depot for local provisions before enjoying open-air productions of Shakespeare and other greats.
 There is a lot more to see on Highway 23.  The ride to Reedsburg will reveal soaring hills and cool valleys, and cutting across Wisconsin to Sheboygan will open up to the prairie plains, but the southern leg of 23 is always my favorite.  Rememebr: it's not the destination, it's the journey.