Wisconsin and beer have quite the history together.
From the German immigrants who came with all-malt lagers, to the giants of brewing that gave Milwaukee the nickname Brew City – making beer and drinking beer is part of the Wisconsin culture. We even named our pro-baseball team after the tradition.
But what about Wisconsin’s craft beer scene?
More than a century ago, Wisconsin was covered with small, local breweries. In the late 1800s, nearly every community had its own brewery, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
That all changed with the Industrial Revolution. Slowly but surely, big brewers got bigger and bigger. We were left with choices from major brands that basically tasted the same as everything else on tap.
But now things are swinging back the other way. The micro-brewing movement really picked up steam over the past decade, and today there are around 2,500 establishments in the U.S. that the Brewer’s Association considers craft breweries.
There’s a brewing revival happening here in the Badger State too. That includes unique brewpubs, original craft breweries and home brewing enthusiasts.
We have some incredible places to try beers of many flavors right here in Northeast Wisconsin. Check out 14 of them – in no particular order…
1. Hinterland Brewery – Green Bay
Hinterland is likely one of the most well-known breweries in Northeast Wisconsin and deservedly so.
They’ve developed a reputation of class and quality. I know this because if you buy their beer at grocery stores it usually comes in four-packs – so it’s gotta be good.
You’ll find them in a renovated meat-packing facility on Dousman Street in downtown Green Bay, which also serves as a restaurant offering contemporary cuisine.
Hinterland Brewery calls Green Bay home, but it also operates a gastropub in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Plus, they have an affiliate restaurant in Sister Bay called The Whistling Swan, which happens to be Door County’s oldest operating inn. Many other Wisconsin restaurants and bars also offer Hinterland.
Their award-winning beers are full of flavor, including the Flagship Pale Ale and the Luna Stout, which is brewed with coffee from Luna Cafe in De Pere.
One of my personal Hinterland favorites is the limited-release White Cap White IPA, which Zak Bruss reviewed for WhooNEW last spring while attending the official tapping.
2. Titletown Brewing Company – Green Bay
Just across the street from Hinterland is Green Bay’s other very popular brewery. In fact, when people in Northeast Wisconsin talk about Titletown – they’re probably talking about this brewpub – not Green Bay’s nickname.
Titletown Brewing Company is located inside what was once the city’s train depot for Chicago & Northwestern Railway. It makes for a unique atmosphere inside and outside where trains pass by the back patio. The owners have done an excellent job preserving the history.
The railroad theme and local history is also part of Titletown’s beer. The names of their brews are inspired by the railway, legendary Green Bay Packers and other area traditions.
Two of my personal favorite regular beers are the Johnny Blood Red, and the Green 19 IPA. Dark beer drinkers will love the Dark Helmet Schwartzbier.
Titletown is the perfect place to take someone who’s visiting Green Bay for the first time. They’ve got a nice menu, and the restaurant is family friendly, while the the upstairs bar is a great place for hanging out or hosting parties.
Titletown’s Sno-Cap root beer was also one of WhooNEW’s 6 Wisconsin-Made Root Beers.
3. Stone Cellar Brewpub – Appleton
Appleton’s Stone Cellar Brewpub is home to the Stone Arch Brewery. It’s another restaurant/brewery with excellent atmosphere. You’ll drink and dine in the lower level of the historic, “Between the Locks” building, which is more than 150 years old.
Stone Cellar has a long history in local brewing that stretches all the way back to 1858. That’s when a German immigrant named Anton Fischer opened Fischer Brewery in Outagamie County – much to the demise of the area’s tee-totaling, Puritan population.
After changing names and owners over the decades, the expanded brewery is now run by father and son partners Tom and Steve Lonsway. Their handcrafted beer is served at dozens of other restaurants including Stone Cellar, which also has homemade root beer and soda.
Like Titletown, Stone Arch Brew House borrows from local history to name some of its beers. For instance, you can try a Houdini Honey Wheat or the Marquette Pilsner.
4. Fox River Brewing Company – Oshkosh/Fox Cities
You can find this beer inside the Fox River Mall in Grand Chute and at both of the Fratellos restaurants in the Fox Valley.
Fox River Brewing Company actually began at the Oshkosh Fratellos in the mid 90s. Fratellos – which translates to brothers – is owned and operated by the Supple brothers. Fine dining and fantastic craft beer go hand-in-hand, and these guys do an excellent job of creating a memorable experience.
In addition to fun, locally inspired names – you’ll also get a kick out of the artwork on their beer bottles. Some Fox River Brewing Company favorites include Caber Tossing Scottish Ale, Winnebago Wheat and Oshkosh Best Bitter.
5. Door County Brewing Company – Bailey’s Harbor
The guys who make the beer at family-owned Door County Brewing Company say they are inspired by their surroundings.
If this beer tastes as amazing as Door County looks – it has got to be some beautiful beer.
The McMahon family does their brewing in Bailey’s Harbor, on the quieter side of the Door Peninsula. You’ll find that many of the restaurants and bars in Door County have these brews on tap. It’s also available at grocery and liquor stores around the state.
Their beers include Polka King Porter, Little Sister Witbier and Goat Parade Stout. Check out all their flavors at the Door County Beer Festival being held in Bailey’s Harbor June 2014.
6. Shipwrecked Brew Pub – Egg Harbor
Another place making craft beer in Door County is right in the middle of all the action in Egg Harbor.
Shipwrecked has been operating as a bar and restaurant (under different names) since the late 1800s when they say sailors and lumberjacks were frequent customers. During the prohibition – Chicago mobster Al Capone was practically a regular at Shipwrecked.
Capone apparently had underground tunnels (which still exist) built from the establishment so he could make a “quick getaway.”
- Read more about Shipwrecked’s History
The Door County-themed, handcrafted ales available at Shipwrecked include: Lighthouse Light, Peninsula Porter and Door County Cherry Wheat – made with real Door County cherries, of course.
Shipwrecked’s outdoor patio is a nice spot to enjoy a cold one and have something to eat when you shop or explore Egg Harbor.
7. Legends Brewhouse – De Pere/Green Bay
Legends Brewhouse & Eatery has two locations – East De Pere, and on Shawano Ave in West Green Bay. Their theme celebrates local sports heroes and other famous faces from Wisconsin.
The De Pere location is also home to that city’s popular banquet hall – The Swan Club – well-known for it’s family-style chicken and cream puffs…or knee-caps as they like to call them.
Legends’ hand-crafted micro brews include regulars like Acme Amber, Duck Creek Dunkel and Longtail Light. There are also seasonal offerings such as Rudolph’s Red-nosed Ale and Scray’s Hill Scottish Ale.
Combine two Wisconsin favorites when you try Legend’s popular beer cheese soup!
8. Appleton Beer Factory – Appleton
One of the newcomers to the craft brewing scene in Northeast Wisconsin can be found on College Avenue in downtown Appleton.
Appleton Beer Factory also wants visitors to get an up-close look at the brewing process when they visit. Everything out in the open, allowing to watch beer being brewed as you drink it. Plus, the new brewery’s website even offers people an education on home-brewing. Check out BEER EDU.
They say their experienced brewers strive to put a top-notch beer in your glass by making beer that is “balanced.”
At least for now, Appleton Beer Factory is sticking to a no-nonsense method of beer naming. Nothing clever here. Perhaps that’s because they want all the attention to be on the beer and not funky names.
Their regular offerings include a Blonde Ale and a Black Ale, an Amber and an Oatmeal Stout – plus much more. The menu even suggests what beer goes best with the food you want to order. Smart move!
9. Stillmank Brewing – Green Bay
Stillmank burst on to the scene fairly recently with a beer that people love to drink and a name that is impossible to forget – Wisco Disco.
This malty, toasty, slightly sweet beer is kind of like the Fat Tire of Green Bay. It was also a Silver Medal Winner at the World Beer Championships.
Owner, Brad Stillmank, recently announced he plans to move to a permanent location on Green Bay’s east side. It will include a tasting room too.
Stillmank Brewing’s only other beer right now is called Homegrown – a limited edition honey rye. But Stillmank plans to add two more regular beers as it expands the operation. Brad Stillmank told Brewbound.com that the additions will be an IPA and a new rye beer.
10. Badger State Brewing – Green Bay
Yet another newcomer to the craft brewing scene got its start when a couple of friends who got involved in home-brewing, as a hobby, decided to make the leap to become professional brewers.
Badger State Brewing is already making waves. It’s Walloon Witbier recently won a Silver Medal at New York City’s International Beer Competition in in the Belgian Style category. Other flavors include the Green Chop Session IPA and Bunyan Badger Brown Ale.
Founders Sam Yanda, Andrew Fabry and Mike Servi opened in late 2013 and now have four craft beers they’re marketing to area bars.
You can stop in at Badger State Brewing to taste the new beers they’re working on. The brewery is located close to Lambeau Field on Tony Canadeo Run. Pretty sweet location – even if they are in the back of a plastic bag factory.
11. Ahnapee Brewery – Algoma
Rounding out the fresh faces is a small brewery that is both new and steeped in history at the same time.
Long story short – the city of Algoma was once called Ahnapee. A man named Henry Schmilling started brewing beer there in the 1860s. His lager became very popular, but Schmilling closed his operation in 1886 after disease severely damaged his hops.
Now it turns out Schmilling is a relative of the current owners of Algoma’s Von Stiehl Winery – and they’re bringing back the beer-making tradition.
In the summer of 2013, brewmaster Nick Callaway started brewing beer at Von Stiehl. At this point they’re making small, limited batches. A couple of recent offerings were a Multi-Grain Red and a Cream Ale with Coffee.
You can stop in to taste the latest for yourself at the Ahnapee Brewery Tap Room. You should also be able to find Ahnapee beer at bars and restaurants in Algoma as well as The Libertine in Green Bay – which is a nice place to find selections of craft beer from all over Wisconsin.
12. Rail House Brew Pub – Marinette
When you’re “Up North” in Marinette – the best place to grab a craft beer will be the Rail House Brew Pub.
They have 11 microbrews on tap and an outdoor beer garden – for when the weather is right.
There’s something for everyone on the beer menu at this place. If you’re a light beer drinker, try the Oconto Premium. Like your hops? Try the Big Mac IPA – named after the nearby Mackinaw Bridge. Plus, there are traditional beers like an Octoberfest, Red Ale and Oatmeal Stout.
One of the most-popular choices at the Rail House Brew Pub is the Silver Cream. It follows a century-old recipe that came from the old Menominee-Marinette Brewery. They describe it as a “light pilsner brewed with the sweetest malted barley and classic American hops.”
13. The Courthouse Pub – Manitowoc
If you’re on the Lakeshore, make sure to look for the Courthouse Pub in downtown Manitowoc – right across the street form the courthouse – believe it or not!
The fine-dining establishment is housed in a 1860s Greek Revival-style tavern. Check online reviews for this place and you won’t find folks saying too much that’s negative. You will find plenty of people raving about the cheese curds – which is a typical compliment in Wisconsin. But these sound like some classy curds – they come with a raspberry balsamic dipping sauce.
The pub is also home to a microbrewery, where different craft beers are made each month. You’re asked to call ahead and check on the current beer list.
Looking at past menus, you’ll find flavors like an English Ale, a Canadian Ale, a Czech Pilsner and even a southeast Asia-style beer.
14. Rowland’s Calumet Brewery – Chilton
Rowland’s Calumet Brewery hopped on the current craft beer trend early. They’ve been brewing since 1990.
Owner Robert Rowland also hosts an annual beer festival on the Calumet County Fairgrounds. The 2014 fest takes place May 18th.
Rowland’s creates a wide variety of options including Calumet Amber, Calumet Wild Rice and Fat Man’s Nut Brown. There are also seasonal beers like Bitter Bitch Belgian Ale – described as “just like a woman, this beer is extremely satisfying,” and Hunter’s Choice for those who like to taste the hops.
There’s a funny warning on the brewery’s website that reads:
Warning: Micro-brewed beer has a lot of flavor and may cause you to actually taste your beer!
15. Old Bavarian Brewing Company – Appleton
As you’ll notice in the comment section of this article, we originally forgot to include this brewery on our list and a reader reminded us.
Old Bavarian Brewing Company follows the German beer brewing tradition. They import their barley and hops from Germany, and the place is owned by a German family. The beer is actually brewed at Fox River Brewing Company by Old Bavarian brewmasters.
There was once an Old Bavarian Restaurant in Appleton as well. It now exists as OB’s Brau Haus on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. OB’s still serves authentic German cuisine, but the menus is a bit smaller than the original restaurant. OB’s Brau Haus also tends to have more of a nightclub atmosphere than your typical brewpub. You’ll find somewhat scantily-clothed bartenders (who sometimes where lederhosen), a dance floor and there are often DJs at night.
No matter what kind of atmosphere you prefer – the beer is worth trying. Ordering will give you a lesson in proper German pronunciation. There’s a Hefe Weizen, a Kloster Bock, a Munich Lager and of course an Oktoberfest (with a “K”). Click Here to see the full list of beers that Old Bavarian makes.
What Else is On Tap?
If you enjoy beer and haven’t tried some of these places – do it.
Most of the breweries sell their beer in bottles, or you can take home a growler and bring it back for a refill. Look for all the places listed in this article on Facebook to find out what else they’ll be brewing up.
If you know about other craft breweries in our area – tell us about them – even if you live in another part of the state.
Some other amazing Wisconsin breweries outside the NE Wisconsin area obviously aren’t mentioned here. But you’ll find great places all over. For instance, I’ve never had a beer I didn’t like from New Glarus, and we always make a point to stop in at one of the Great Dane locations when we’re nearby.
What’s your favorite brewery in Wisconsin?
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