What a weekend - I think I need a vacation! And a bigger belt...

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As mentioned in the fish fry review (below), my friend Nat from Arkansas came to visit this weekend. It was super awesome that he was able to make the trek from Arkansas to Wisconsin - he's started a new business venture, so his time is incredibly scarce right now. The fact that he was able to make it up to Wisconsin was excellent, so I made sure to plan a "best of the best" weekend.

Nat flew in to Milwaukee late on Thursday afternoon, so I took off from work at about 2:00pm to go pick him up. First things first: some quality Wisconsin pizza, along with cheese curds and of course, a Wisconsin micro brew. After escaping the airport (and Milwaukee traffic), we set our sights on Jefferson's legendary Ken's Town Inn Pizza. I gave Dan and Tara a call to see if they could join us, and as luck would have it, they were available, so we agreed to meet at Ken's for some grub and good conversation.

We arrived to Ken's at around 6:30pm and were pleased to find the place just moderately busy. We easily scored a great table in the bar area, ordered a few $1 Supper Clubs, and caught-up on things.

Nat knows of my blogging penchant, so I suggested that we take a photo of us holding a beverage at every single event/place we visited over the weekend. It all starts here, at Ken's:


Dan, Tara, and their kids arrived shortly after that photo, and we promptly ordered some food. Dan, Tara and I were starving; Nat had grabbed a light bite at the Chicago airport, and the kids were more interested in finishing their homework, so we decided to order three pizzas (two small, one medium) and some curds. Ken's has some excellent curds - they're surprisingly good, so when they arrived, I snapped a quick picture and then we destroyed them:


The pizzas arrived shortly thereafter and while they were good, they weren't as great as they've been in the past. The sauce was a little heavy, and the bottoms were a little burned. Oh well - even bad pizza beats most other good things, so we didn't complain too much. Here's our pizza feast:


After devouring the pizza, we decided to head to Lake Mills so that Nat could take in his first "brewery tour" of the trip. So, we hit the Tyranena Brewery for a beverage in their tasting room - not quite a tour, but the spirit was in the right place.


Not the greatest photo (it's always quite dark in there), but you get the idea. We chatted with Dan about the Aztalan indians and their role in the Rock Lake pyramids, survival in this climate, and the carnivorous nature of fish (Dan's really knowledgeable about local history, hunting, fishing, and general survivalist-type subjects). It's always great to visit with Dan; it was even better to have Nat along to participate and share in the conversation. After a few hours, we bid farewell to Dan and hit the highway.

While driving back to Madison, I asked Nat if he had ever sampled a "boot," to which he responded, "I don't believe I have - rugby players used to drink from their shoes, but I can't say that I've ever tried a boot."

With that, our next destination was determined: The Come Back In for a boot of microbrew. We were fortunate to find a good parking space and even luckier to find a place at the bar. We grabbed a few bowls of the complimentary popcorn, ordered a boot of New Glarus Naked, and snapped the obligatory photo (backlight = bad photo, sorry):


We spent a lot of time catching-up on things at the CBI, and we also had a chance to chat with some of the staff, all of whom are super friendly and fun to be around. I think I ate about 39 bowls of popcorn while there... not real good for me, but the CBI pops a mean corn. With the clock pointing far into the evening hours, and my belly overly full with popcorn, we decided to head back to the apartment. We had a busy day ahead of us, so rest was definitely the best order of business.

Friday morning came and I hit the road for a run. I pointed Nat toward a local bike/walking trail, and was happy to hear that he managed a 5-mile journey - not bad! With the miles under our belts we hopped into the car and headed toward New Glarus for a "hard hat" tour of the New Glarus Brewery.

It's become a tradition that we tour a brewery whenever Nat's in Wisconsin, so I scored us some reservations for the limited-availability hard hat tour at New Glarus. The tour is held once a week, on Friday afternoons, and is limited to 15 people. It's sold out for months in advance because you get to tour the brewery with one of the technical staff, look "behind the scenes," meet the owners, and sample some of their "R&D" beers along with a bunch of high quality local cheeses.

We met the tour group at the 'old' New Glarus facility:


That's where it all started, back in 1993, when Dan & Deb Carey decided to start mass production and sale of their beloved home-crafted brews. Dan is a master brewer, of which there are just a handful in existence. Our tour guide gave us the details as to how it all started, and as to why the brewery has insisted that its beer never be sold outside of Wisconsin (quality control - they can carefully monitor how far it travels and under what conditions).

It's called a "hard hat tour" because you're required to wear a hard hat. The tour literally takes you into the production areas, so the hats help protect your gourd from any falling items and also serves to identify you as a member of the tour. Here's Nat and I, complete with our New Glarus hard hats:


After some background information, we headed into the first brew room, which houses two copper vats that came from a small family-owned brewery in Germany. These are a rare find, as they're 100% hand-hammered copper; such devices are no longer manufactured because it's so time consuming (approximately 30,000 hours per vat) and expensive. Dan was able to score these from the failed German brewery and bought them for scrap value because the German brewmaster that was selling them was pleased that Dan would actually use them in production. They were disassembled, crated, loaded into a ship, and sent to the United States, where Dan and his crew reassembled them here in New Glarus:


These two vats produced 100% of the New Glarus brewery product from the 90s through 2007. They're still used today, but primarily as R&D vats and limited edition production vats. The majority of the standard New Glarus brew is produced at the new facility in one of the four copper-clad (but stainless steel) vats.

We were shocked to find someone inside of the vats - Dave was inside of this vat, cleaning it, as it had just completed a batch of an "unplugged" limited edition beer earlier in the morning.


From the "kitchen," we made our way through the rest of the old facility, where we saw their pre-world war II era grain mill (it still grinds all of the grain they use today), their old bottling line (it processes 16-bottles per minute), and their old quality control lab. We got to see the old cold storage tanks as well, which were impressive nonetheless:


While we were there, the crew was bottling and packaging Raspberry Tart, which is a sparkling ale. It was pretty neat to see the bottling process; after spending an hour or so at this facility, we headed to the "Hilltop" facility, which is their brand new $20-million brewery.

We made the short drive through New Glarus and reconvened at the brewery's main entrance. Here's what the new place looks like:


Before resuming our tour, Deb Carey came out to introduce herself and to share some information about the brewery with our group. It turns out that she created all of the design and architectural elements of the new facility, and she's also the person responsible for the artwork that you'll find on their bottles. She talked with us for about 10 minutes before resuming her normal duties as a co-owner/manager. Here she is talking with our group:


After bidding farewell to Deb, we made our way into the new facility, where we saw their four new vats. As mentioned earlier, these aren't solid copper like the old ones; they're copper clad, with stainless internals. The stainless internals are easier to clean, and hold-up better to constant use. Look at these monsters:


What struck me as so interesting about the New Glarus Brewery was that the place is spotless. Not just "clean," but surgical sterile clean. You'd be hard-pressed to find a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. I guess it goes without saying... "cleanliness is next to godliness."

From the cooking area, we headed through the rest of the facility, where we saw their yeasting machinery, new cooling tanks, new bottling line (the new one can process 100+ bottles per minute), and their "small sample batch" areas. Here are photos from each of those areas:






After seeing all of the production facilities, we headed into the Quality Control center, where we learned that New Glarus employs more QC-related people than production employees. Dan & Deb are obsessed with quality and consistency - they triple check every single detail and personally oversee most (if not all) of the production aspects. It's probably one of the reasons their product is so fantastic.

Our guide, Dan (not Dan Carey) is one of the QC folks and we were impressed with is knowledge of not only beer but science and chemistry. He was rattling off tons of information about metabolic rates of various yeast strains, chemical reactions as related to yeasts and hops, cryogenics and so on. Here he is showing us one of the tests they perform as it relates to yeast content:


I took about 20 additional photos while on the tour, but I don't want to bore you with every single detail, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that this tour was by far the best tour we've ever seen - the level of detail and the amount of information was staggering. If you'd like to take an in-depth tour of a brewery, look no further than the New Glarus hard hat tour. It's well worth the $20, just be sure to sign-up well in advance!

The tour concluded with a beer and cheese tasting - here's the cheese table, which featured six local cheeses, each of which was designed to be paired with one of six New Glarus beers:


And here's our tasting table:


The tasting flight included everything from Cherry Tart to two of the R&D beers, one of which was described as having notes similar to those of a "wet horse's saddle blanket." Despite that less than appealing description, we braved a taste - here's Nat pouring a small sample:


And it was pretty good! The odor was a bit "unusual," but it didn't have a bad flavor by any means. And, it went really well with this ultra-exclusive cheese:


I think I was more excited to have the opportunity to sample that Dunbarton Blue cheese; I'd read about it in several magazines, all of which raved about its earthy flavor and ultra-exclusivity. The folks who make it are extremely picky about where and how it's sold, so finding it is quite tricky. Nat agreed that the cheese was stellar - we both loaded-up on it before heading back to Madison.

On the way out of town, we stopped that the Glarner Stube in New Glarus so that we could see the midwest's largest urinal. Apparently it's quite a site, and I figured it would make for a good story, so we stopped in, ordered a quick drink, snapped the obligatory photo:


...and then checked out the restroom (at separate times, of course). I'm not sure that it was all that impressive - to me, it seemed like a standard urinal with really huge sides. I had pictured something taller/wider - this was a bit of a disappointment. But, oh well - it was just a urinal, after all. It was a popular site, however. While we were there, several groups came in just to check out the urinal. Go figure.

We headed back to Madison, where we made a quick stop at Brennan's market so that Nat could pick-up some cheese to take back to Arkansas. I also grabbed some "zip dip" to snack on, along with some fresh blueberries for my breakfast cereal. If you've never been to Brennan's, it's quite the place - they have an incredible selection of farm-fresh produce, cheese, and meat, and they allow you to sample nearly everything prior to buying it. Here's one of their many cheese coolers:


With pockets full of cheese, we decided to head down to the UW Wisconsin's Memorial Student Union to enjoy the wonderful weather while getting in a dose of people-watching. The weather was fantastic - the temps were in the low 60s, with just a slight breeze. Unfortunately the sun was setting, so we enjoyed a quick beverage and snapped the obligatory photo before the light ran out:


With respect to the rest of the evening, as you saw in the entry below, we hit Cahoots for some mediocre fish, and then called it an early night. Saturday would prove to be a monster day.

I woke up at around 7:00am, went for a run, and then we ventured in to Middleton to visit the National Mustard Museum:


The National Mustard Museum recently moved to Middleton; it had previously called Mount Horeb "home." I'd visited the store portion of it once before, but had never toured the museum, so I figured it might be fun for Nat and I to give it a quick "once over." Besides, when else would Nat be able to boast that he had toured the National Mustard Museum?

The place features a ton of mustards from around the world, most of which are available for sample and/or purchase:


They even have a mustard vending machine:


We ventured down into the basement, which is where the museum is located. It's primarily a collection of mustards from around the world, organized by region/location, along with a small movie theater that plays mustard-related movies/commercials/information. One of the best parts of the museum, though, were the old mustard advertisements. Most of them were from the 20s and 40s, and one of our favorites was this one:


Some of those ads were absolutely hilarious - they used language like "beguiled" and "epicore" and phrases like, "men deserve a hearty meal and will appreciate your thrifty nature." It was an absolute hoot to browse through them all.

With the museum thoroughly explored, we headed west, toward Black Earth, where we had a date with a wiffle ball field. Along the way, we spotted something "unusual" along the highway, and it almost caused us to have an accident. Not from traffic, but from laughing so hard.

We spotted these halloween toilets at a local farm:


We saw them, kept talking "as normal," paused and simultaneously started laughing. We both said at exactly the same time, "We have to turn around and see those again." So, we pulled a safe (and legal) u-turn to go back and inspect the hallowed stools. What a genius yet quirky idea. I loved them:


After seeing those, we decided the rest of the day would be a "bonus" - things couldn't get any better. But, little did we know...

We continued on along Highway 14 and within a few minutes arrived at Rookie's Pub in Black Earth, which is home to a regulation wiffle ball field. What is a regulation wiffle ball field? Well, it's basically a scaled down version of a baseball field... the outfield fence sits at 81 - 105 feet; the bases are closer together, and pitchers "mound" is 42-feet from home plate. Seems like it would be a great place for a bachelor party or something like that. The field had been rented out to a group for the day, so we snapped a quick photo and hit the road:


Where were we headed? Well, if you hadn't already guessed, the theme for this visit was "Oktoberfest," so we were headed to Wisconsin Dells, where their Autumn Festival was in full swing. And part of that festival included a brewery festival, wherein thirty Wisconsin microbreweries would be in attendance to handout samples of their wares.

We made our way through the downtown area, found the park where the festival was located, stood in line with a few thousand people, ponied-up $35 for a ticket, and scored a tasting glass:


And with that, we were thrown "into the mix" - the place was insanely busy with beer enthusiasts from around the United States:


To say it was absolutely crazy in the place would be an understatement. We had no idea where or how to begin, so we started with some cheese - Carr Valley Cheese was there with a bunch of cheese samples - all of which were available for purchase. We sampled the various types and selected a bag of curds before moving along:


With curds in hand we decided to just "dig in" and sample a few brews. I really like these types of events because it gives you an opportunity to try things you might never otherwise be willing to order. For example, I'd never dream of ordering a pint of "pumpkin spice ale," but thanks to this festival, I tried a 2oz sample of it and discovered that it was incredibly delicious - in fact, it may have been the "best in show" beverage for me.

All of the breweries in attendance had one thing in common: they were from Wisconsin. That's right - 30+ local breweries, all gathered under a single tent. One of the breweries that attended is a favorite of mine: Lake Louie. They're located in Arena, and crank out some seriously delicious and crafty offerings. They also have a sense of humor, as evidenced by their slogan:


In addition to the creative slogans, there are some equally creative "costumes" and "accessories." If you'll recall from my report from the 2009 Quivey's Beerfest, there's an invention known as the "pretzel necklace" that consists of a large string fitted with dozens and dozens of pretzel twists. Well, the folks at this festival stepped things up a notch (or two) by including cheese dip on their necklaces (a pint-sized cup of dipping cheese), string cheese, gummy pretzels (for the sweet tooth), and summer sausage links. Talk about serious.

They also crafted some unique accessories, including this cowboy hat as fashioned from a Miller Lite box. How in the world they accomplished this is beyond me:


We wandered around the festival, sampled a few New Glarus offerings, tried some true microbrews (Rush River?), and then took a stroll around the craft fair, where I spied this cute little guy taking a breather:


We thought the crowd would eventually thin out, but it never really seemed to slow down. It was hard to navigate our way around the fest and we were growing tired of fighting the crowds (plus we were getting hungry for some "real" food), so we snapped the obligatory picture and headed out in search of some grub:


As we made our way down main street in the Dells, we stumbled across a bar/restaurant with a rather unique name... Now, before you get upset by the name, it's not what you may think. The story goes that the owner's name really is what it is. I'm not going to post a picture of the place on the blog - you can click here to see the sign; the place has been a Dells institution since 1947 and draws tens of thousands of people every year. Despite the "backstory" it was a bit odd being in that place, so we took one quick photo and continued on our search for some food:


Our search eventually landed us at Moose Jaw Pizza Company, which is a Canadian-themed "up north" type of place, complete with some rather uniquely outfitted delivery vehicles.


I think Nat questioned which one was the "butt" - nice... :-D We really enjoyed the pizza, which included an order of beer bread. The bread was super dense, slightly sweet, and perfectly chewy. Along with the pizza, it made for an excellent feast. If you're ever in the Dells and in search of some quality pizza, be sure to check out this place. Here's a picture of our delectable pizza:


We raced back to Madison with the hope of meeting up with Jed & Jamie so that we could watch the Badger game. Jed and Jamie were going to be downtown with friends, so Nat and I did our best to meet up with them. Turns out they were at Jordan's Big 10 Pub, which is located about a block from Camp Randall. To say it was a zoo would be an understatement:


Nothing like trying to watch the Badger game with a few thousand of your closest and rowdiest, drunken college student friends... We did manage to find Jed, Jamie and Tony, so it was a good time, even if it was loud and far too busy. These places must make an absolute fortune on game day weekends - the line to get a drink of anything (soda, beer, wine, whatever) was ridiculous. I stood in line for a solid 20 minutes before getting service, and they must have had 30 bartenders working the outdoor area alone!

Here we are with our prized beverages:


We tried to stay and chat with Jed and Company, but it was just too crazy. It didn't help that the Badgers were up 21-0 while we were there, so we decided to head up to the square to see if we could find a more comfortable environment in which to watch the game. We eventually settled on The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capital square.

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of The Old Fashioned, primarily because I found their fish fry and cheese curds to be a supreme disappointment, but they had seating available, and it is a bit of a Wisconsin institution, so we swung in and grabbed a seat at the bar. Here's the obligatory photo:


We did order some of The Old Fashioned's homemade potato chips, and I'm pleased to report that they were quite tasty. They were served piping hot and included a side of ranch. Think "kettle chips" but not as crispy, and you'll get the idea of what they were like. We stayed at The Old Fashioned through the third quarter, and then decided to head down to one of the campus establishments so that we could get the true "university experience."

We decided to try Brothers, which is more or less the epitome of the "hey, I just turned 21 and want to go hang out at a college bar where everyone will think I'm really cool" college bars. Believe it or not, we managed to score a seat at a small table, where we had a clear view of the televisions and didn't have too many obnoxious college kiddies to deal with.

For those not familiar with the outcome of Saturday evening's Badgers vs. Ohio State game, the Badgers pulled a major upset and beat the #1-ranked Buckeyes. When the game ended, Brothers (and most of Madison) erupted with celebration. Here we are at Brothers just as the Badgers were sealing their victory with a last minute interception:


For those daring enough to download a video, I shot a quick video of the post-game celebration as well. It's in QuickTime format, so you may need to download a player or plug-in from Apple to view it. I like the crutch that's "dancing" - it makes me chuckle every time I see it.

College kids are a crazy bunch, and we quickly started to feel a bit "out of place" so we decided to leave Brothers and find a more adult location for one last hurrah before calling it a night. The fine folks at the MTP took excellent care of us (as always); Nat and I took a final picture, paid our meager tab, and bid farewell to the MidTown Pub:


We went back to the apartment, watched a little AppleTV, and then went to bed. I forgot how great the air mattress is - I really missed that thing. I may have to leave it aired-up so that I can sleep on it from time to time... Shiloh seemed to miss it, too - I found him sitting on it every time we returned back from our travels.

Nat's flight was due to depart Milwaukee at 2:30pm today, so I woke-up at about 8:00, went for a run, took a shower, and then fired-up the car to take Nat to the airport. We made a quick stop at the farmer's market (I needed a few tomatoes) and another quick stop at Culver's for a final dish of that infamous frozen custard.

We made great time to Milwaukee - just about an hour and a half from Madison, thanks to a light traffic load. There wasn't any wait at the airport either, so Nat was able to quickly check-in and make it to his gate with plenty of time to spare. He just sent me a text to report that he made it home safely, and that Tanner (his dog) was happy to have him back at the home.

Talk about a great weekend, if not one filled with a bit of over-indulgence. I think I probably gained about 15-pounds, thanks to the gobs of bad food and drink... but, it was worth it. I hadn't seen Nat for quite some time, and he and I were/are good friends thanks to our time together at the bank. We talked about another visit - perhaps for the Milwaukee Mile next year? My waistline and cholesterol should be recovered by then... :-D

Nat - if you read this, thanks for stopping by to visit - I hope you had a great time. And to everyone else who helped make the weekend such an enjoyable success, "Thank you," as well. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some rest!

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on October 17, 2010 5:31 PM.

Fish Fry Review: Cahoots Bar, Verona was the previous entry in this blog.

A hauntingly timely rant... is the next entry in this blog.

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