10 Wisconsin beers worth the road trip

Wisconsin beers are finally finding their way across the border, and that's good news for neighboring Midwestern states like Minnesota. Wisconsin's strong brewing traditions have helped it cultivate one of the most active and noteworthy craft brewing scenes in the nation. Whether you're on vacation, on business, or just on a run across the state line to stock up on the best beers Wisconsin has to offer, keep an eye out for these brews.

See also: The new Fulton brewery will bring bottling back to MN and increase distribution

Spotted Cow. Farmhouse Ale. 4.8% ABV. New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus, WI.

Practically the official state beer, the Spotted Cow helped make Wisconsin's mark in the early days of the craft brewing revolution and built New Glarus Brewery into one of the nation's largest craft brewers. If there's a beer that can capture the "terroir" of south central Wisconsin, this is it. Clean and sweet, it's purposely kept cloudy with an addition of yeast to the bottle. This along with a hint of popcorn brings to mind the organic, barnyard essence of the region.

Tommy's Porter. Porter. 5.9% ABV. Lake Louie Brewing. Arena, WI.

When Tommy Porter quit his job in the auto industry and started home brewing, he made sure the beer that would bear his name was perfect. It took him 20 batches to get it right, but boy did he get it right. Complex but drinkable, this beer is one of the finest the state has to offer. Look for notes of mocha and nut, with a hop finish and a velvety mouth feel.

Bedlam. Belgian IPA. 7.5% ABV Ale Asylum, Madison, WI.

"We try to showcase one hop variety" in each beer, says Ale Asylum employee Heather McGuire. In Bedlam's case it's Citra hops. This beer is big, aromatic, and fruity. We tasted pear, but you won't find actual fruit in any of the Ale Asylum beers. All that flavor is coaxed out by brew master Dean Coffey, who makes beer strictly in accordance with the German purity law of 1516, which limits brewers to four ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and malt.

Island Wheat. Wheat ale. 4.2% Capital Brewery. Middleton, WI.

This light-bodied wheat beer is made with grain from Washington Island, Door County, off the tip of Wisconsin's thumb. One of the early pioneers in Wisconsin's craft brewing scene, Capital operates a tap room at its brewery as well as its own restaurant in downtown Madison on State street -- right in the shadow of the Capitol. Sweet with a mellow hop finish, the beer has a superfine bubble structure that makes it a pleasure to drink. [page]

Ouisconsing Red. Red Ale. 4.8% ABV. Central Waters Brewing. Amherst, WI.

Who doesn't love an auburn beauty? This clean, clear, easy-going ale will catch your eye with its red hues and then charm you with its sweetness. It's nutty and well hopped, but see if you can't pick out maple and brown sugar undertones.

Viking Afternoon IPA. 4.9% Abv. Furthermore Brewing. Black River Falls, WI.

A welterweight champion among beers, Viking Afternoon punches well above its weight class. Armed with lots of hops and a smooth finish, this light bodied beer has plenty of flavor but won't knock you out, making it perfect for an afternoon out on the water or in your backyard. It leans toward bitter with hints of lemon, a floral nose, and a malty core.

Tokyo Sauna. Rye Pale Ale. 5.3 % ABV. Karben 4 Brewing, Madison, WI.

This beer is the spiritual successor to Karben 4's SamuRye, but is built more like a cowboy, with a thick body and ruggedness suggested by the same dry character rye imparts to whiskey. It also straddles the line between sweet and tart, like an apple does. Heavy on the medium tones, it's dark for a pale ale, with a great depth of flavor. [page]

4 brothers Whippersnapper. Helles, Amber, and Wheat. 4.8% ABV 4 Brothers Brewing, Waukesha, WI.

Four Brothers, named for the Gohsman brothers who started the beer company, doesn't brew its own beer, it blends it, like Johnnie Walker does with Scotch whisky. Whipper Snapper features three types that pair easily with each other: amber, helles, and wheat. The amber and helles give it some body while the wheat makes it light and drinkable.

Warped Speed. Scotch Ale. 7.2% ABV. Lake Louie Brewing. Arena, WI.

This list could easily have featured more from Lake Louie, which makes excellent beers across the board, but for the sake of diversity, it'll only have two. Warped Speed is the brewery's most popular beer, Tommy Porter says, accounting for almost half its sales. Big, rich, and malty, it's a brown-sugary treat. To take it from Warped Speed to Ludicrous Speed, drop in a shot of bourbon and prepare to "go to plaid."

D.T.B. Nut brown ale. 5.5% ABV. Pearl Street Brewery, La Crosse, WI.

Made just across the Minnesota border in La Crosse, the Down Town Brown is a toasty, drinkable beer that will be perfect come September. Biscuit malt flavor makes this brown ale warm and hearty. This beer won a gold medal at the 2003 World Beer Championships and its nutty, pleasant hop bitterness makes it clear why.

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