Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 255 - The Wisconsin Brewing Company


I have never been to the Wisconsin Brewing Company. Although unique experiences with several breweries have been a part of my “I have never...” year, I didn’t intend to include a trip to the new Wisconsin Brewing Company brewery in my 365 new experiences. I’ll be the first to admit it is abundantly clear that I have absolutely no problem incorporating new experiences with beer into my adventure; however, my previous experiences with breweries had me thinking another trip to a brewery during my “I have never...” year would likely offer little new knowledge or meaningful impact to meet my “I have never...” objectives. As a result, I more or less told myself to avoid breweries for the rest of my year of new experiences, realizing there would be plenty of time to visit such facilities after I completed my journey.

That remained my perspective until an acquaintance recently brought up the idea of visiting the Wisconsin Brewing Company as a part of my “I have never...” year. After explaining my desire to avoid breweries for the remaining portion of my journey, he balked at my response and assured me the technology and systems at the Wisconsin Brewing Company were unlike anything I had ever seen before. With a high degree of certainty, he advised me an experience at the Wisconsin Brewing Company would offer plenty of new knowledge and insight before reinforcing his remark with a final remark, “Trust me, it’s worth it.”


The brewery

His confidence was enough to make me reconsider my position, which eventually led to me signing up to attend a brewery tour at the Wisconsin Brewing Company tonight. After roping my friends Zak and Lane into accompanying me on the experience, we made our way to facility early this evening to have a few beers and take on another of my new experiences. When we arrived at the facility, the newness and modern appeal of the facility was apparent. Through towering windows lining the side of the brewery we could see vessels and tanks linked by heavy duty metal pipes and tanks. At first glance it was clear the brewery was in full operation, but the floor of the facility was completely devoid of people. Intrigued at that fact, we promptly made our way inside to learn more about the Wisconsin Brewing Company’s operations.

The tap house

As we passed through the brewery doors we were immediately met with a spacious room anchored by a handcrafted, rustic wooden bar with a large tap line running straight into the ceiling. Around the room more massive windows looked into the operating space of the brewery, giving us another look at the ongoing operations of the business. Ready to get our experience underway, Lane, Zak, and I approached the bar and looked over the brewery’s offerings. The two bartenders on staff, Alex and Sarah, were quick to greet us and offer us some suggestions, which resulted in me settling on a glass of the WBC Coffee Porter. One sip of the drink made it obvious the Wisconsin Brewing company absolutely knew what they were doing, which only heightened my curiosity about the brewery’s processes. Although the three of us were eager to start the tour, we settled in for a bit in acknowledgment of our priorities; we had some beer to drink.

TANKS.

Over the next few minutes Lane, Zak, and I cracked some jokes and sipped on our drinks. With unyielding presence of the Wisconsin Brewing Company brewery dominating the space, we chatted about the beer and what to expect from the tour until we drank our glasses dry. As if on cue, Alex enthusiastically called over from the bar as my newly emptied glass came to rest on the table in front of us, “Are you guys ready for the tour?” In response, we rose to our feet before I confirmed that was the case, which prompted Alex to walk to the front side of the bar and guide us to a nearby door. “Come on in,” he said with a smile as he pulled the door open, “and welcome to our brewery."

The brewery mascot

After wrapping up our time in the cooler, Alex guided us back out into the tap room where Sarah greeted us with a smile and offered us another beer. Happy to oblige, Lane, Zak, and I bellied up to the bar for some conversation as the remaining patrons in the brewery slowly trickled out for the evening. With no one else left in the building, Alex and Sarah joined our group as we chatted and drank. With the night drawing to a close, I took stock of our experience at the Wisconsin Brewing Company. Although the brewery itself was laden with jaw-dropping technology that was unlike anything I experienced, the time spent drinking and telling stories in that sleepy tap house made me happy I had decided to make a trip to the Wisconsin Brewing Company a part of my “I have never...” year.  The moments shared with Lane, Zak, Alex, and Sarah took an otherwise ordinary night and made it into a series of simple, but meaningful memories. That is what this “I have never...” year is really about, which makes me glad the moments that I will carry with me from tonight’s experience were moments I didn’t miss.




Entering the production area of the brewery, Lane, Zak and I almost immediately stopped in our tracks. Before us, towering tanks and intricate pipework commanded lined the floors and wall. Although it was clear the brewery was in full operation, the space was silent except for the whisper of a few overhead fans. After a few moments, Alex spoke up in recognition of our state, “It’s pretty impressive isn’t it. Let me show you around.” Following Alex’s lead, Lane, Zak, and I worked our way through the facility over the next 30 minutes, pausing briefly to let Alex explain the critical points of the operations. Guiding from the grain input to the husking machinery, Alex explained the entire brewery operated on an automated trigger. Pointing to a room along the back wall where a bearded man could be seen sitting at a desk he explained further, “Do you see that man in there?  He controls everything around us from that work station. We monitor performance and do manual checks, but if it needs to be, this brewery can be a one man operation.” As I looked around the room at the connections of pumps, pipes, fermentation tanks, mash tuns, and brew kettles that fact stunned me. I was looking at a facility that was capable of producing thousands of pints a day, and it only required one man to make it work.

Heaven.

Still in a state of disbelief at the information Alex provided, the three of us followed him through the rest of the brewery and through to an incredible cooling facility. There, stacks of beer barrels climbing six high occupied nearly half of the room. The sight caused an immediate response from all of us. “I bet that’s what heaven looks like,” chimed Lane as we walked deeper into the cooler. I nodded my head in agreement as we continued toward the rear door of the cooler and stopped to look at the bounty of beer before us. “Well, we know where to come if we want to party,” Zak said as we looked on, enveloped in the moment. For any beer lover it was a wonderful moment, and it admittedly made me slightly envy the work Alex gets to do for a living.

After wrapping up our time in the cooler, Alex guided us back out into the tap room where Sarah greeted us with a smile and offered us another beer. Happy to oblige, Lane, Zak, and I bellied up to the bar for some conversation as the remaining patrons in the brewery slowly trickled out for the evening. With no one else left in the building, Alex and Sarah joined our group as we chatted and drank. With the night drawing to a close, I took stock of our experience at the Wisconsin Brewing Company. Although the brewery itself was laden with jaw-dropping technology that was unlike anything I experienced, the time spent drinking and telling stories in that sleepy tap house made me happy I had decided to make a trip to the Wisconsin Brewing Company a part of my “I have never...” year.  The moments shared with Lane, Zak, Alex, and Sarah took an otherwise ordinary night and made it into a series of simple, but meaningful memories. That is what this “I have never...” year is really about, which makes me glad the moments that I will carry with me from tonight’s experience were moments I didn’t miss.

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