My weekend in sunny west coast climes was replaced with a totally different weekend jaunting around Wisconsin.
We were alerted at the last minute, that due to a mechanical issue we'd be winging a well known celebrity to his concert dates in the great state of cheese and beer. When I got that call all it meant to me was a lot of back of the clock flying. Goodbye circadian rhythm.
Looking at the trip sheet though. It struck me that we actually had a block of time sitting in the home town of Lavern & Shirley. By block of time I mean roughly 30 hours. Hey, that's an eternity when you're flying charter.
And what would two enterprising men of legal age do with said time in said city? Right in one. We toured breweries. Yes, plural. First we went to the brewery where the "champagne of beers" is made and took their free tour with free beer at the end. And you can't beat free, let me tell you. Even if it was only 3 samples. I'm not an American Style Lager fan. Cold and tasteless is not a beer flavor, it's an abomination. But having said that, Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat was a nice little fruity quaff. The amount of beer produced in that one place and the size of the warehouse (5 football fields) and how quickly it's filled and emptied (basically every 24 hours) really qualifies this place as a factory more than a brewery. But the tour was fun, the tour guide was cute and the beer was free.
On a side note, all through the tour and around the factory walls were US flags and signs thanking our servicemen. My friend pointed out that our company, with all of it's DOD contracts doesn't have one even tiny flag in any of it's hangers or offices. It spoke volumes about that type of people I work for. This brewery thought enough of our countrymen to show it's colors even though it's product can't go into the countries that our servicemen do. And my company, that's turning profits off of the very same institutions and people couldn't care less.
But enough soapboxing.
After that tour we drove a few miles down to the river and checked in at Lakefront Brewery for their tour/fish fry. Every Friday they have one. The price is good, 11 bucks gets you the tour and a 5 dollar off coupon for the fish fry.
The difference between Big Giant Beer Factory and these guys was amazing. Hand crafting instead of machine driven. Fermentation kegs named Moe, Larry and Curly (complete with portraits) instead of "Fermentation Vat #12"
First off, we were about an hour and a half early for the tour. The guy setting up the kegs in the beer tent said if we wanted to wait he'd be down to sell tickets about a half hour before the tour and here's a couple of cups, just be kind and tip and feel free to
Turns out he is one of the master brewers there. The tour consisted of 4 stops, all on the brewery floor. The first two were a quick primer on beer brewing and it's history. The last stop showed the bottling and kegging process. Is kegging a word? The third stop was, of course, another taste testing station. Because the buzz would have harshed if we'd gone the whole 30 minutes without a drink.
While the guy was no where near as good eye candy as the other tour guide, he was a whole lot funnier. While describing the kegging process he told us a story that became the battle cry for the night.
You see, there's a hole in kegs where they pour the beer in, and this hole is called, I kid you not, the bung hole. And after filling, the bung hole is stoppered with a bung. A sort of birch wood cork. Birch wood is used because it absorbs moisture and swells up better sealing the bung hole. Just regular birch, not old growth or anything like that. Well, one tour he had happened to have a very activist, very green lady on it and she asked what type of wood was used. He, being the good brewery tour guide he was, was none too sober and told her it was made out of the rare old growth bung wood. And sure enough, come Monday morning, he gets a call from the company president asking why there were eco-protester marching outside the brewery? And why were they screaming to save the Bung Tree? And for the rest of the night the toast rose up, Save the Bung Tree!
Trust me, it's funnier after a couple of beers.
And, for the record, Breweries are some of the greenest industries around. Everything is recycled or reused. From the used grains being dried and sold to local farms as feed, to the excess heat being sold back to the electric companies as power. It don't get much greener. If you care about stuff like that.
There's a reason I prefer micro-breweries products to Great Big Beer Factory. If you're ever in the land of beer and cheese get yourself a six pack of Lakefront's beers and try them. You will not be disappointed.
The fish fry was great. Some of the best fried fresh water fish I've had in a long time and they even had an oompah band playing. Folk's, it couldn't get much better than that.
It was a good day.