The Great Chippewa Valley Beer Tour
one woman, two days, three cities, and eight local breweries
photos by Drew Williams
I can be one of those meme-worthy, wine-loving moms, but what I really enjoy after a long day is a nice cold beer. I am a Wisconsin girl, after all. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I was introduced to the craft beer craze, but now our mutual love of craft beer has my husband and I exploring different areas of the country to visit niche breweries and try their unique concoctions. I’m not in my twenties anymore, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in an actual bar, but breweries are my favorite places to hang out with friends. They’re different than bars. You can bring your dog, you can bring your kids, you can bring food. They’re rarely crowded, and patrons are usually less rowdy. Most importantly, the beer served is someone’s labor of love, and that someone is usually behind the bar, ready to tell you the origin story of the beverage placed in front of you.
What follows is one humble woman’s attempt to visit eight local breweries in two days.
With my husband, the photographer (and designated driver) in tow, I’m ready to make my way through Eau Claire.
Ombibulous Brewing Company, Altoona
I wanted to start my journey here, at the newest taproom of the bunch, with a clear head. I was immediately welcomed by owners Jerrod and Michelle Dohm. They admit they’re still working on some of the décor – it’s got a warm, 1920s Prohibition feel – but the beer is ready and delicious. By Michelle’s recommendation, I ordered Hanky Panky, a refreshingly fruity and sweet New England IPA. Ombibulous offers a variety of styles from dark to light and the seating is inviting with a coffee-shop vibe.
Modicum Brewing, Altoona
Nothing tastes better with beer than a good onion ring, so we grabbed a fast food lunch to munch on at brewery Number Two. No matter how you pronounce it, modicum means “a small portion or limited quantity,” which isn’t quite an accurate way to describe this brewery with several taps to choose from. I tried two beers on this visit, one light and one more daring. Modicum’s most popular beer, Heavens, is a nice easy-drinking lager, the perfect choice for your less-adventurous Coors Light drinking friends. But for you, Daredevil, is Bloom Bloom, a blueberry variant of their Boom Boom sour. It draws you in with the sweet blueberry fragrance and puckers your lips with its sour taste.
K Point Brewing, Eau Claire
I consider K Point to be a hidden Eau Claire gem. It offers a great selection of beers and a nice patio for chilling outside. By this point in my journey, I was starting to question whether this was still a good idea. Thinking more variety would help, I ordered a flight that included the In-House Coffee Stout, Pre-Prohibition Lager, MECC Hop IPA and Blood Orange Pale Ale. True to its name, the Blood Orange Pale Ale was my favorite. Comparing notes on breweries we’ve visited and drinks we’ve tried, Bartender Kevin was a great conversationalist with a natural curiosity for craft beer. I was wrong about that variety thing. It didn’t help.
Lazy Monk Brewing, Eau Claire
At this point, I’m surely driving my husband a bit crazy with my rendition of Bon Jovi and my excitement to be “over half-way there.” Lazy Monk feels like home to me in more ways than one. The Velkommen sign when you walk in always reminds me of stepping into my Grandma Schultz’s house. The German Bier Garden is just the right amount of sunshine and shade, and the tables inside and out are big enough to spread out any board game. Today I tried the Cranberry Ginger Radler. It’s the perfect combination of tart and sweet and pairs well with pretzels. It’s also a beautiful ruby color, perfect for your Untapped glamour shot.
The Brewing Projekt, Eau Claire
Just. One. More. Beer. For. Today. If IPAs are your jam, then The Brewing Projekt’s new location is a great place to unwind with a group of friends to enjoy a beverage. The vibe here is very relaxed with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. I checked out the rooftop patio for the first time today and was pleasantly surprised. There’s plenty of comfortable seating with a beautiful view of the river. I finished up Day One here with a Gunpowder IPA dozing in the sunshine, thankful I can give my liver a break.
It’s Day Two and we’re hitting three more breweries. I’m just thankful I’m not nursing a hangover.
Zymurgy Brewing Company, Menomonie
With hints of the old auto shop the joint is housed in still apparent, Zymurgy’s bohemian style shines through. To start the second leg of my journey I needed something easy to drink, so I went with the Sherlock, an English Mild. I also tried their newest brew, Bournt Toast. Aged in a bourbon barrel, you can smell the sweetness of bourbon, but the drink itself isn’t as heavy as I expected. However, when you’ve been marathon drinking, the smell isn’t the best thing for you.
Lucette Brewing Company, Menomonie
Food. The only way I could make it through this day was with food. Lucette was the answer. The menu is simple and centers on their wood-fired pizzas. Still looking for something light and easy, the Swinging Axe Pilsner paired really well with my ‘za. However, I have a hard time resisting a good porter, so I ordered the Terry Porter for dessert. What the hey, I only have one stop left.
Brewery Nønic, Menomonie
What better end to my marathon than an old railroad station. You can feel the history of the place as you walk in the door. Even if craft beer isn’t your thing, a visit to the building itself is worth the trip. Bartender Jared helped me choose my final brew with Nonic’s Tartan, a Scottish Ale with a beautiful amber color and slightly sweet taste. After spending two days drinking more beer than I did at my bachelorette party, I was ready to punch the clock on this tour.
Craft beer connoisseurs travel all over the world to try new beers and we’re lucky enough to have quite a few in the Chippewa Valley, with even more than I could visit in one weekend. (Here’s lookin’ at you, Chippewa Falls!) After this weekend, though, I’m ready to give my liver a rest.