Monday, June 21, 2010

Potosi Brewing Company - Part I

It all started with the offer of free beer. One of the "perks" of this blog is that occassionally I get offered free beer. In many (most) cases, I turn down those random offers. Just because you send me beer doesn't mean I'm going to write about you and it certainly doesn't guarantee a good review. But, in this case, the offer for free beer was intriguing. It came from a PR person at Potosi Brewing Company.

I've been meaning to write about the revived Potosi Brewing Company for a while (just like you've been meaning to have a Potosi beer for a while, but just haven't really gotten around to it). Instead of them merely sending me some beer, though, I offered to drive out there and the only requirement would be that someone be there to show me around and answer some questions. They agreed and a few days later, on a Saturday when Mrs. MBR was off doing non-Mr. MBR things, I took off for a day-trip to Potosi.

Potosi is a town of about 711 people along the Mississippi River. There are two unique things you should know about Potosi: 1) It is the Catfish Capital of Wisconsin and 2) according to Ripley's, Potosi contains the longest Main Street in the United States without a cross-street. Neither of those are really reasons to visit (unless you are a big fan of Catfish)

But, the drive itself, through the hills, valleys, hollows, and rivers of the Driftless Area, is a reason to visit. When glaciers retreated after the last ice-age about 50,000 years ago (unless you're one of them Intelligent Design folks in which case, well...not really sure how to explain glaciers and ice-ages there, sorry), they left behind silt called drift - it is the mud, dirt and rocks carried along with the glaciers as they travelled. However, this area, in Southwestern Wisconsin, didn't have any glaciers and hence it's pre-ice age features - deep eroded valleys, cliffs, and ridges - are still there making for a dramatic and beautiful drive (or bike ride)

So, besides the Brewery, what is there in this so-called Driftless Area? Well, from Madison, you can stop in Mount Horeb (grab a beer at The Grumpy Troll) and the artist's community of Mineral Point (grab a beer at Brewery Creek or some cheese at Hook's) and mining capital Platteville (grab a beer at Steve's Pizza where they have a great tap and bottle list, believe it or not). Also nearby is casino-laden and historic Dubuque, Iowa; not to mention shopping and recreation in Galena, Illinois, both of which are less than 45 minutes away. Also in the region are Spring Green (home of Furthermore Beer), Dodgeville (home of Uplands Cheese and the Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Governor Dodge State Park), and Rewey (come for the fireworks, stay for the ... ummm ... because you're too drunk to leave).

But, really, you want to make sure you hit Potosi Brewing Company. I left at 11:00am and I was sitting in the brewery by 12:30pm. It's an easy drive straight down 151 South to 35 North, to North Main Street. If you have some time and want an even more scenic drive, get off of 151 South just past Platteville on Cty Hwy O which turns into Main Street in Potosi. The twists and turns will leave you wishing you had charged the batteries in your camera. The brewery itself is down and at the bottom of the hill in Potosi; you are greeted at the parking area by a large old-style yellow aluminum can telling you that you are in the right place. Take a gander at the hop trellises, both the newer up-and-down style and the old tent-style growing patterns. Then, head into the brewery and museum.

We'll talk about some of the history of the place a little in Part II and talk about the Museum itself in more detail there as well. For now, grab some lunch and a beer at the pub. I had the Good Old Potosi Burger which was fantastic and the flight of beers (I should note that the fine folks at Potosi picked up my tab, which was completely unexpected, though appreciated). I'll review a few of the beers in more detail in Part III of this series.

While I ate I spoke with the Executive Director of the brewery Greg Larson and brewmaster Steve Buszka. Mr. Larson really sees Potosi, with the brewery and brewpub and river access, as a center of tourism for all of Southwestern Wisconsin. In that capacity, the Brewery already draws about $4 Million worth of business each year into the region and it's only been open since 2008. As word gets out about the Museum and Brewery, Potosi has the ability to be one of the premier draws.

Brewmaster Steve Buszka has an intimidating reputation despite his friendly, ebullient, demeanor. Steve was a brewmaster at Bells when Bells was still called "Kalamazoo Brewing Company" and he helped to develop the geek-tastic Expedition Stout and Two Hearted. More recently he has been in charge of more large-scale contract breweries; including the brewery and distillery in Brighton, Michigan that invented Five Hour Energy. Weird where your career sometimes takes you.

The goal of Potosi is to provide high quality beer with a focus on traditional and easy-to-approach styles. For this reason, many of the beers are not highly hopped, weird-flavored, or adventurous and experiemental. But, what they do focus on, and something that seems to be missing in modern American craft brewing, is cleanliness and full flavor in simple beer. Their beer is full of the nuance and complexity and charm that will never put them at the top of the BeerAdvocate Top 100 but will be favorites in the refrigerator long after Three Floyds and Stone wear out their welcome.

Because of space limitions (like so many American breweries) Potosi brews mostly ales. The lineup includes, among others, Good Old Potosi (a pale light ale), Cave Ale (an English-style Pale Ale), Snake Hollow (a nice, English-style IPA), Bock (a ummm...bock and one of the only lagers brewed at Potosi), and if you head out to the brewery you can have a classic Czec Pilsner or the sturdy Oatmeal Stout.

Finally, it should be noted that Potosi's mission is to provide education and to capture the history of the American brewing industry. In support of this goal, Potosi is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and all of your money goes directly to the support of this goal. It is your (and my) money that allows past generations to speak to us today through Steve's beer and the Potosi Brewery and Museum.

3 comments:

  1. Great post on what I think is a real gem in Wisconsin and that, as MBR mentions, can make for a fantastic summer roadtrip from Madison. I stopped at Potosi last summer after taking a long weekend roadtrip with the family to visit friends, state parks, and breweries - up to the Twin Cities via 94 and then down the Great River Road to Potosi and back up 151 to Madison. Some highlights included stops at Leinie's, Great Waters (St. Paul), Pearl Street, and, of course, Potosi Brewing. (Sadly, our schedule did not allow us to visit Dave's BrewFarm. Next time.)

    We loved Potosi Brewing. Food was excellent. The restoration has been well done. Everyone waved to us as we walked along Main Street. We had to speed through the museum because my son was melting down, so we hope to get back soon. We took home some growlers of beer and root beer, as it wasn't available in Madison yet.

    I think Gorst Valley hops is responsible for the hops display at Potosi.

    Also, on a side note, finally made it to Vintage Brewing last night for the first time. Really enjoyed the beer. The weiss and wit, IMHO, will be great for the summer. My wife has raved about the fish tacos she had.

    And, no, I do not work for Wisconsin tourism. I'm just a recent transplant having fun exploring the area.

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  2. On my recent adventure to the Potosi Brewery, my experience was horrible. We had reservations for 8 pm & didn't get seated until close to 8:30. We had 2 others that decided last minute to join us & they arrived at 8:45. The waitor told them to hurry up & place their order to ensure the cooks would spend the time needed on their order (since they stopped serving at 9 pm). When paying our waitor, one of our friends paid in cash. Our waitor didn't ask if she needed change & assumed the remaning balance was for him because he didn't bring her change back. & the food was nothing out of the ordinary. The cheese curds were said to be beer battered, but weren't & my cheeseburger was just blah. The root beer was fantastic & I enjoyed the look of the restaurant, but overall not that impressed to recommend it to anyone else or to ever go back again.

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  3. I'm not a big "blogger" but I just HAD to reply to Anonymous - you must be a real jerk - I hope you never bother us here in Dubuque at any of our restaurants - let me guess - you've never worked in the service industry...crabbing about not getting within a half hour of your reservation at a popular place? Good grief they have a great environment to relax and wait - sample one of their great beers and chill! But its okay for you to drop an extra couple of folks on them and make THEM wait???? -Sounds like the waiter was doing you a favor by giving you the advice to get your order in - I'll bet the cooks would not have been happy dropping a big order on them when it is time for them to start cleaning up and preparing to close. Maybe you should have used some of your waiting time to look over the menu instead of working up a head of steam. And if you wanted a fast cheeseburger why in the world would you pick a place like this one to go to at 8 at night? Then you make the poor wait person deal with all of your seperate checks? I'm guessing you won't be missed by anyone at this great place. I've been there dozens of times - its a beautiful drive (and destination) from from Dubuque via a convertible or a bike - They have GREAT sandwiches (including burgers) for a nice afternoon lunch - but dinner you shouldn't miss some of the great entrees like the Salmon with Mango Salsa, Walleye Pike or Walnut chicken in a marsala wine sauce - whatever you choose though you have to have the Smoked Gouda Beer Cheese Soup to start - unbelieveable! Do the rest of us a favor Anonymous - stay home or go to McDonald's for fast service and a burger instead of taking up the precious room at this restaurant - and possibly denying the chance for a class group of people the opportunity to enjoy this place.

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