This past weekend, Veronica and I took a quick overnight trip to Milwaukee. We went for a variety of reasons: to visit her family, to see some of her friends, and to go to the big annual book sale at All Saints’ Cathedral downtown. Those plans left us some free time on Saturday, so we decided to take a tour of the Sprecher Brewing Company in Glendale, a Milwaukee suburb. Sprecher is best known for their root beer and seven other varieties of soda. And with good reason – the New York Times rated Sprecher root beer the best out of 25 brands from around the country. Indeed, soda was the only product I associated with them until last week. But Randall Sprecher started the company as a beer brewery, and they brew a wide variety of beers.
The tour was short (due to the small size of the brewery, but pretty good. Since it was the weekend, no one was there actually brewing or bottling, but our guide gave detailed descriptions of both processes, along with some of the company’s history. At the end of the tour of course comes the requisite tasting session – four samples of your choice from a selection of ten beers on tap. But we, along with about ten other people, bypassed the normal tasting in favor of a special Reserve Tasting. This tasting included samples of ten different Sprecher beers (including some premium varieties not available in the regular tasting), each paired with a different cheese.
We tried, in order, their Hefe Weiss, Extra Pale Ale, Mai Bock, Pub Brown Ale, IPA², Abbey Triple, Pipers Scotch Ale, Black Bavarian, Barley Wine, and Bourbon Scotch Ale. The various cheeses came mostly from Wisconsin cheese makers, including Sartori, Maple Leaf, Carr Valley, and others. The only cheese from outside the state was the delicious Kerrygold Dubliner, which was paired with Sprecher’s oak bourbon barrel-aged Bourbon Scotch Ale. Matt, the guy running the tasting, did a great job telling us about each cheese and each beer as we went along, and we were provided with tasting sheets with more detailed information (IBUs, degrees Plato, types of hops, etc.) and space for taking notes as we went.
It was nice to sample so many beers at once; the process gave not only an overview of Sprecher’s beers, but a good side-by-side comparison of different beer styles. I think Veronica and I agreed that the Abbey Triple was our favorite, followed closely by the Hefe Weiss. From there our individual rankings diverged somewhat. The cheeses were all quite delicious. Whoever selected the pairings knew what they were doing; some cheeses complemented their respective beers, other provided delightful contrasts. This sort of thing seems to be catching on – the New Glarus Brewing Company (which I’ve now toured three times) near Madison just announced their own Hard Hat Tours, which are behind-the-scenes guided tours culminating in a beer and cheese tasting session. Perhaps it’s time for a fourth trip to New Glarus…