Salem Beer Works

Beer Works Logo

3 straight months dominated by 12-hour work days nearly drained every bit of my goodwill toward humanity (which tends to be on short supply to begin with), so last week I cashed in some vacation days and hopped a plane to Boston. Ostensibly, I was there to visit family and friends, but, obviously, my true motivation was beer. East coast beers don’t appear on WI shelves in the same abundance as west coast beers, so this trip offered a prime opportunity to explore some exotic refreshments.

As the hometown of Samuel Adams, one might naturally assume that Boston is a happening spot for brewing. Unfortunately, it is not. While there are some great breweries in the area (Ipswich, Clown Shoes, Slumbrew), there are only a handful in the city proper. Aside from Sam Adams, the dominant force is Boston Beer Works, a “brewpub” with 7 locations in the Boston Area. I had the good fortune to visit the Salem location not once, but 4 times in the same day.

Witch History Museum. This animatronic doll is way creepier than an actual witch.

Salem, MA, famous for hanging, pressing, and stoning some folks a few years back, is both a quaint and charming seaside town and a tacky tourist trap. Nestled among Colonial-era homes and storefronts are classy gems such as the New England Pirate Museum, whose front window features a 6-foot diorama that looks to have been constructed in the late 1960’s, and the Witch History Museum, which conveys the story of the witch trials using life-size animatronic dolls.

Though my traveling companion and I set out with the intention of visiting some of these highly educational cultural establishments, it quickly became clear that we weren’t really in the target audience for any of them. Instead, we decided to go on a boat trip. We failed at getting on the boat several times, though, and instead ended up going to the Salem Beer Works four times:

1. Lunch, while waiting for the first boat trip to depart

Pumpkin Works Ale: An amber ale, more or less, brewed with pumpkin pie spices; fairly pleasant, as far as these things go – not too sweet and pleasantly low in alcohol (5% ABV) as compared to many pumpkin concoctions.

RIPA: Imperial pale conditioned with rosemary. My travel companion likened this to drinking a Christmas tree, but I thought it was delicious. The rosemary’s savory, herbal flavors contrasted the sweetness of the high-alcohol (7% ABV) Imperial nicely, and (in my opinion) were not too strong at all. I should caveat this by mentioning that I’m known to ward off colds by eating whole cloves of raw garlic and drinking tea laced with oregano oil, so my ability to identify unpleasantly strong flavors is likely a little suspicious.

2. Waiting for the second boat trip to depart, after missing the first one

Custom House IPA: A pretty standard, yet solid, IPA. Fairly hoppy, but well-balanced and suitable for mass consumption.

3. Meeting a Salemite friend, after missing the second boat trip

Black Bat Stout: A smooth, velvety oatmeal stout; not too sweet and pretty delicious overall.

Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale: I typically find fruit beers appalling, but I this one looked so bizarre that I had to try it. Who care what it tasted like – this beer has whole freakin’ blueberries floating in it! And they come out of the tap! Amazing!

4. Waiting for a ride after missing the train back to Boston

Things get a little murky at this point. We’ll assume that beers were had. There was also a minor zombie attack.

The facts:

Salem Beer Works

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Location: 278 Derby St, Salem MA
Established: 1996
Specialties: Training blueberries to flow out of beer taps without anyone losing an eye
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My TAKE: Large selection of surprisingly great beer, including some creative offerings like rosemary IPA. If you’re going to miss a boat trip and/or a train in Salem, this a great place to do so.

Northern WI Brewery Extravaganza Day 2 (June 28): Angry Minnow

Northern WI Brewery Extravaganza part 2 of 3, here (in case you missed it, check out the first installment for the whys and wherefores of this trip).

Day 2 was slated to involve a jaunt to Duluth to meet up with a friend, but it sadly didn’t work out. Left with an entire day to fill, the obvious solution was to find another brewery. Fortunately, the Angry Minnow Brewpub was just an hour or so off the intended route.

IMG_0091I have actually attempted to visit the Angry Minnow several times in the past, but managed to fail at recalling its location on every occasion. Since these attempts occurred back in the days before smart phones and GPS-enabled everything, they typically involved driving through tiny towns and soliciting navigational expertise from perplexed citizens, who inevitably provided directions to the nearest bar.

Image copyright Bobak Ha'Eri, use under Creative Commons CC-By-SA-3.0 license

World’s Largest Muskie.
Image copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, use under Creative Commons CC-By-SA-3.0 license

At any rate, to clarify, the Angry Minnow is not in Sayner, St. Germain, or Boulder Junction. It is, in fact, located in the fine town of Hayward, WI, home of the American Birkebeiner, the Lumberjack World Championships, and the world’s largest Muskie.

But enough of that; now for the facts:

Angry Minnow Brewing Co.

Location: 10440 Florida Ave, Hayward, WI ‎
Established: 2004
Specialties: Eclectic atmosphere, tasty food, and pretty decent beer
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My Take: Beers are pretty decent, but seem to cater to the masses. It’s an eclectic and quirky place with an unusually adventurous menu, though; a fine alternative to the typically “rustic” establishments of the Northwoods.

The Angry Minnow is housed in a historic lumber company office in “downtown” Hayward. It’s got a refreshingly quirky, eclectic atmosphere that’s uncommon in the Northwoods and is clearly a happening local hangout. At mid-day on a Friday, the place was absolutely packed.

The beer selection was a bit limited and included the usual brewpub lineup – stout, pale, honey wheat and light – plus a few seasonals.

River Pig Pale Ale, a year-round offering, had a great coppery color and nice body, but, for me, was disappointingly malty and a bit lacking in the hop department. Definitely a pale ale for the masses.

The seasonal Rye IPA, on the other hand, was potent and packed with an interesting array of flavors ranging from spicy to piney. This one was also quite malty, but sweetness was a bit more fitting here than in a standard APA.

Food here is not what you would expect around these parts. I’ve traversed a fair few pubs in the northern reaches of WI and can’t say that I’ve ever seen raw beef tenderloin sliders or sweet potato fries with citrus basil sauce on a menu. It suffices to say that the food is pretty great. The spent-grain pretzel (with a side of Sriracha mayo!), in particular, is not to be missed.

Northern WI Brewery Extravaganza Day 1 (June 27): Red Eye and South Shore

Back in June, I learned that I had a few unexpected vacation days that needed to be burned by the end of the month, so, naturally, my thoughts turned to beer. What better way to spend extra days off than by visiting as many breweries as possible? Thus, the Northern WI Brewery Extravaganza scheme was hatched.

Highway 51, which runs straight up the center of WI, is a hotbed of fine breweries, so it’s naturally an ideal route for beer-themed roadtrip. The itinerary for this 3-day excursion included the following establishments:

  1. Red Eye Brewing Co, Wausau
  2. South Shore Brewery, Ashland
  3. Angry Minnow Brewing, Hayward
  4. Minocqua Brewing Company, Minocqua
  5. Central Waters Brewing Co, Amherst
  6. O’so Brewing Co, Plover

View Northern WI Brewery Extravaganza in a larger map

Given the sheer volume of beer to discuss, I’ll break this trip down into easily digestible chunks of prose. This first installment covers day 1 (June 27): Red Eye Brewing Co and South Shore Brewery.

Red Eye Brewing Co.


Location: 612 Washington St, Wausau, WI ‎
Established: 2008
Specialties: Watery, lackluster beers and really tasty food
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My Take: Go for the food, not for the beer. Definitely worth a stop if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Red Eye’s beers were lackluster all-around – most were either too watery or too sweet for my taste. The brewery/restaurant is a pretty hip place, though, and it’s worth a visit. The interior is industrial, decked out in concrete and stainless, and features bike-themed decor. A sunny patio offers scenic vistas of the gun shop across the street.

Food is where Red Eye really shines. The menu is upscale pub fare that features local ingredients and housemade breads – a rarity in the northern reaches of WI. If you’re into fries, though, you’ll be disappointed; in an effort to promote “healthy options,” Red Eye has no deep fryers.

Here’s a rundown of the beers on the sampler tray:

Bloom Belgian Wheat: Very light and kind of watery; OK if you like witbiers
Thrust American-style IPA: Very sweet with lots of citrus notes, not enough hops for my taste, also thin-bodied and watery
Scarlet 7 Belgian Dubbel: Very sweet, tasted a bit like raisins; not enough carbonation – made for a sticky mouthfeel
Charlatan Imperial Stout: Nice roasty/chocolatey flavors, but, like several of the others, a bit lacking in body
Dyna-Mighty Wheat: A beer for the masses; vaguely wheaty but not much body or flavor at all
Some kind of shandy: Ick.
Mexican Lager: Corona clone

South Shore Brewery


Location: 808 W Main St, Ashland, WI ‎
Established: 1994
Specialties: Beer worth driving 300 miles for
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My Take: Rhoades’ Scholar Stout and Northern Lights Cream Ale make are inimitable and not available outside of the greater Ashland metro area. I’m planning to make an annual pilgrimage to South Shore just for these. The food is OK, too, but who cares.

South Shore was really the centerpiece of this trip. I’ve become acquainted with their beers through several Great Tastes and wholeheartedly believe their Bourbon Barrel Coffee Mint Stout to be the product of some sort of divine intervention. Sadly, it was not on tap when I visited. These beers sufficed nicely, though:

Rhoades’ Scholar Stout: Chocolatey and light-bodied, with a thick, creamy head; a very solid stout

Norther Lights Cream Ale: This stuff is amazing. The base is a pretty standard cream ale, but it’s brewed with lavender, chamomile, and a few other herbs that put it way over the top.