A Hidden Gem On Lake Michigan: Wisconsin's Racine Brewing Company
After a pretty long drive from Minneapolis, the next-to-last stop on the Great Lakes leg of the tour was at Racine Brewing in Racine, WI. Racine is a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan, just south of Milwaukee.
I have a thing for nice sailboats (long story for some other time), so I walked the docks of one of the pretty big marinas, and there were quite a few nice boats.
The brewery is located only a block or two from the waterfront, in the middle of a block of one of the area's main streets, surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, some bars, and an historic hotel. The taproom's storefront creates the impression that it will be a rather tiny place, but as is often the case with these downtown breweries you open the door and the space is quite deep and expansive.
Racine Brewing Co. - Racine, WI
Beers are available at the taproom, and at a limited number of restaurants and drinking establishments in the area.
The taproom is essentially two storefronts on the street (with two entrances), and the room inside is somewhat divided into two by a divider wall that goes about halfway into the property, but then ends to open the rear of the building into one larger space. The left is tables and the bar at the very end, and the right side a bit cozier, made up more like a living space, and with the some of the brewing gear at the far end. At the front end of the cozier side are windows full of plants and decorative items, and this is where the music sets up.
The space was much more intimate than my most recent shows, so it was a nice change to take things down a few notches, play some more delicate material with finger picking, etc. and also chat with people between songs. As was my experience throughout this tour, the people were very interesting, and interested in the details of my tour, so it makes for fun conversation... especially when I might tell stories about some of the more unusual people I've met.
Racine's beers are all small batch, and the freshness comes across in each pint. I think I started with the Strawberry Delight (5%) French saison, which was a nice summer beer, with the strawberry present in both the aroma and taste. A pour that was somewhere between a light orange and pink hue, with a light head that stuck around a while. The farmhouse style ale provided a nice crisp, somewhat bready foundation, and the strawberry was enough to be resfreshingly uplifting without too sweet. And we're officially off and running!
My next was the Breakwater (4.2%) brut IPA. The brut variety has been getting pretty popular this summer, but I'm not sure that if you lined up a dozen different brut ales from a dozen breweries that you'd be able to identify them all as from the same beer type. Some seem more like hazes, some seem more sour, some don't seem particularly dry at all. While this wasn't at all a bad beer, I'm not sure that I would have known it was a brut, as opposed to just a milder IPA. This was enjoyable with medium to light body, and a rather crisp finish, but there was a bit more bitter than I'd expect in a brut... so take from that what you wish.
The Blackberry Raspberry Summer Ale (5%) was a real treat, a lot of berry flavor, but not too much, well balanced over a light to medium carbonated ale that was quite delicious. This would be on my short list of ideal beers for the Summer, the perfect combination of crisp light lager and a satisfying berry juiciness, and aroma alone is so pleasurable you could just sit and sniff it.
My night cap came in the form of Racine's Hula Chaser (6%) coconut porter. My god was this delicious, and my favorite type of beer to finish off a night. A very respectable porter, nice and dark on the pour, a copper colored head, medium bodied, malty with hints of molasses, coffee, and chocolate, and then a dose of coconut to take it into dessert territory. Some prefer cake or pie, I'll take this! After playing music for a few hours, there are few things more enjoyable than winding down at the bar with a beer like this one... sipping it slowly and savoring each one.
For a brewery that has only been around for slightly more than a year (they celebrated their first anniversary in the Sprint), Racine sure is finding their way around brewing a nice variety of beers. From fruited sours to ales to fantastic heavier dark beers, it's all quality and very enjoyable stuff. The taproom was very friendly and welcoming, and the couple (Andrew and Angie Molina) who own the place were as friendly and accommodating as could be, and you could tell were genuinely excited to be doing what they're doing.
Racine is only a stone's throw north of the Chicago metro area, or just a bit south of Milwaukee... and definitely a visit worth the road trip. Oh, and I don't recall the name of the place, but around midnight or so I was hungry and didn't want fast food, and they recommended a bar nearby where the kitchen closed late, and they specialized in a sandwich called the Bambino. Ask about it! It was sort of like a quality cheese steak, but with a red sauce that reminded me of a cross between a salsa and sriracha... enough heat to cause a little sweat, but not stupid heat... lots of rich flavor! Wow!
After Racine I headed a couple of hours north to Oshkosh for the final stop on this leg of the tour...