Monday, March 24, 2014

Hudson, Wisconsin: Make A Run For The Border

On a recent weekend my wife and I decided to make a day trip to Hudson, Wisconsin for some exploration of this close border-town.  With Sunday sales of beer still illegal in Minnesota, Hudson has really started to take advantage of thirsty Minnesotans crossing the border to spend money on alcoholic libations.  Living on the Minneapolis side of things I have never actually made this particular trek before, so this was an interesting experience.  From our house to Hudson took about an hour, and we left at around 4:30 in the afternoon.  All of the following chaos ensued over just a few hours!

As we passed the Welcome to Wisconsin display after the river, it strangely felt as if we had traveled far more than 50 miles to reach our destination.  Hudson is literally right across the border and it took only another 5 minutes to reach our first destination: American Sky Brewing Company.  This is a small brewery that opened in 2012 and has been supplying Wisconsin with beer for the past two years and will soon open up distribution to Minnesota.  We happened to get there on a special Spring Fest event day, so the place was hopping!  A very good blues trio was playing and The Hangar was quite loud.  They had a cool small circular bar near the entrance that was either made of silver plane wing or at least made to look like it.  Flags and pictures of WWII aviation lined the walls.  Picnic tables were set up further in the warehouse and we joined a very nice family from the area who gave us the local beer rundown in between sets of music.

A busy place!

They had several special release spring flavored beers including one with grapefruit, one with lavender and a peaches n' cream.  They did not have samplers during the busy festival so I opted for a pint of the Cherry Blossom: a cherry infused version of their red ale.  The beer was not terrible, but the cherry was certainly extract or flavoring and lent a cough syrup flavor to the beer.  Sj's thoughts were that it tasted like Ludens Cough Drops, but not as bad as Cherry Robo!  Sj won this round with her pint of American Velvet, a pleasant coffee infused stout.  I would have loved to try the rest, but we had other places to go!  This was a fun little stop and worth a check.

A great setting!

Since were saving room for dinner, we headed out from American Sky fairly quickly after finishing our beers.  On our way out we saw one poor lady getting half-carried out of the place, trying to balance on tall stiletto heels.  We wound and slid our way through the icy roads of a half-abandoned industrial park and back to the highway for our next adventure!  Our new friends at the previous brewery had suggested we also try the new Pitchfork Brewing not far away.  Like many breweries, this one was a bit out of the way, tucked back off a no-outlet highway service road between an ice skate sharpening place and next to an Irish Pub in a small strip mall.  This place is tiny and understated from the outside and I never would have discovered it by accident.  The interior hosts a small dark bar and a few booths and tables.  Most of the building space is taken up by the incredibly small brewery (3 barrel?) visible through some glass behind the bar.  I instantly loved the vibe in the taproom.  Old pitchforks and country art hang from the walls in a homey rural fashion.  Milk pails used as lamp shades hand from the ceiling along with old burlap grain and feed bags.  Rustic dark stained wooden signs and chalk boards are tastefully displayed behind the bar.  There was even a standing bar table made out of an old pitchfork!

Our server was very attentive and pleasant, flinging down some old compact discs as coasters for us.  Mine was (suitably) Appetite For Destruction.  Welcome to the jungle indeed!  We were quickly served our shared beer sampler in an appropriately unaffected wooden holder.  They had a good mix of beers available including a brown, pale, UK IPA, and a stout.  I could see an extensive list of upcoming brews that shows a lot of variation in the brewery's line up.  I really wish I had liked the beer more than I did.  With such a fun and relaxing setting and great staff I was hoping for more fro the beers.  The best of them was a Munich dunkel but even that only rated a 3 of 5 on Untappd for me.  Most had a house flavor that was distracting and borderline tainted tasting.  Sj was not a fan of them either so it wasn't just me being a hater.  I love the setting of this hidden little homespun gem of a tiny tasting room but they have a long way to come before I'd recommend the beers.  Check them out just for the setting, and maybe they will be improving the brews by the time you get there--I can't find details but I think they just opened this year!

The next foray was to Stone Tap for dinner.  This was really the impetus for getting us to Hudson in the first place.  Catherine Pflueger (previously GM of The Happy Gnome) is the General Manager there now and we have been meaning to get there just to see her again.  She had organized a special New Glarus tasting for the night in question and we finally bit the bullet and organized this impromptu trip.  The gastropub opened in 2013 and has been getting rave reviews for their farm-to-table fine dining and excellent wine and beer list.  The building it is located in was built in 1875 and boasts many different styles of solid brick walls and old architectural features.  They apparently plan on expanding into the rest of the building to include a night club and more over time, which should be interesting.  They obviously took great care in renovation, showcasing much of the old building while updating it for a comfortable dining and drinking experience. 

We were smart enough to make reservations for a Saturday night (we overheard walk-ins being told about a very long wait for dinner) and were quickly seated near the bar in a wooden booth.  We took advantage of the special New Glarus tasters they were offering: Belgian Red, Raspberry Tart, Serendipity, and Strawberry Rhubarb--Oh My!  We shared a cheese-heavy charcuterie board (this is Wisconsin after all!) that mostly paired well with our sweet and tart beers.  Unable to decide on main dishes, Sj and I shared two of them.  The Wild Boar was perfectly cooked with a light smoky char on the outside served with the lightest pillowy gnocchi I've ever had, all brought together with a blue cheese sauce and raspberry demi.   The Quatre et Trois was an unusual combination of duck, veal, pork and chicken all formed into a flavorful and crumbly block atop a green bed of spinach, faro, quinoa and wheat berries.  Aesthetically that one was not as amazing, but the flavors were stellar!  Full to bursting, we took home a dessert of chocolate banana bread for later.  It was great getting a chance to catch up with Catherine and try out her new place.  I would highly recommend the Stone Tap to anyone who considers themselves a foodie or loves craft beers.  The beer list of taps and bottles was extensive with some items like Dogfish Head that we can't get in Minnesota (all of those were clearly marked so we could be sure to take advantage of the new options!)

Terrible picture, cool bar!

We finished dinner fairly late in the evening, but still had one more stop before returning to our land of 10,000 lakes.  The helpful server at Pitchfork Brewing had clued me in to the fact that Cassanova's (a local liquor store specializing in craft beer) had Toppling Goliath beers on tap.  The store had closed by the time we finished eating, but their attached wine bar The Nova was still open and serving.  Just a few blocks away from Stone Tap, we pulled up and entered the dimly lit and bustling little place.  I really liked the crowded feel and mix of antique and found furniture in the bar.  I'd like to stop in again some time when I have more to time settle in and enjoy the ambiance.  But this visit we were on a mission!  They were still able to fill me a growler of Pseudo Sue from the taps to take home with me to Minnesota--something that is still not legal in my state!

Considering we left Waconia at 4:30 in the afternoon, I think we had quite the evening in Hudson!  I would recommend checking out the town if you haven't already.  Take advantage of the fact that you can buy beer on Sundays in Wisconsin.  And that you can get growlers of commercial beer filled at restaurants and liquor stores.  And that brewery tap rooms can be open on Sunday.  And that you can get different beers that are not distributed in Minnesota... Wisconsin is still way ahead of Minnesota when it comes to beer and liquor blue laws, but I have hopes that this gap will continue to narrow of the next few years.  Currently there is legislation (strongly  supported by Jason Alvey of the Four Firkins) to legalize Sunday sales.  Sorry about the soap box, but I feel strongly about this! 

1 comment:

Brady said...

Cassanova's is the Bomb. I remember just moving up here and before the MN brewery boom driving over there after work on Friday's to fill my truck with beer treasures. Always nice to have a beer while you are shopping for beer!