Suds it up with beer tours, museums, books

My office is full of suds, and it has nothing to do with the laundry that’s clinking around downstairs. Each way my head turns, I am reminded of our state’s great love affair with beer.

If you want to do more than drink it at the local sportsmen’s bar, consider these upcoming projects and events:

Most people know that Potosi, a town of 726 people in southwestern Wisconsin, this summer elbowed out Milwaukee and St. Louis to be the site for a national beer museum.

A legal agreement between Potosi and the American Breweriana Association Museum should be ready to sign Aug. 9, right before the weekend that is devoted to Catfish Days, an annual fund-raiser for the fire department.

More than one ton of catfish will be cooked and served on Aug. 15, and there should be enough Potosi Light to wash it all down, thanks to the Huber Brewing Co. of Monroe, which has taken over production of the hometown label.

Potosi is a place with a deep love for its beer heritage, says Frank Fiorenza, village president. Potosi Brewery operated for 120 years, until 1972, and the building – although in disrepair – is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Soon it will be restored. Roof work is the priority, as none exists now. By 2007, it will be a place to exhibit, catalog and restore beer production artifacts from around the country. Potosi also will gain a microbrewery, restaurant and beer garden, plus a local beer museum.

“We are rural, but we aren’t isolated,” Frank says, contending that one-fourth of the nation’s population is within a day’s drive of Potosi.

“I’m excited for both the village and the tri-state area” of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

If the project brings in 30,000 to 40,000 visitors per year, Frank says it will revitalize the economy. A gift shop and antique shop already have made plans to open.

To contribute to the project in Grant County, or learn more, go to www.potosibrewery.com or call (608) 763-2261.

Beer memorabilia and collectibles will be sold Aug. 13-15 during a flea market in Chippewa Falls. It is a part of the fifth annual Leinie Lodge Tent Sale, on the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. grounds.

At Peg’s Kitchen from 1-4 p.m. Aug. 29, Peg Leinenkugel will teach how to cook with beer and share samples of what she creates. That’s another Leinie Lodge event. For more, go to www.leinie.com or call (888) 534-6437.

Robin Shepard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and author of Wisconsin’s Best Breweries and Brewpubs (UW Press, $24.95) will talk about microbrew beer Aug. 21 at the Great Dane Pub, Fitchburg (just south of Madison).

The 2:30-5:30 p.m. gathering costs $22 to attend; that includes beer samples and appetizers. This is a Wisconsin Alumni Association event, so WAA members, UW faculty, staff and students get a $3 discount. For more, go to www.uwalumni.com or call (608) 262-5699.

Shepard’s newest book is about Illinois breweries/brewpubs.

One of the biggest craft beer festivals on the continent occurs in Madison every August, and all 5,000 tickets to it are sold more than three months before the beer flows.

The Great Taste of the Midwest features more than 400 types of beer from about 100 beer producers. It’s $25 to attend the five-hour event, held in a city park. Designated drivers pay $5 to get on the grounds and drink pop; the others taste all that beer, 2 ounces at a time.

The sponsor is the nonprofit Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. The event is always the second Saturday of August. The ticket sales typically begin May 1. For more, go to www.mhtg.org, which also has interesting links to other beer events.

Great Lakes Geographic is a new company with Hi-Tek Wilderness Treks that take parents and children to remote parts of the Midwest, such as the Boundary Waters or Porcupine Mountains.

What makes it high-tech? The group – supervised by a guide (and, often, a trained first aid dog) – learns to find its way by using a Global Positioning System. Participants also are outfitted with backpacking equipment.

What does that have to do with beer? One of the owners, geologist Tim Tynan, recently took the company in a new direction. He coordinated a daylong trip of eight southern Wisconsin breweries and brewpubs.

Thirty people took the bus tour, and Tim pronounced it a success. They spent 45 to 90 minutes at each place – traveling from Monroe and New Glarus to Madison, Watertown and Milwaukee.

“We’ll do it again, maybe this fall – if there’s enough interest, or at least next summer,” Tim says. If it’s an outing that appeals to you, go to www.greatlakesgeographic.com or call (608) 658-6246.

Miller Brewing Company is celebrating the centennial year of Miller High Life by parading around the country with the High Life Cruiser, a rolling beer museum – for this particular product, anyway. The vehicle contains beer, beer labels and ad campaign excerpts that made Miller High Life a familiar name.

The first such cruiser was a 1954 bus designed by industrial artist Brooks Stevens. This one is a replica of that vehicle. When parked, a 12-foot tall bottle sits atop the 24-foot tall bus, making it hard to miss.

Expect to see it at the state’s major events this summer; it also will be driven as far away as California and Florida.

Online, there’s an eye-catching description for the Historic Menasha Tavern Tour, but it’s only arranged for meeting and convention groups, says Pam Seidl of the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Hear stories of the Irish canal diggers, see where Wisconsin Central Railroad was founded and visit a former house of ill repute!”

A little dirt – who can resist that?

To investigate on your own, check out Jitter’s, a former firehouse, plus Hank’s Tavern and The Old Grog (two bars that are across the street from each other). Seidl says they’re full of colorful history, serve well-attended Friday fish fries and are a part of the vanishing breed of neighborhood bars.