Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Runnin' Wild, Day 4 (Part 1)

Leinenkugel Brewery – If there was ever something I looked forward to on a road trip, this was it. I’ve been to a number of breweries and distilleries, several of which were in the state of Wisconsin, but Chippewa Falls has always been just a tad too far away to make a day trip out of. It’s no secret that as a brand, Leine is my favorite brew (Summer Shandy? Sunset Wheat? Berry Weiss? Are you kidding me? Delicious…), so coming down from Michigan we finally were given the excuse to visit the place where the finest of ales is concocted. Finally, guys. Finally.

The brewery and the Leine Lodge are rustic combinations of wood and old stone, giving the entire facility exactly the sort of comfy northwoods ambiance one would expect. While waiting for our tour to begin we were allowed to browse the gift shop which, as Cole so eloquently put it, “Is where other gift shops should go on field trips to find out how to properly be a gift shop.” The stuff on sale was awesome—cool t-shirts, colorful cozies, steins and pint glasses, even beer-flavored soaps and candles—but the giant fireplace and taxidermed animal faces above it helped paint the picture, too. Sampling facilities were tucked back into one corner of the giant room, and we knew that once our tour was over, we’d be given the opportunity to put our faces underneath those tappers and let the amber rivers of Chippewa Falls flow freely down our gullets.

Oh yeah, the tour.

To be perfectly honest, Kyle and I have toured more than our fair share of breweries at this point in our lives—Miller, Busch, Sprecher, New Glarus, to name a few—so viewing the tanks and diagrams about the brewing process didn’t exactly blow our collective mind. The warm, homey smell of brewing beer never gets old, though, and every brewery has its fair share of photogenic antiquity, which we obviously took advantage of. In general, though, we’ve discovered that brewery tours are usually just 45 minutes of anxiety before the free beer happens. Leine, being an especially tasty beer, produced just as much anxiety as any of the other tours, even though our guide—a cool older dude named “Coach”—was especially cool and interesting.

At our post-tour tasting we learned that Leinenkugel beers can be mixed together to create new and amazing other Leinenkugel beers! It’s like, a mouthful of red Skittles is delicious, but there’s no denying that mixing a bunch of reds and purples can be equally delicious as well. By far the best blend was what the locals call a “Pink Lemonade,” which is equal parts Berry Weiss and Summer Shandy. No crap, it actually tastes like pink lemonade. There were other combos—mixing the Berry with Sunset Wheat, a dab of Honey Weiss with the Leine Red, and so on—all of which completely expanded the possibilities of what one can enjoy with a bottle of delicious beer.

We just continue to learn. Beer is truly a building block of civilizaztion.

Wausau Mine Company – To be perfectly honest, there was absolutely no indication that the food at the Wausau Mine Company was particularly delectable, but the interior of this place was designed to look like the inside of a coal mine. And truth be told, it succeeded on that level. The food wasn’t bad, but this place definitely looked like a coal mine.

Based on the exterior you’d swear that this place was another screwed up Mystery Spot, but inside there were rocky walls, blocked off shaft entrances, and even stalactites dripping water for effect. It truly was like eating lunch in a cave.

As for lunch itself… meh. Kyle got some sort of pasta sampler and Cole got a pizza burger, and both dishes shared the same “marinara” sauce, which essentially tasted like ketchup with a sprinkle of oregano and a few small chunks of tomato. I too was served this sauce as a dipper for the house specialty, the Italian Fries, which were essentially very greasy cheese breadsticks. They sat like a brick in my stomach for the entire afternoon. I felt like I was pregnant with mozzarella. Not the most light-hearted dining experience of the excursion, but certainly one of the richest in atmosphere.

After having eaten so many good foods, we found ourselves emulating Iron Chef judges, saying things like, “It’s a little pungent, but the texture is ferocious. What an effervescent combination of starches and dairy.” I’ll admit that it was mostly Craig and I taking such a hoity-toity road to doing something as simple as eating lunch, and it clearly started to work Kyle’s nerves towards the end. By Day 4 at the Mine Company, Kyle was rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “It’s food. Eat it!” Then we’d compare him to his old high school boss—a farmer with taste buds about as picky as a drunk frat kid looking for an easy lay—who used to say things like, “Are you full? Did it fill you up? Then shut up about the taste.”

It’s already becoming clear that Kyle’s going to be a cranky old man. Also, Craig and I are developing a rather superfluous vocabulary in terms of describing the credits and shortcomings of food. So, everybody wins.

Birthplace of the Hamburger – There’s no questioning that the hamburger is an American creation, but it seems nobody knows for sure where exactly in America the burger came from. There are people in Texas and Connecticut staking claims on the iconic invention, but only one man—in this case Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin—can be the winner.

To be fair, there’s no end-all proof that Nagreen was The Guy, but circumstantial evidence points to his having been the first guy to roll ground beef into patties and serve it between two buns. Amazingly, he’s reported to have done this in 1885. When he was fifteen years old.

There’s a monument in Seymour to Nagreen, something a burger mascot for the little town just outside of Green Bay, but no information whatsoever about who he was or what he did. All that stuff I just talked about I had to look up on the internet, which as well all know is just about as credible as a source can get.

But at least there was something by way of explanation for the gigantic grill across the street—the one with a huge fiberglass burger sitting on top. At one point the town grilled the largest hamburger in history with the good people at Guinness handy to mark it as a record. The enormous grill is still there, but alas, no free hamburgers.

Actually, there’s no special restaurant in town to grab a burger or anything, so when you go it’s just to see the statue and the grill, which takes all of four minutes. At least last year when we went to the birthplace of the cheeseburger (calm down—this Kentucky diner just thought to add cheese, and it’s closed down now anyway) there were cheeseburgers to be eaten. It was probably for the better considering I still had about six pounds of “Italian Fries” digesting in my gut at the time.

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