Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Minocqua Pale Ale

Minocqua Brewing Company
Minocqua, WI

Style: American Pale Ale

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

October is here, ladies and gentlemen, and Nigel would like to be the first to wish you all a happy October Fest. Unfortunately, “Oktoberfest” is a creation of the Germans and thus not only improperly spelled with a “k,” but it also starts in (drum roll, please) … September. I’d go off on a rant about the Germans, but Nigel is the only Englishman living in a large metro area that is 99.9 percent German, so I’m gonna keep my mouth shut, hoping I won’t wake up in the morning with a pair of crusty lederhosen shoved down my throat.

In reality, Oktoberfest is a two-plus week celebration held yearly in Bavaria that begins in late September and ends in early October. There are a number of stories about the origins and significance of Oktoberfest, but mostly it’s just another excuse for people to drink, which is fine with Nigel. However, if you live in the Midwest, Oktoberfest marks another annual right of passage: the weather is turning cold, the leaves are falling, and the Brewers and Cubs are getting ready for another long and pointless offseason. That means it’s time to prepare for the upcoming hibernation by drinking copious quantities of quality craft brews, all while trying to keep up with those stupid oak leaves and acorns that keep littering our yards.

This past weekend found Nigel at one of his family estates, this one in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, helping Mum and Father get ready for winter. Nigel was accompanied by his Welsh sister Gwendolyn and her Irish husband, whom I refuse to acknowledge until he declares his allegiance to the Queen. A typical cool, rainy autumn weekend made a trip to the local brewpub very appealing, though the combination of beer connoisseur Nigel and an Irish in-law would likely have led to a few trips there anyway. Nigel hopes to review more brewpubs in the future, but we’ll start here and see how it goes.

Anyone familiar with the major tourist traps in Wisconsin has likely heard of Minocqua, as it is one of the most popular destinations in the state. A small town for sure, but located in a perfect spot amongst numerous beautiful lakes and thick forests, Minocqua is a primo destination for a number of people, from diehard sportsmen to well-off Wisconsinites and Illinoisans. The Minocqua Brewing Co. came into existence about 10 years ago and has been in and out of business ever since (a long, boring story that I won’t share here). Located in the downtown area, the brewpub has a nice menu with very good food (mostly standard brewpub fare) and a selection of about seven regular brews, typically accompanied by a couple of seasonal or limited releases. Any Beer Dork who should find themselves in the Minocqua area should surely check it out, as it’s the only brewpub worth sampling outside of Hayward and Ashland, which are two hours away.

As for the standard release brews, let me give a quick rundown. The lightest release, intended for non-Beer Dorks with wussy palates, is Whitehaven Wheat. A very tame American pale wheat offering, this is easily the worst of the bunch. The next lightest offering and most unique of the year-round selections is called Wild Bill’s Wild Rice Lager. A typical American lager brewed with wild rice (very predominant in these parts), it’s not bad … as long as you like wild rice. It has a lager-like feel to it, but I detected a strong, grassy flavor thanks to the wild rice. A solid brew in my opinion, but it might be a put-off for someone who is expecting a standard American macro-like lager.

As the brews get darker, they get better. The Scottish Ale has a nice, full-bodied flavor to it and packs a decent punch. I didn’t sample it this trip, but I had it back in May and I was impressed. The Pudgy Possum Porter (yeah, you gotta have the gimmicky name) is a very solid attempt at an often blah beer style. A nice, rich beer, it’s loaded with dark malt with a strong roasted, smoky flavor that easily distinguishes it from the Scottish. This is the perfect brew to fill up a growler and sit by the campfire on a cool autumn evening. The Road-Kill Red Ale also impressed me. Red Ales tend to be pretty tame, but Road Kill is one of the stronger brews on tap at Minocqua. A surprisingly large hop bite hits the tongue, making it one of the zippiest—and tastiest—Red Ales that I’ve had in awhile.

As for the limited releases, Oatmeal Stout is supposedly a seasonal brew, though I’ve seen it on tap on my last three trips to the brewpub, so it must be perpetually in season. A decent stout, it’s smooth and loaded with dark malty goodness. I heard someone say it was a bit dry for a stout, but I didn’t really detect that. I’d place Oatmeal Stout a step below the Porter, Scottish, and Red, but above the Wild Rice Lager and Wheat. The other seasonal was likely a holdover from the late summer months—Honey Cranberry Wheat. Far superior to the Whitehaven Wheat, this had a sweet flavor as you would expect, but not to the extreme. A hint of cranberry adds to a an American Wheat with nice body, making this a perfect brew to fill the growler should you be lounging on the shoreline during a hot August day. This will likely be gone soon, and my next visit (in two weeks with Danish Princess) will hopefully find a Marzen on tap. Minocqua also has a year-round selection called Bear Naked Brown Ale, which is the only one I have not yet sampled.

As for the MPA. (Minocqua Pale Ale), I’m a little unsure how to classify it. It’s listed as an American pale ale, which I can see, though it’s hoppy enough and has the overall characteristics to be an English IPA. For the sake of the review, I’ll consider it an APA. I’ve had this on a number of occasions, both on tap at the brewpub and in a growler at the family estate. Minocqua’s growlers are reasonably priced at $15 with $8 refills, though they have a twist-off, jar-like cap, which means they should be drunk within 24 hours of their filling.

MPA pours with heavy foam for the style: a thick, white head slowly dissipates, leaving a lively trace throughout the drink. Even 24 hours after filling my growler and a four and a half hour bumpy drive home, my MPA still had a lively pour to it. The color is nice; deep amber and fairly transparent, this looks more like an English IPA rather than an APA. The smell is not overly strong, but nice. Cascade hops are very noticeable, as is a decent amount of citrus aroma. The flavor is solid, but not spectacular. While a good beer, MPA lacks the overall characteristics to make it any more than an average, well-intended attempt at the APA or EIPA. A nice, hoppy bite on the initial drink is tempered by a noticeable zip of grapefruit and orange peel, and a good amount of sugary maltiness that balances well. The aftertaste is a bit strong, though it’s a nice, medium-bodied brew that will both quench the thirst on a warm evening and warm you up on a cool evening.

So there you have it: Minocqua Brewing is a must-see should you be in the area, though it’s probably not worth a major side trip to see this microbrewery with inconsistent hours. Here’s hoping that MBC will continue on their current path and be open on a regular schedule, year-round, but that remains to be seen. MBC certainly won’t be the best microbrewery you’ll ever visit, but it’s solid nonetheless.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on October 8, 2007.
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