Mineral Point is hallowed ground for Wisconsin beer. It's where John Phillips started what is generally thought to be the territory's first commercial brewery around 1835.
Today, just a few hundred yards from where Phillips made what was described at the time as "indescribable tonic," you'll find a more modern brewpub called Brewery Creek Brewing Company, Restaurant and Inn at 23 Commerce St. It's located alongside the brewpub's namesake creek in an 1854 limestone warehouse that once used by the railroad and was later a local veterinary's surgical ward.
At just over an hour drive from Madison, it makes a nice weekend jaunt. Brewery Creek is actually a microbrewery, a restaurant and a bed-and-breakfast, with five guest rooms above the brewery as well as two cottages on Shake Rag Street.
Former Minnesotans Jeff and Deb Donaghue opened Brewery Creek in 1998. At the time, the 150-year-old stone building wasn't much more than four walls and a dirt floor. Today, patrons enter through a large red door -- an inviting sign for any self-respecting pub! The restaurant and brewery are on the ground level, with seating for about 40. Guest rooms are located on the second and third floors, and throughout there is restored masonry and open wood beams. (For modern touches, all of the inn's guest rooms even have whirlpools.)
Brewmaster Jeff Donaghue likes to make beers based on historical recipes, but doesn't necessary conform to accepted beer styles. He's been quoted as saying, "Brewers make beer, amateurs make beer styles." Perhaps that explains why he's known for his shandy, a combination of beer and lemonade. Last year at the Great Taste of the Midwest, Donaghue served four different versions, one of which was made with pomegranate.
Donaghue's shandy concoctions start with a light-bodied brew -- in his current Lemon Shandy he uses an American wheat beer. He adds three to four gallons of lemon and lime flavor to about 15 gallons of beer. The result is perfect for a hot afternoon. On a recent visit, it was a crisp, refreshing complement to the restaurant's steak fajita corn chowder paired with a walnut burger. The shandy has an assertive fruity nose from the lemon, but I was even more intrigued by its thick, bubbly foam, which rose nearly two inches above the pint glass.
Current Brewery Creek beers on tap include a pale ale that Donaghue makes based on an old Victorian beer recipe called Keeping Ale. It doesn't have the hoppy nose that pale ale lovers seek, but Donaghue's rendition offers a solid bitter body and dry finish. On the lighter side, for summer, is a hefeweizen that's brewed with wheat malt and barley malt and is unfiltered. This hazy, bright golden beer has lots of banana and clove esters. On the darker side, the stout is deep black, creamy and full of roasted chocolate malt flavor with a mild but firm dry finish. Donaghue says he drew inspiration from a similar beer made by the Caledonia Brewery in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Also this month, Brewery Creek releases its Austrian Alt, made with Munich and Vienna malts and American Cascade hops for assertive bitterness.
The food is distinctive, delectable, and well suited for beer yet capable of standing up all on its own. Lunch options include burgers and platters, and most are $10 or less. Entrees feature steaks, chicken, fish and pastas, along with a number of vegetarian selections, that average $15-$20.
Brewery Creek is a place where can show up for lunch, take a window-shopping walk around Mineral Point, known for its antique shops, books stores, art galleries and a recently renovated opera house built in 1915, and find yourself back at the pub for dinner. The cozy atmosphere makes it almost too easy to hang out with friends until closing, especially if you have a room at the inn.
Not surprisingly, you are likely to see Donaghue himself pouring beers behind the bar. There is a sense of place and history that just seems to flow from the taps, accentuated by Donaghue's research into old beer recipes, which greatly influences what he brews. Like the local Mineral Point shops, Brewery Creek reflects an artisan attitude. "We are not really a production brewery; we are not trying to gain market share," he says. "This is about making interesting beer in quantities that fit with who we are and what we have here."
This month Brewery Creek marks its 13th year in business -- a considerable milestone given that John Phillips is believed to have operated his brewery for only about 15 years.