The Whistle Stop Restaurant and Brewery might seem a little out of the way just to get a beer. But for those who consider visiting breweries to be a type of scavenger hunt, this is one to put on the list. It can be found in Woodman, a community located in the Wisconsin River Valley just west of Boscobel on Highway 133, about a 90-minute drive from Madison.
In addition to making and selling its own house brews, the rural Grant County tavern also serves as the post office for this village of 96 residents. Brewmaster Dennis Erb even takes turns sorting the morning mail with his mother, Leslie. They purchased the tavern in early 2008, and over the last year, Dennis has added his own beer as part of the restaurant's homespun menu.
Erb was introduced to Madison beer enthusiasts at the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest last January. He makes 10-gallon batches in the tavern's kitchen. On a recent Saturday, I was able to sample about a half-dozen of his brews. One that stood out was his Lime Brown Ale, made with real limes, an interesting twist on a summer beer.
What is it? Lime Brown Ale from the Whistle Stop Restaurant and Brewery of Woodman, Wis.
Style: While this beer doesn't fall exactly within an industry-judged style, it's probably closest to a Southern English brown ale, a medium-bodied dark brown to nearly black beer with a malty sweetness. It ranges in alcohol content from 4% to 5.5% ABV.
Background: Dennis Erb doesn't keep Lime Brown Ale on tap all the time at the Whistle Stop, but he expects it to appear off and on throughout the summer months. He makes it with two infusions of real lime -- the first in the boil, the second during fermentation, in a process similar to dry-hopping. Lime Brown Ale finishes between 4% and 5% ABV. It sells for $2.50/pint, or $9 a six-pack. Erb also recycles his bottles, reimbursing customers 15 cents for each one they bring back with his label.
Over the summer months, Erb plans to make several different fruit beers, including lemon and raspberry. Another seasonal, one with more than just the heat of summer, is Whistle Stop Jamarillo, a blond ale made with jalapeño peppers.
- Aroma: Hint of lime.
- Appearance: Hazy amber with a thick, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Light- to medium-bodied, and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: A sweet malty start, then a light sour background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Dry with a sharp, light lime flavor.
Glassware: The Whistle Stop serves this beer in the basic bar pint. If you take a bottle home, find a small pilsner-type glass with an inward flare to the lip to focus the light lime aroma.
Pairs well with: This is a pleasant beer for summer. Its lime flavor is a nice complement to the tavern's Friday night fish fry.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Lime Brown Ale, with its medium to light body and slight sour-lime ending, is great for summer. While this is a good beer, it has just a slight sweet, young, malty edge, reminiscent of home-brewed beers -- perhaps understandable given the brewing system that Erb uses to make his beer. He often mixes up his tap beer offerings, but when Lime Brown is on, it's a favorite among the locals. Asking what's popular with the regulars is usually a good strategy when on a new beer adventure. And remember, with the Whistle Stop, getting there is half the fun.