Wisconsin's "thumb" -- its most northeastern Lake Michigan shore -- is well-known for its scenic views and appeal to tourists. The area is defined by cherry blossoms in spring, turning leaves in fall, and all year the winding roads that hug the coastline from northern Kewaunee County to the tip of the Door Peninsula.
Door County alone has more than 300 miles of lakeshore, 11 lighthouses, music, theater and art galleries, unique regional cuisine, plentiful orchards and wineries and even two distilleries. And now the small towns there are becoming better known for catering to the craft beer enthusiast. The climate inspired Capital Brewery of Middleton to create its Island Wheat, a beer made with wheat grown on Washington Island.
"We're just starting to catch up with the rest of the state" in terms of beer tourism, says Jim Lundstom, editor of the Peninsula Pulse in Baileys Harbor and former "Beer Man" columnist for the Appleton Post-Crescent. Two new beer fests, one in Baileys Harbor and the other in Egg Harbor, are bringing fans of craft beer from all over Wisconsin and are among the most attended events of summer in the area, says Lundstrom. In addition, "All of the taprooms serve Wisconsin craft beer -- you can't not have good beer anymore."
John McMahon and his sons Danny and Ben are opening Door County Brewing Company in Baileys Harbor this month. McMahon feels craft beer aficionados tend to also favor other activities common in the Peninsula. "A lot of beer drinkers are also into silent sports. There's a lot of kayaking, paddleboarding, outfitting, hiking, running and biking," says McMahon. "Beer festivals are even becoming attached to bike rides."
That includes the Door County Beer Festival on June 14 with its Bike Ride for Nature. McMahon says once his brewery is up and running this summer he plans to host a bike rides and runs every week. "No matter where they start, they'll ends up at the brewery," he says.
The grand opening will take place May 24. The brewery is located in a renovated building that was once a barn, feed mill and later a grocery store. Brewing started last summer, with beers brewed under contract with Sand Creek Brewing of Black River Falls. The new space in Baileys Harbor includes a seven-barrel brewing system. "We'll be doing small batches, bottling and kegging and some one-offs," says McMahon.
The year-round brews include Polka King, a porter; and Little Sister, a Belgian witbier. Goat Parade, an imperial stout, is named after the goat parade held in early May in Sister Bay. Other specials include Pastoral, a farmhouse ale, and Biere De Seigle, a rye farmhouse ale. Summer seasonals are a Norwegian black ale and a Coconut milk stout.
The Shipwrecked Brewpub in Egg Harbor is also a full-fledged restaurant and an inn. The building, which looks like a house, has long been a local watering hole for sailors and lumberjacks. During Prohibition, it gained a reputation for being a favorite hangout for gangster Al Capone, said to have appreciated the maze of tunnels that connect under the building and lead to various outlets throughout Egg Harbor. The location has been several different restaurants and taverns over the years. In the late 1990s, Robert and Noreen Pollman opened the Shipwrecked Brewpub. (The Pollmans also own the Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Distillery.) The Shipwrecked serves the microbrews Bayside Blonde Ale; Captain's Copper, an English ale; Cherry Wheat, its most famous beer, an ale made with Door County cherry juice; Lighthouse Light; and Peninsula Porter. Summer seasonals are an IPA and a wheat beer.
While you're there, you might just run into a ghost. Lore has it that the place is haunted by at least six different ghosts, including a logger, a female traveler dressed in Victorian garb, Al Capone's illegitimate son, a crying baby, "missing" G-men who were after Capone, and a neighbor from the late 1990s.
Though Algoma is not actually on the peninsula, the nearby Ahnapee Brewery should be on a short list of places to stop when heading to or from Door. "A lot of people come up from Milwaukee, Chicago and Madison and then look for something to take home," says head brewer Nick Calaway. The brewery takes its name, Ahnapee, from the river that flows through Algoma. The brewery is part of the von Stiehl Winery that's been in business since 1967 (and is Wisconsin's oldest licensed winery). The Ahnapee Brewery was established just last summer, although it isn't the first Ahnapee Brewery to call Algoma home. The original brewery operated from 1868 to 1886; its original brewmaster, Henry Schmiling, was the great-great-great-great-uncle of the current owner, Bill Schmiling.
The brewhouse is located in a former dairy processing building a few miles north of Algoma. However, the taproom is really the place to experience Ahnapee beer. It occupies a small two-car residential garage with a house next door --just big enough for a half-dozen tables and bar with a capacity of about 30 beer drinkers. So far the challenge has been making enough beer to stay open more than a few days each week. By June, Calaway expects to have new equipment installed that will increase his batch size five-fold and allow for expanded summer hours.
Ahnapee makes Little Soldier, an American Amber; the Long Goodbye, a German Helles; and a Chocolate Milk stout year-round, as well as a special brown ale made with mushrooms called "Mush." Summer seasonals include Ahnapee Lager, a hefeweizen; a Belgian witbier; and a Farm House Ale.
Plan your tour
Door County Brewing Company
2434 County Road F, Baileys Harbor, 54202
Open 11 am-10 pm daily
7791 Hwy. 42, Egg Harbor, 54209
Open 11 am- 9 pm daily in summer
Taproom: 105 Navarino St., Algoma, 54201
Open 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Thurs., 2 pm-8 pm Fri., noon-8 pm Sat. (hours may expand this summer)
Door County Beer Festival
June 14, 2014, noon-4 pm
8142 Hwy. 57 (Town Hall Park), Baileys Harbor
As of press time, there were still tickets available for this small festival that's one of the best fests outside of Madison's Great Taste of the Midwest, with more than 120 beers from over 40 brewers. New Glarus' Deb Carey will be the festival's VIP. Tickets are $40/advance, $45/gate, $70 VIP entry, with a $15 ticket option for designated drivers.
More Door County beer stops
3026 County Road E, Baileys Harbor 54202
A bar with 10 tap lines and more than two dozen different bottled beers.
7778 Hwy. 42, Egg Harbor 54209
An extensive list of beers with more than 110 bottles and 13 tap lines. This is a great place to find Door County Brewing beers, Ale Asylum, New Glarus and Green Bay's Stillmank Beer Company.
Mink River Basin
12010 Hwy. 42, Ellison Bay 54210
14 taps with beers from New Glarus, Central Waters and the Wisconsin Brewing Company, with out-of-state brews like Bell's and Lagunitas.
4023 Hwy. 42, Fish Creek 54212
Wisconsin-made beers, range of U.S. micros, Belgian sours; one of the best beer venues on the peninsula. The owners of the Wild Tomato, Sarah and Brit Unkefer, are also opening up a Belgian-focused beer beer and restaurant in Sister Bay to called the Bier Zot (in Dutch, that means Beer Fool). It will offer 10 taps and over 100 bottled beers, showcasing both European and American craft beers. This will be the place on the peninsula to find Duchesse De Bourgogne. The Unkefers hope to have the Bier Zot open by mid-June at 10677 North Bay Shore, Sister Bay.
Whistling Swan Inn and Restaurant
4192 Main St., Fish Creek 54212
The Whistling Swan is considered the Peninsula's oldest operating inn. It was originally built in Marinette in 1887 and was moved across the ice by horse in 1907. The inn has seven rooms that are available year-round. Owners Bill and Michelle Tressler also own Hinterland Brewery in Green Bay. Expect outstanding food accompanied by a range of Hinterland's finest brews.
Husby's Food and Spirits
10641 Bay Shore Dr., Sister Bay 54234
Up to 16 tap beers and another 45-plus bottle choices make this an attractive stop for beer enthusiasts. In the summer months, Husby's Garage next door provides a beer garden atmosphere with live music.