Lew passes up free beer
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 07, 2005
By Cold, Hard Football Facts brew guru Lew Bryson
I keep thinking of that damned Beach Boys song, "Surfin' USA." If everybody had an ocean, across the USA, then everybody'd be surfin', like Californ-eye-a... Yeesh. Wax your woody and hang loose, dude.
But it's cool, because I just got back from Wisconsin, and that's why that song keeps bibbety-bopping through my all-too-porous head. If everybody had a beer garden, across the USA, then everybody'd be digging the hell out of drinking beer, like at Capital Brewing in Middleton, Wisconsin...eye-a? I'll never make a living as a lyricist. But I might just chuck everything and start opening beer gardens, all across the USA.
I was in Madison for a wedding in my wife's family, and I was high on a singular beer/bar experience: Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern in Monroe (1023 16th Avenue). Baumgartner's was heaven: a hump-ugly bar with dollar bills stuck to the 30-foot ceiling, lots of Limburger and brick, big mugs of cheap and chewy Huber Bock made right there in town, and sassy waitresses bringing them fast as you could finish 'em. The night before it was Mickey Finn's, a landmark brewpub in Libertyville, Illinois, and the night before that I hit a Chicago trifecta of top-notch beer bars: the Village Tap, the Hopleaf, and the Map Room. The week began at the Eccentric Café, the legendary brewery pub at Bell's Brewing in Kalamazoo.
I had to keep my string going, but I was looking failure in the eye. All I wanted to do was drive 20 minutes away to Capital, but I was being torpedoed by free cans of Capital's Wisconsin Amber in the motel lounge. They serve up free beer and cheese every night from 5 to 7 (it's the Holiday Inn Express across from the Coliseum, if you're interested; and when I mention free food and beer, I know you are). The wife's family is finding that a bit too hard to pass up to go somewhere and actually pay for beer. Lest you think I'm an idiot, they hadn't yet seen the sign that had appeared the morning after we first descended on the free bar like locusts: "Please limit yourself to two drinks per guest." I was kinda proud we'd forced the hotel to do that, but two beers wasn't gonna cut it.
The wife's two single cousins finally decided they'd risk missing a couple cans after I offered to buy the first round, and we hit the ring road. I'd been to Capital five years before, and expected some badgers sitting around drinking beer and telling each other how great the Packers were back in da day now, dere, dontcha think?
We could hear the music before we even found the place, and the streets were parked full two blocks away! We lucked into some guy leaving a space right by the entrance (never hurts to look), and hustled up to the bar. Fourteen bucks later we had a big-ass pitcher of Capital's Wild Rice Lager, a great thing with a nutty sweetness to it, and we found an open table right across from Nancy, Nancy, Marti, and Lisa, who were young enough to interest the cousins and old enough to not completely ignore me. The beer garden was rocking. (Those are the girls in the photo here. The fat f*ck in the middle is me.)
If you've never been to a beer garden, this one was about 50 yards long and 30 yards wide, a coarse gravel surface lined with picnic tables and surrounded on three sides by trees and shrubbery, with a bandstand at one end where a local Afro-Cuban band was making great noise; the fourth side was the brewery, where the big bar was. There must have been 800 people there, all of them talking, most of them drinking. It was social as hell, and beery to boot.
After two glasses of Wild Rice, I'd lost all my wired-up "gotta get to the beer garden!" nerves. This was great, like slipping into a big warm swimming pool full of beer. We gave the younger cousin money and told him to go get more beer (Oktoberfest, just as deliciously drinkable and only $11 a pitcher), we savored the cool breezes and the sunlight on the trees, Lisa told me about the last time she'd been to Philadelphia. I think the older cousin was getting phone numbers.
Nancy had a bigger mug than the rest of us – it doesn't matter which Nancy. It was like a travel mug at a coffee shop; buy it once, get cheap refills. There's a great idea. The couple next to me told me about other beer gardens in town, about the beer garden in their hometown. We chatted for a while, and they topped off my glass from their pitcher. Kids ran around, and we patted them on the head. Mellowness reigned until we finally had to leave at closing time.
Why doesn't my town have a beer garden? It's a great way to drink beer: right out in the open, family-style, loud and happy; no sullen, silent sots in a beer garden. Plenty of beer sold, low overhead, everyone keeps an eye on everyone else, and it's a cheap night out. Wonder if Capital is selling franchises? If everybody had a beer garden, across the USA...
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