We recently received an invite from the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to come check out the Stevens Point area and the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective. The #CWCraftCollective is made up of local craft beverage businesses including breweries, wineries and a distillery. While names like Central Waters Brewing Company and O’so Brewing Company were familiar to us, we were otherwise unfamiliar with the area and all it has to offer (though Katie did consider attending UW Stevens Point for their theater program).
Timing our visit with Thanksgiving, we made a three-day trip out to the Stevens Point area to explore the Craft Collective. Here’s what we enjoyed plus a few other gems we found along the way!
Great Northern Distilling
Our first stop was Great Northern Distilling.
We haven’t dabbled in craft spirits nearly as much as we would like to, so our time spent sipping, sampling and surveying was an intoxicating new adventure (see what we did there?). The interior was cozy and modern, very farmhouse-style with tall ceilings, comfy couches and lots of cute wood accents. The staff behind the bar were super friendly and accommodating, patiently obliging us as we struggled to make a decision from the the stellar cocktail menu. Katie settled on a classic (but delicious!) Old Fashioned while Adam tried the Escanaba in da Moonlight with whisky, allspice dram, local maple syrup, lemon, and bitters.
Our visit was made especially fantastic by the 3:00pm tour led by founder and head distiller Brian Cummins. We’ve taken our fair share of brewery tours over the past couple years, and sometimes the idea of taking another tour can leave us feeling a bit done-it-before. But Great Northern’s tour reminded us that every tour is unique and different for its own reasons! The distilling process, of course, is different than brewing, and we learned a great deal of how various spirits are made, the differences amongst them and how they’re best used. Brian’s engaging personality, knowledge of the art and passion for his craft also added a local, unique flavor you’ll only find at Great Northern Distilling.
Perhaps the real treat was sampling all eight of Brian’s spirits at the conclusion of the tour, including a Potato Vodka, Herbalist Gin (Katie’s favorite), Opportunity Rum, Vanguard Whisky, and Rye Whisky – each of which has earned Great Northern numerous medals at various competitions.
If you find yourself in the Stevens Point area, we highly recommend a visit to — and tour of — Great Northern Distilling. If you decide to skip the tour, be sure to check their website to confirm mixology bar hours.
O’so Brewing Company, technically located south of Stevens Point in Plover, WI, is within easy walking distance of Great Northern Distilling and even closer to the very nice Hampton Inn we stayed at.
O’so prides itself for starting in 2007 and “growing ever since.” The name O’so, we learned, is really a play on words — kind of like “we make beers that are oh, so good!” O’so is also pretty oh, so proud of the fact that almost everything they use in their beers is grown in Wisconsin!
With an impressive 29 of their own beers on tap, there really is something for everyone, though if you like sours or barrel-aged you’ll be especially pleased with the selection. One of the strangest on tap we tried was the Gatorade-infused sour “Your Favorite Sports Drinks Sucks” which poured at a neon green color we were still surprised by despite the name’s indication.
After working our way through a couple flights, Adam decided his favorite was the Peanut Butter Imperial Stout while Katie favored the Imperial Kettle Sour with Door County Cherries.
Back Country Brewing
Back Country Brewing Company is technically not open yet (as of early December 2019) but will be one of the newest additions to the #cwcraftcollective when it does.
We got a heads up from the Stevens Point Area CVB that Backcountry was under construction in Plover and managed to fit in some time with head brewer and owner Gabe Hopkins and co-owner Sarah Agena. Hopkins was previously a brewer at Point Brewing in Stevens Point but left to open his own brewery and pursue brewing styles he’s particularly passionate about including Oktoberfests and IPAs. The taproom was still very much under construction when we visited, but with the few pieces already in place and some imagination, we caught the vision that Hopkins and Agena have. We truly believe Backcountry Brewing Co. is going to be a great addition to the Stevens Point area and #cwcraftcollective when it opens early next year, and we look forward to visiting once they do!
We were definitely familiar with the Central Waters name before making our trip out to the Stevens Point area. Their logo of the crane standing out against the Wisconsin outstate, the name in archetypal print, and the simple white/blue color scheme is recognizable around the Midwest, if not — dare we say — iconic. Their beer, however, we were less familiar with, making our 25-minute drive out to the taproom in Amherst, WI one filled with eager anticipation.
The taproom was simple but efficient, somewhere between rustic-meets-industrial but cozy. The giant 150 BBL tanks behind the bar were visible evidence that Central Waters beer is going well beyond the quaint community of Amherst, WI population 1,039.
If we had to pick a #cwcraftcollective brewery with our favorite beer it would probably be Central Waters. With some 20+ beers on tap — and a delicious-looking selection of sours and barrel-aged beers — we had troubles picking samples. Fortunately, pints at $4 and half-pints at $2.50 made sampling super affordable and easy to justify. While beers like the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout and Strawberry Shoppe Milkshake IPA were undoubtedly delicious, the standout beer for us both was the Brandyland Old Fashioned Scotch Ale. An imperial red ale aged in brandy barrels with cherries and added bitter and citrus flavors for good measure, we weren’t sure if we were sipping a beer or a cocktail mixed up at Great Northern Distilling. Either way, if it hadn’t been for the ABV we would’ve enjoyed sipping a lot more of it!
We highly recommend a visit to Central Waters’ taproom — the entire brewery really is impressive to see in person — though if that’s not possible in the near future you can find their beer distributed at liquor stores around the Twin Cities.
Point Brewing was another brewery we were familiar with by name only prior to visiting. What a surprise it was, then, to find out that not only is Point one of the oldest, continuously operating private breweries in the country, but it’s responsible for brands like Whole Hog beer, Ciderboys cider and Point Craft soda!
Prior to our visit, Adam had recently discovered the Whole Hog brand of craft beer. The Casper White Stout in particular had stood out as an exceptional beer, and we were excited to learn and try more. We learned that Whole Hog specializes in “bigger” beers than Point beers, with beers like Cold Nikita Russian Imperial Stout, Cuppa Espresso Stout, 6-Hop Imperial IPA and a fantastic Pumpkin Ale coming in at higher ABV and richer flavor.
Another surprise to us was that Point Brewing doesn’t have a taproom; the only way to sample any products — whether beer, cider or soda — is to take the tour, after which samples are offered in generous sizes and portions. Tours also include a free pint glass to take home, which at $5 a ticket for ages 12+ we thought was more than reasonable.
Our tour felt a little more theatrical than most which we didn’t mind. Then again, we discovered that our guide — Damarko – was a theater major from UW Stevens Point. Naturally, he and Katie hit it off and even discovered that they had mutual theater friends in common!
Like we said before, we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking all brewery tours are the same. But — between the facility’s history, expanse of brewing and tasting room experience — Point Brewing’s tour was truly like none other we’ve been on before. We highly recommend making time for it next time you’re in the Point area!
From Stevens Point’s Point Brewing to Plover’s Great Northern Distilling, O’so Brewing and Backcountry Brewing to Amherst’s Central Waters Brewing, those are the five members of the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective we visited during our three days in the Stevens Point area. There are three more members we didn’t make it to — Sunset Point Winery in Stevens Point, the Kozy Yak Brewery & Winery and McZ’s Brew Pub, both in Rosholt. If you want the full #CWCraftCollective experience, you’ll have to hit those three as well.
We did do a little more exploring, though, and found these additional gems in the Point area we’d also highly recommend:
Bull Falls Brewing
Located in Wausau, WI Bull Falls Brewing is an easy 30-minute drive north of Stevens Point or — better still — on the way over if you’re coming from the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
We stopped by Bull Falls on the recommendation of a friend who grew up in Wausau and are so glad we did! Keeping to German-style beers, they do them well and still leave room for creative flavors like Crossroads Coffee Lager and Maple Pecan Porter, both of which we eagerly took home packs of.
The taproom was cozy and quaint — lots of wood and warm colors and lighting. It felt very much like a small German brewhall, and we loved it, the people and the beer.
Mosinee Brewing Company in Mosinee, WI is just a 20 minute drive north of Stevens Point and another brewery you’ll pass on your way over from the Cities.
Opened in late 2018, the beer — admittedly — has room for improvement. The taproom, however — located in a building over 100 years old in downtown Mosinee and blending beautiful, repurposed wood with modern light fixtures and elements — is easily one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.
The patrons, too, like Emily who manages the Corner Clubhouse in Wausau and Jeff the City Administrator for Mosinee would be worth revisiting for, if nothing else for great conversation.
With fewer brewery options in the Stevens Point Area than we’re used to in Greater Minnesota, we found ourselves some evenings wondering what to do and where to go next. Conveniently located right next to our hotel (and in the same stripmall as O’so Brewing), we found ourselves one night at A-soshel for cocktails.
A destination for exclusive spirits, sophisticated cocktails and premium wines, we were impressed by the cocktail menu, avant-garde space and fact that we had the entire place to ourselves on a Sunday night.
Believe it or not, we drink other things as well. We love coffee and appreciate a good coffeehouse experience. Ruby Coffee Cafe located in Stevens Point is a beautifully modern space and the coffeehouse-extension of the original Ruby Coffee Roastery in nearby Nelsonville.
In case you’re wondering how the coffee is — Adam’s Maple Latte was perfectly sweetened, and Katie’s drip-brew was potently strong, just the way we both like them.
And there you have it — our trip to the Stevens Point Area in a nutshell! We really did enjoy our visit; with a little planning, we were able to hit all the members of the #CWCraftCollective we had hoped to plus make a few more stops. The people were warm and friendly, the drinks were mostly delicious, and the pace of life refreshingly slower. If you’re in need of a weekend getaway and enjoy a craft drink or two, we recommend a visit to the Stevens Point Area!