The eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan is dominated by Chicago, and to a lesser extent, Milwaukee. However, in between the two urban areas lie Racine and Kenosha, two mid-sized cities nestled along the lake in Southeast Wisconsin. Craft breweries are still a fairly new offering in this area, as the oldest brewery in this article is just about to celebrate their 5-year anniversary. But although they are fresh to the scene, I was blessed to sample some incredibly unique and delicious beers. Three of the four breweries are located in Kenosha, with Racine being home to a sole brewery. Here we go!
- R’Noggin Brewing Co., Kenosha
- PUBLIC Craft Brewing Co., Kenosha
- Rustic Road Brewery, Kenosha
- Benjamin Beer Company, Racine
Located right off I-43, about 7 miles from downtown Kenosha, R’Noggin Brewing looks like it could be a firehouse, with its brick exterior and two large garage doors (which open during good weather) greeting you. Walking in, you get an industrial, yet basic feel to the taproom. High ceilings and the concrete floor give the room an open atmosphere, and several picnic tables provide the only indoor seating. The brewing equipment is set up behind the bar, providing a nice backdrop.
I sampled 5 beers here, and most were astonishingly interesting. Tan Cans is a “Hot Blonde” ale, with mango and habanero. It starts fairly mild, light, and slightly sweet, before giving way to a nice level of heat. Off With Their Peanuts is a Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Porter (that’s a mouthful, figuratively and literally), and has an incredibly strong nose. However, it is lighter than you would expect, with the peanut butter shining through. Soul Taker is a Blood Orange IPA, with a tinge of orange present. Not Today is a Double IPA brewed with tea, but I did not get much tea present in the smell or taste. The final beer I tried was Ambrogio, a strong red ale with solid biscuit taste to go along with a sweet nose.
R’Noggin gets its name from the fact that the two brothers who founded the brewery get all their ideas ‘from their heads’. And if these beers are any indication of what they are going to be offering in the future, a return trip may be necessary! Another fun fact: look back at the logo. Stuck in the hat are two playing cards, the 2 and 7 of clubs. They represent that R’Noggin is 2 brothers, working 7 days a week, which I thought was pretty neat.
Woof. I had the full platter of beer at PUBLIC Craft, and it sent my palate in almost every direction. Situated downtown, PUBLIC Craft is located in a typical brick storefront you will find in every city and town in America. However, the ‘typical’ ends when you go through the door. There is mismatched furniture situated into a couple seating areas, while the wooden bar sits against a brick wall with the brewery logo painted on it. There is also a book shelf in one corner with books on brewing and beer, and in the back are some bar games, such as shuffleboard and foosball.
Basically all the beers at PUBLIC Craft had big, strong flavors. Since I sampled 8, I won’t be able to discuss them all, but there were several who deserve a mention. My favorite may have been the most straight-forward of the bunch, Get A Way Belgian Wit, which was a classic wit, although with a bit more punch. Gratzer, a smoked wheat beer, is the SMOKIEST beer I have ever had by far, and looks like cloudy lemonade. Up All Night is of course a coffee cream stout, and has one of the strongest coffee flavors and nose I’ve experienced. Another beer I enjoyed was their Hefeweizen, Pine-anas in Pajamas. This was a unique take on a Hefe, with the common banana-y flavors offset by some pine notes coming from Simcoe and Chinook hops.
PUBLIC Craft Brewing is a rare place where you can go and try some brews that will challenge your palate, and provide a variety of tastes. Oh, and if you like to doodle, there are markers at the bar to color and decorate the coasters!
Just a few blocks away from PUBLIC Craft, Rustic Road is similarly housed inside a common storefront in downtown Kenosha. As you enter, there are brew kettles on your right, and you can see that the taproom is long and narrow. A bar stretches a majority of the length, with seating also along the opposite wall. It was fairly dim, but Christmas lights provide a fun atmosphere. And I visited in May, so I’m assuming they are up year round. They also have a unique feature for this area, displaying their mug club up on the wall.
Hazelnut Harvest. No, this is not a candle scent, it is a delectable Amber Ale brewed at Rustic Road. Infused with vanilla and hazelnut, this brew is smooth and somewhat sweet, and of course has plenty of hazelnut flavor.
This was by far my favorite not only at Rustic Road, but one of the better beers I’ve had in quite a while. Sean McMurphy’s Stout is a dark, roasty option, with typical coffee notes present. I was slightly disappointed in the Queen Bee, which is advertised as a Honey Ale, but I did not get much honey in either the aroma or taste.
Another attractive option, Rustic Road is a great place to come with a group of people, kick back, and enjoy a beer. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Kenosha area, or if you are up for a short trip from Milwaukee or Chicago.
Located about 20 miles north of Kenosha, Racine has but one brewery, which is located downtown, not far from the Root River. Likewise to both Rustic Road and PUBLIC Craft, Benjamin Beer Company (which is named after Benjamin Franklin) is based in a regular storefront-like building. With an exposed brick wall and large windows looking out onto the street, it has vintage and mellow ambiance. Besides the bar seating, there are also numerous high tables. For the most part, the rest of the taproom is fairly basic.
While there was not a beer that blew me away, they did a solid job of representing a variety of styles, even though they were serving a limited amount of beers when I visited. The Belle City Blonde is the lightest option, and was your ordinary Belgian Blonde. Surprisingly lighter than I expected, the Robust Porter was solid. They consider their flagship beer to be the Zombie Candy IPA (not to be confused with Zombie Dust). It is hopped with Citra, giving it citrus and grapefruit notes.
While Benjamin Beer Company did not blow me away, I believe they are still finding their identity, as they have been around less than 2 years, and at the current location even less. I believe it will become a popular spot in Racine, and I look forward to seeing what else they can brew up.
The craft beer scene is finally emerging in Southeast Wisconsin, and with a plethora of interesting choices, it is an exciting time to be a resident of the area. While there are no unique buildings or crazy taprooms, the beers speak for themselves, and the uniqueness they provide is worth a stop.
Madison, WI, the trendy capital of the state, has an impressive amount of craft breweries. While I have not visited every one, there are 8 that I have checked out. They will be broken down into a 2-part mini-series, similar to past areas that had multiple articles.
Current Brewery Count
68 breweries across 31 cities in 6 states. These numbers are current as of June 10th, 2017. For an up-to-date count, follow @brewerytravels on Twitter!