Brewed and Cultured: 5 Must-See Midwest Breweries | Midwest Living
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Brewed and Cultured: 5 Must-See Midwest Breweries

As craft beer goes fully mainstream, breweries are looking beyond the pint glass, pairing hops and yeast with history and novelty.

A revolution is brewing. Or rather, brewing is undergoing a revolution. The number of U.S. breweries reached 6,000 last year—triple the count in 2011. This means you can find a decent IPA almost anywhere (hallelujah!). And with it? A blur of soft pretzel starters, exposed brick walls and bearded men working the taps. It’s all good, but can start to look like reruns of the same pub-and-grub microbrew routine.

So a truly unique experience stands out. Take, for example, BrewDog. The Scottish brewery opens a craft-beer hotel in Columbus, Ohio, later this year. Rooms look into the brewery, and bathroom fridges chill your shower brew. (Yes, #showerbeer is a thing.) But why wait? We’ve compiled a must-hit list of breweries that are memorable not only for solid suds, but for grand scale, creative architecture, historical roots—or even a cave in the basement. 

1. Blue Blood Brewing Lincoln, Nebraska

“If only the walls could talk,” says local historian Joel Green. He points out bullet scars and graffiti carvings, circa 1875, in the caverns and tunnels under Blue Blood’s taproom. In 2016, the brewery moved to the abandoned site of Robber’s Cave, where Lincoln’s first brewery operated in the 1870s.

Don't Miss Cave and brewery tours ($10) on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Blue Blood Brewing. Photo courtesy of Blue Blood.

Blue Blood Brewing. Photo courtesy of Blue Blood.

2. Pabst Milwaukee Milwaukee

Iconic cans of PBR surged back into style more than a decade ago. Now, somewhat ironically, Pabst is going craft. Last year, the giant returned to its original grounds to serve up IPAs, radlers and sours in an 1873 church-turned-taproom. Locals had been asking for a Pabst homecoming since the Milwaukee brewery shuttered in 1996.

Don't Miss The rest of the complex, including Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub and The Brewhouse Inn and Suites.

Pabst

Photo courtesy of Pabst.

3. Brewery Vivant Grand Rapids, Michigan

In French, vivant means “living.” In Grand Rapids, it’s a repurposed funeral home serving beers inspired by rustic farmhouse breweries in the French and Belgian countryside. Exposed timbers, stained glass and Gothic-style arches evoke the Old World and spark conversation among strangers at long tables. 

Don't Miss An enticing menu (bone marrow, poutine) designed for beer pairings.

Brewery Vivant. Photo: Jason Lindsey.

Brewery Vivant. Photo: Jason Lindsey.

4. Carillon Brewing Dayton, Ohio

Living-history museum meets real-time brewing at 65-acre Carillon Historical Park. The technique and recipes adhere to the antebellum era. Order a beer and watch the process or go all in with the Brewer for a Day package (period costume included). The restaurant offers spent grain crackers and 19th-century immigrant dishes.

Don't Miss Ten-pin bowling, with wooden balls and wood-slat alleys, behind the brewery.

Carillon Brewing. Photo: Skip Peterson.

Carillon Brewing. Photo: Skip Peterson.

5. Surly Brewing Minneapolis

A 3-acre beer garden. More than two dozen beers on tap. And a vast modernized take on a German beer hall. “We wanted to bring this brewery on steroids piece to Minnesota,” owner Omar Ansari says. To build it, he even drove a change in state law, which had banned breweries from selling their own beer until 2011. And yes, that’s real fire making real good beer with 1850s brew methods.

Don't Miss National bands, like Spoon and Sylvan Esso, perform at Surly’s Festival Field.

Surly Brewing. Photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki/REDUX.

Surly Brewing. Photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.

Eat, Drink and Beer Pairing

Surly’s top-notch food represents a growing trend at breweries. Thoughtful beer suggestions are scattered across a menu of excellent apps and entrees. (Think Fiery Hell puya chilies lager with cumin-dusted chips and guac, or cherry- and coffee-infused Cooper stout with shrimp and grits.) “I eat plenty of nachos, but we want to elevate the food component,” owner Omar Ansari says. “We’ve got mussels, trout and charcuterie (pictured)."

Carillon Brewing. Photo: Skip Peterson.

Surly Brewing. Photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.

The Art of the Flight

Dave Nilsen, certified cicerone (a sommelier of beer) in Ohio, shares a sampling strategy.

Preserve your palate Select four beers. Sip in order from weakest to strongest. Water and pretzels are a great palate cleanser between each beer.

Go for variety Choose a mix that spotlights unique ingredients: a pilsner forwater chemistry, bock for malt, Hefeweizen for yeast and IPA for hops.

Use all your senses Look at color and clarity. Take a whiff of the hop, malt and yeast aromas. Notice the mouthfeel and the interplay of flavors.

Let snobbery die Don’t stress about finding the right notes. We all bring different palates to a beer flight. That’s why it’s best to taste with friends.

Beer flight

Photo by Bob Stefko.

What the Hop is a Farmhouse Ale?

This popular craft variety includes saisons, Bière de Garde and other ales with fruity, earthy notes. They’re often made with local ingredients to honor the Belgian and French farmers who brewed their own hops and grain for workers.

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