Out of Milwaukee on the road toward Green Bay, the highway is empty and what we can make out in the faint moonlight is endless and empty flat space with the all too familiar odor of cow. With each passing mile a gnawing sense of the creeps is crawling its way into my head, yet we press further on into the Midwest midnight void.
After getting gas, water and treats in Sheboygan we are startled by a peculiar rattle under the passenger seat when the car accelerates, nerves tense as the spook has now blossomed into fear that we’d break down somewhere in this black abyss. About an hour later we find our rest-stop for the night, it’s situated behind a thick row of trees, protecting the weary travelers from the road and roar of highway traffic, which there is none on this night, like a billboard of vulnerability ours is the only car parked under the orange sodium lights.
My mood plummets to full on alert mode of defcon 12, can’t sleep, fearing every sound is one of the 50 active serial killers on the hunt or the onset of a coming zombie apocalypse. My inability to silence my imagination has me clutching the dull butter knife I keep in our picnic basket as the dense silence envelopes us – and I don’t even believe in zombies…..some watch dog I am. The headlights of two cars fill the back of our exposed solo Element, I try to catch my breath and glance at my watch glowing 5am. In my blurry sleepy eyes, I see what I think are people dressed in all green milling about outside of their cars, cars which they’ve parked next to ours. I’m freaked out, like the band geek teenager I was asking a girl to homecoming. Julie is comfortably asleep. My fear of these creatures drinking our blood and using our flesh as clothing abruptly ceases when I heard the familiar and exciting sound of an aluminum can open, as more folks get out of the car, more cans crack. Interest peaked, I focus on the familiar label, it proudly displays Hams written in a beautiful red happy font, a few high fives are exchanged, they look like they’re wearing jersey’s with numbers, some green face paint and it dawns on me, Packer fans tailgating on their way to Lambo Field….safe.
Feeling absurdly foolish on the drive into Green Bay proper, I don’t tell Julie that I was ready to terminate zombies all night with the knife we use to cut avocados. Too rainy to walk and explore we’re off to the gym and then to the Titletown Brewery. The staff appropriately decked out in their gameday Packer gear, we took advantage of their delicious vegan pizza, nachos and this incredible flowy beer cheese. But, let’s be honest, it was the beer that made this place worth the stop.
The goldish yellow beer in the background was Julie’s elegantly brewed Loose Caboose Belgian IPA. My long pulls from her glass had me happy to taste it and bask in it’s session level abv, by the time my grubby paws had got on it, the beer had warmed up enough for me to taste the deliciously delicate balance of hop to Belgian yeast. It was good, not sure I could do a whole pint of it on this cold rainy day. Perhaps because I was too enamored with the cask poured Oktoberfest in front of my plate to think about anything else! So smooth, despite a note of honey that was courteously understated, the caramel roasted malt simply floated across my palate with the grace of a ballet dancer. The simple peppery hop finish made it difficult not to inhale this beer with one simple hedonistic gulp.
Growing up in Buffalo, Julie’s youth is imprinted with four consecutive years of failed super-bowl attempts by her beloved Bills, she knows the game well enough to narrate the nuiances of what is unfolding on the big screen in front of me so I don’t say something stupid to offend the rabid fans around us. When the Packers scored, I got a free Pullman Porter! Free beer is hard to complain about, unless it’s a Coors Light and you’re suffering through an insipid conversation with your uncle about NASCAR, Obamacare, country music or the carnival. The Porter had that awesome proper porter aroma of coffee, cocoa and roasted malts, it wasn’t too heavy an American Porter as I’ve had in the past and there was a hint of licorice in there to balance the smoke, now that’s a free beer.
After Green Bay we needed to make our way southwest to Appleton, Wisconsin where we planned to stay for the next week. Appleton, you might ask? Yes, Appleton. Why? Well there really isn’t a good answer, we needed to have a place to catch up on some work and make some plans, the Extended Stay in Appleton suited that need. After learning Appleton was the childhood home of Houdini we quickly realized why he became the great escape artist. Every possible strip mall convenience we could ever want is in Appleton.
The town epitomizes the very best of the Midwest “normal, family centered” life. Thank god there’s a brewery in town. On Tuesday we ventured out to the Stone Cellar Brew Pub for a flight of their brews. Everything tasted…OK but it was the fried cheese curds that were standouts. We went back a few days later to get a pint and sit outside by the river and the beers were shockingly difficult to get down. They tasted a little off, bitter we can handle, sour we like, but this was more like spoiled milk had been poured into the taps. Regardless, I’ve said this many times before, its not only the beers you’re drinking, it’s the company you’re with and I was with my favorite company on a beautiful afternoon, so I’ll excuse a bad pint….but not two if you know what I mean.
A day trip to Oshkosh Wisconsin, because why not, the name Oshkosh has stayed on my brain since I was a child in my overalls. What a quiet place. The empty Saturday evening silence was deafening. There was even an Oktoberfest taking place at the biggest bar in town and by 5pm three people had bellied up to the bar including the staff. We opted to head across town to Fratello’s brew pub, a questionable decision in hindsight. We should have gone to the Oktoberfest. Here’s why, despite the gorgeous riverfront bar/restaurant and awesome staff, the beer was made with pure Wisconsin honey, not mead, beer. Delicious honey indeed but the beers tasted identical. The honey notes didn’t just resonate they took over the palate and dominated the roast, hops and yeast, making it difficult to get a bead on the flavor profiles of the different brews.
Palates annihilated, we bought some more Spotted Cow at Copps and went back to our hotel. (See Breweries 3 for further information on The New Glarus brewing company and their flagship brew, Spotted Cow)
Before I leave you, a quick note about the rattle under our car that sent me into a downward spiral of zombie mutilation: Long story short, I found a mechanic in Appleton who let me repair a broken heat shield, myself, with his tools, his jokes and fortunately his guidance (and coffee). To be continued into the Upper Penninsula…..