We are exhausted after our long, long journey to the distant city of Stevens Point, where we stayed overnight after attending the 15th anniversary celebration of the Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst. Really. I need a nap. Oh, wait, I already had a nap. Guess I’ll write some drivel, then.
If, for some reason, you glanced to the north as you drove along Highway Ten just outside Amherst and your eyes happened to fall on a certain plain white steel-walled utility building in the middle of a corn field, you would very probably never feel the slightest inkling that some of the finest beer in Wisconsin is brewed there. Last night, though, the long lineup of cars parked along both sides of the access road would have given you the idea that something rather important was going on there. That something was the fifteenth birthday party of the Central Waters Brewing Company.
My Darling B and I found out about it maybe a month ago when Paul, one of the brewery’s owners, was in Madison to host a beer tasting at Star Liquor on Willy Street. Star has one of these events almost every Friday. They’re a great opportunity to try new beers, or just enjoy the beers we’ve always enjoyed while chatting up the guys who make them. I mean, really, how can you not like talking to a guy who knows how to make great-tasting beer? It’s like meeting someone who can make happiness.
So while we were asking Paul a few nosy questions about his beer and how he made it, he mentioned that the brewery’s anniversary party was coming up, and that it was sort of a big deal. I was thinking maybe he meant it was a big deal on the scale of big deals in Amherst. I mean, the brewery has a tap room, a small place off to one side of the building where visitors can sit around a bar or at a few tables and partake of a few of whatever beers the brewery has on tap, and when I say small I mean maybe there are seats for twenty-five or thirty people. Sixty or seventy people might be able to get in there if they didn’t mind getting really friendly. How many more people could they get in there?
Paul said that for the party they didn’t confine people to the tasting room, but let them into the rest of the brewery to mingle around the fermenting tanks and brewing vats. I remember wondering then, and again last night, about the wisdom of allowing a hundred or more beer-drinkers to wander around amongst the plumbing and other delicate apparatus that he depended on for his livelihood, but then he’s been doing this for years, so he must have had some idea what he was getting himself in for.
Amherst is a drive of almost two hours from Our Humble O’Bode. There was no way in hell I could possibly have spent the afternoon drinking beer in any amount, then driven all the way back to Madison. As it turned out, I didn’t have to even consider it. The guys at Central Waters said on their Facebook page that they would be running a charter shuttle bus from Stevens Point to the brewery, so My Darling B did a little googling and found a B&B not far from the bus stop. We made reservations to stay the night.
It was a grand old Victorian house known as Dreams of Yesteryear. Check-in time was three but the owners let us in an hour early. That was so we could leave Madison at around noon, be in Stevens Point by two o’clock, and catch the first shuttle to the brewery at two-thirty. And it all went like clockwork, except for the last part.
Since we missed the first shuttle, we hung out in a bookstore downtown for a while where we discovered the new genre of books called “Urban Fantasy.” As near as we could figure them out by reading the jacket blurbs and looking at the cover illustrations, they were all variations on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. There were twice as many urban fantasy books as there were of almost any other subject in the store. People in Stevens Point really like their vampires.
I was completely wrong about how many people they could fit inside that building. There were hundreds of people buzzing around inside the brewery when we got there, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out that thousands of people came and went over the course of the evening. Chartered buses were bringing visitors in from far away, and the cars parked along both sides of the roads bore license plates from several states. This was a big deal.
We took turns standing in the long, long line for specialty beers. My Darling B was especially keen on trying to get hold of the anniversary brew, but we never did manage to get any. While she was standing in line, though, the guy behind her noticed her cup was empty and poured her a shot from the growler he was carrying. He was either being very generous, or he wanted to empty the bottle before he got to the front of the line. Or maybe a little of both.
I tried two brews I’d never heard of before, Exodus and Le Petit Mort, both very tasty, but by the time I got them I had already had enough of standing in line, so I didn’t go back to try anything else. We made do with a couple beers from the regular taps while we listened to the band, or wandered around the brewery to check it out.
Being a couple of lightweights, we didn’t stay late at all, heading back to town on the seven-thirty shuttle. If I remember, we were in bed by nine so we wouldn’t miss breakfast in the morning. A good thing, too, because the hostess cooked up breakfast burritos that were delicious. I’d consider going back to Stevens Point just for that.