by Mike Magnuson
I suppose there is a certain fuddy-duddy type of cyclist who believes that once you visit a brewery, your life goes downhill. In the case of the Potosi Brewery, however, you must ride downhill hill to get there, and the only possibly after your visit is for your life to go uphill.
First, some background. http://www.potosibrewery.com/
When I visited the Potosi Brewery (ahem, purely out of intellectual curiosity, of course), I went downhill twice to get there. My ride for the day began in Platteville, from which I headed west on the B.O. Loop – not to be confused with what a sweaty, hill-climbing cyclist might smell like after a long day in the saddle – following the magnificently wooded Highway O along a riverbed toward the friendly town Tennyson, where, at the top of a rise, I saw the first sign for the Potosi Brewing Company. Incidentally, if you are unable to follow the subsequent signs to the Potosi Brewing Company, I would advise spending most of your time at home, on account of you are predisposed to getting lost. To wit, the signs are really big and are spaced at 100-yard intervals all the way down the long, long descent on Highway 133 through downtown Potosi and finally to a short flat stretch where the brewery itself stands, in newly remodeled brick splendor, next to a thickly forested hill.
I rolled to a stop, set my foot on the ground, and contemplated my options. The place looked incredibly inviting: clean brick exterior, newly paved parking lot, outdoor beer garden, sparkling spring water cascading from the hillside. The skies were a trifle gray with a hint of drizzle in the air – might have been nice to bag the ride and commence beer sampling right then and there – but I decided that the better part of valor would be to ride for a while longer before turning my attention to this inviting facility.
For the next couple of hours then, I experienced the mixed righteousness and accumulating thirst of a person who has decided to pedal an additional 35 miles or so before having a cold one. I followed the Highway 133 along the edge of the Burton Loop and the Great River Loop then 35 back to the monstrous hilly Highway U, which bore me, or rather I bore it, all the way back to Potosi, where once again I descended to the Brewery.
This time, I parked my bike along a limestone wall that abuts a pool created by the natural spring and stepped inside the restaurant area of the brewery, the restaurant area. First thing I noticed was 1) nobody seemed startled that a sweaty man in Spandex had hobbled into the room and 2) one of the largest, coolest-looking handcrafted bars I had ever seen and 3) the bartender was filling a rather prodigious jug of beer from the tap. I said to the bartender, a nice lady in her late twenties, “What in the heck is that?”
“A growler,” she said. “You want one?”
I did. Who wouldn’t? We’re talking a half-gallon of beer brewed on the premises, fed directly from lines in the brew-tanks next to the bar to the tap, but I declined because I had a long way to pedal to get back to Platteville and didn’t think I could carry a growler on my bicycle. Instead, I ordered a pint of Old Potosi, a lager based on the original formula brewed here back before our great-grandfathers were glints in our great-great grandfather’s eyes. True enough, Old Potosi was fantastic, a light golden color and as refreshing as the sight of open farmland after a long time confined to the concrete wastes of a big city.
Pretty soon, I met up with Greg Larsen, Executive Director of the Facility, who was pleased to see a cyclist stopping in for a beer. He invited me to take a tour of the building (toting my pint of Old Potosi, of course).
So not only do they make beer here but this is the home of the National Brewery Museum, which, as Greg explained it, is as much of an art museum as it is a comprehensive history of beer in America. Here you will find bottles and cans and advertisements from back in the old days, before conglomerates made beers, back when beer was made in the towns in which it was consumed. I could remember seeing these advertisements when I was a kid : Chief Oshkosh beer, People’s beer, Holiday Bock, Walter’s (whose slogan was The Beer That Is Beer) and so on. It was a truly moving experience to have this glimpse into a past that is long, long gone. Or maybe it’s not long gone. The Potosi Brewing Company is a not-for-profit organization and maybe, with their help, the old small-town breweries will return to Wisconsin.
Two Old Potosis and a whole lot of fond memories later, I slung my leg over the top tube of my bike and climbed gradually up the long, long hill on Highway 133 toward Tennyson.
About halfway uphill, I saw an old man fiddling with his flowerbeds in his front yard. He waved at me and said, “How are you doing today?”
“I’m really happy,” I said.
He winked and said, “Me, too.”
I guessed he might have been into the Old Potosi that day.