Hinterland beer from Green Bay hasn't been available in Madison on a regular basis for about seven years. However, it started turning up again locally over the summer, catching the attention of committed beer enthusiasts. "Madison is a key part of the state," says owner Bill Tressler, "it is a good forum for craft beer."
Tressler launched Hinterland in Denmark, Wis., in 1995, originally licensed as the Green Bay Brewing Company. In 1999, he moved the brewery into a building that was once part of the Swift Meat Packing Company, and launched a restaurant, just a stone's throw from the Fox River in downtown Green Bay.
Hinterland beers originally appeared in the Madison market about 10 years ago. Shortly thereafter, though, Tressler started focusing more on the culinary side of the business, earning high praise for the food at the restaurant alongside his line of hand-crafted beer. His operations grew to include the Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, and the Whistling Swan Inn and Restaurant in Fish Creek. Now his brews have returned to Madison.
While Tressler handles overall marketing and distributor relationships, brewmaster Joe Karls takes care of making the beer. Karls began as a homebrewer and has been with Hinterland for nearly 15 years. Together they plan to release about a half-dozen styles in bottles throughout the year.
The beer is distributed locally by Frank Beer, and is available in four-packs (around $10) and by the single bottle (around $4) in some locations. Tressler says he wanted the packaging to stand out, so he chose 16-ounce (one-pint) bottles, imported from Germany.
Hinterland brews also turn up on draught in a few popular tap houses like the Old Fashioned, where the brewery's summer seasonal Door County Cherry Wheat is currently available. The beer is made with a combination of cherry juice and real Montmorency cherries sourced from Seaquist Orchards, located in Sister Bay, Door County. Tressler says every 30-barrel batch is made with about 40 pounds of cherries.
The Luna Coffee Stout has become the brewery's best-seller. It's a dark beer with bold flavor, java aroma and finish, and an alcohol content of 7% ABV. The coffee comes from Luna Café & Roastery in DePere. Another regular brew, the Amber Ale, is clear and golden, with caramel tones from crystal malt ending in a toffee-like finish.
Hinterland Pale Ale is a beer that will compete head-to-head with other local pale ales in the crowded Madison beer market. Hinterland's version is more of a British Pale Ale, with a wonderfully smooth, malty start before its American Cascade hops take over with a resiny bitterness that builds in the finish. It will seem tame next to some pale ales, but you can't help but appreciate its British character. For those fortunate enough to get to the brewpub in Green Bay, the brew is also served on a nitrogen tap with the simple name "Pub Draught" and is well worth the drive.
Hinterland's fall seasonal, Oktoberfest, was bottled last week and is already headed to Madison. Similar to a Vienna Lager, with a deep reddish-amber color and assertive maltiness, it finishes around 5.8% ABV. Another seasonal, Maple Bock, despite its early springtime release, can still be found in limited quantities around town, particularly in stores that dedicate coolers to mix-and-match six-packs. (Riley's Wines of the World still had a small supply when checked recently.) Tressler harvests maple sap from his family farm to make this beer. The maple flavor is rather subtle, while the caramel and chocolate tones of the malt dominate. The maple syrup gives fermentation a little boost, and the beer finishes at over 7% ABV.
Meanwhile, its upcoming seasonal, Winterland, should be released just in time for Thanksgiving. Tressler says this beer hasn't been brewed since at least 2003. It's made with juniper berries, which give it an evergreen character. When last I tried it, it reminded me of a minty chocolate porter, and I mean that in a good way. Winterland will make an excellent holiday gift or party favor for that special beer fan -- just a hint(erland) for anyone thinking about me!