*This is the one-hundred and twenty-eighth post in an on-going chronicle dubbed the Great Wisconsin Brewery Tour. Follow the journey here.*
1) How many different beers?
8 of their own on tap, room to grow to 10 (with 2 nitro-taps).
2) How long operational?
Since May 23, 2017.
3) Why? (here, this, etc)
A group of local coworkers with experience in homebrewing and wine making decided to open a part-time business.
They self-distribute to 6 bars/restaurants, with a waiting list.
5) What sets you apart?
“Our beers might be a bit different, but you’re gonna recognize the styles too.”
6) How did you get your name?
Three levels: switch gear (electrical equipment) in power plant across the street, switching gears on the historic Road America race track nearby, and switching gears in life events (reaching middle-age, retiring).
Wisconsin is dotted with little lakeside communities, and Elkhart Lake just north of Plymouth is one of those generally unassuming towns. But while their 900+ population balloons every summer, especially during race weekends at the nearby Road America, their historic downtown is chocked full of reasons to come any time of year. The newly-christened SwitchGear Brewing Company is leading that charge.
This neighborhood hangout, run by three couples who met at their “full-time job” at a nearby company, is homey and warm.
Historic items and pictures adorn the walls, along with a large mural mapping out the original race route that used to wind around the lake.
A photo on the wall shows racecars rolling through town, past this very building that now houses a brewery, named in part after their sport. We tried all eight of their own on tap, which we consider our sport.
Pontoon Pounder American Wheat
Yeah, it’s poundable. But also lemony, zesty, and with a touch of honey. An all-dayer.
Sunny Morning Fog New England IPA
Breakfast beer, meant to help you greet the day with its fresh, floral head.
BST (Blood, Sweat, and Tears) Ale
Untypical: dry, buttery, hints of grapefruit rind.
Corner 5 Pale Ale
Classic and friendly; more filling than its light demeanor implies.
“I was a homebrewer that got of out control.” – Head Brewer, Nick.
Mellower & smoother than today’s Kolschs typically lean, with an enjoyable tongue.
Resorter Red Ale
The juiciness hits and stays, but the welcome malt joins after.
This fall beer throws shades of sweet pumpkin into a delightfully drinkable package.
Jitterbug Coffee Porter
Need a wake-up? Here ya go. Obvious coffee influences, but with an unexpected jolt of alcohol as well.
We spoke with Nick, co-owner and head brewer, as well a number of rotating patrons at the bar. In a town this size, with folks this friendly, it was hard not to get sucked into a new conversation.
“I’m just gonna tell you about this place. We built everything in here ourselves: chairs, tables, formed the bar. We’re very hands-on.” – Nick
As one other beer drinker told us, “Elkhart Lake, this little village, is like a little family. All the businesses are all connected and involved in the neighborhood.” And you could tell from the measured, considerate answers Nick gave us, that this little brewery is as important to the town’s residents as it is to the brewer and owners.
Nick jokingly told us, “What happens in Elkhart Lake stays in Elkhart Lake.” With a brewery like SwitchGear, and a tight-knit group of friendly locals, I doubt this town will stay secret much longer.
And a special shout-out to Lake Street Cafe just across the street from SwitchGear Brewing where we stopped to grab some grub to enjoy with our beer. Besides their delectable Cuban Quesadilla, their historic restaurant features a ginormous painting of the four big Milwaukee brewers. It’s my everything.