*This is the fifty-second post in an on-going chronicle dubbed the Great Wisconsin Brewery Tour. Follow the journey here.*
Esser’s Cross Plains Brewery
2109 Hickory St
Cross Plains, WI 53528
Visit date: 03/12/16
1) How many different beers?
4 total in the repertoire (we tried 3).
2) How long operational?
Opened in 1863 during the American Civil War.
3) Why? (here, this, etc)
George Esser found his brewing skills more profitable than masonry.
Only in WI in kegs and bottles; 20-40 barrel batches.
5) What sets you apart?
6) How did you get your name?
Family and city names.
When Esser’s Cross Plains Brewery started making beer, nearby Camp Randall was literally a Civil War training camp for the Union Army.
Though the original brewery building is long gone, the history lives on through Wayne and Larry Esser, the 5th and 6th generation family owners.
George Esser, a mason, came to the Madison area from a small German town back in 1852. When his previous profession couldn’t sustain him, George began brewing beer with the knowledge he brought from the motherland.
The brewing process kept on until around Prohibition, when Esser’s survived by making soda. That eventually turned into a successful beverage distribution business, which continued in lieu of brewing all the way until 1995.
At that time, Esser’s had a hand-written George Esser beer recipe translated by a UW-Madison professor from old-timey German. The recipe allowed the original Esser’s Best German Style Lager to be brewed again via contract brewing; it’s currently brewed at Sand Creek in Black River Falls.
Since then, Esser’s has added three more beers to their offerings, including an Anniversary Ale to honor 150(!) years of family beer history. We tried a few out of the cave-like cooler, poured by Larry Esser himself.
A malty “all-day drinker” with honey notes.
A nutty Amber/Oktoberfest mashup.
Esser’s Best German Style Lager
Light, with a distinct slightly-fruity nose.
Though not an operating brewery anymore, and not open to the public without an appointment, Larry Esser took the time to show us around the Esser’s Cross Plain Brewery office, warehouse, and historic memento spaces.
There is an unbelievable amount of history on racks and in piles and displays throughout the building: taps, signs, barrels, a delivery truck, manuscripts…it’s a Wisconsin brewing museum gem in a back garage.
Larry was a wealth of knowledge, and engaging from start to finish. He could not have been more inviting, and it’s a testament to the family-run business model. He genuinely cares about the family legacy, and about the quality of the beer and the experience for the consumer. Spending time with Larry, it was obvious how Esser’s Cross Plains Brewery and their historic beer has had such staying power.