Turtle Stack Brewery

By Owen Stevens 

According to a 24/7 Wall St. report, 12 of the top 20 “drunkest” cities in the U.S. fall within the comfortably buzzed confines of our beloved state. Following last issue’s Man Cave entry about bourbon, it should come as no surprise that I have lived and worked in four of these cities (Appleton took first place, Oshkosh-Neenah placed second, La Crosse-Onalaska came in sixth and Wausau took 11th).

No doubt, I have unwittingly done my fair share to help these cities achieve their spots on such an illustrious (or dubious) list. But while I do enjoy a good bourbon, beer has always been my mainstay in the world of alcoholic beverages.

This is the golden age for craft beer drinkers. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t find a whole galaxy of stouts, ambers, IPAs and countless other brews on tap at local watering holes and at convenience stores, but now I can. Here are some fine selections that are currently in my fridge (and should probably be in yours).

The Godfather: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
(Imperial IPA; 9% ABV; $10-$15 for a four-pack)

It seems every brewery is trying their hand at making an India Pale Ale (IPA), although no one has reached the hoppy heights to which Delaware-based brewery Dogfish Head has ascended. 

While the 90 Minute IPA (its name refers to the length of time the beer continually has hops added to it) is the creme-de-la-creme of IPAs in my book, Dogfish Head has created several otherworldly offerings for beer lovers who want a powerful hop presence sans the bitterness: The Burton Baton Oak-Aged Imperial IPA and the juggernaut 120 Minute IPA (alcohol by volume percentages range dangerously from 15-20%) are two epic beers in their own right.

Still, the 90 Minute is the king. Sporting a hazy, rusty-gold hue and a robust citrusy-floral scent, the 90 Minute invites beer lovers like a Venus flytrap. On the tip of the tongue, you’re immediately struck by the same grapefruit/citrus flavors present in the smell, along with some classic hoppy “piney-ness.” Moving to the back of the tongue, the taste subtly changes, becoming a little maltier as the hop/citrus flavors turn sweeter. 

Probably my favorite part of drinking a 90 Minute is the finish. The flavor takes on a caramel quality and feels slightly carbonated as it drops down the gullet. A finish this refined and sweet almost prompts you to raise the glass up to your lips on impulse. The taste lingers on the tongue, encouraging you to relive the experience again and again.

The 90 Minute IPA is downright timeless, and will always have a spot in my fridge. It’s The Godfather because it is a beer I can’t refuse.

The Local Flavor: Turtle Stack Brewery’s Belgian Blonde Ale
(6.9% ABV)

For this edition of The Man Cave, I had the pleasure of visiting with Turtle Stack Brewery and sampling some (by which I mean many) of its wares.

Despite living in downtown La Crosse for nearly a year, just one little block away from the brewery’s location at 125 2nd St. South, I had never been to Turtle Stack Brewery. After tasting its creations, I found myself wishing I had been a better neighbor much sooner.

Founded in July 2015, Turtle Stack Brewery is a locally sustained operation. From the brewing equipment and ingredients down to those who craft and serve the brews, Turtle Stack Brewery believes in providing a truly unique Wisconsin experience.

One of the tastiest beers I tried was the Belgian Blonde Ale. Weighing in at 6.9% ABV, this blonde is not bashful at all. A hazy, straw-yellow pour, this ale seemed to almost glow in the glass.

Boasting subtle characteristics such as a mild, malty sweetness and subtle notes of fruit and spice, this blonde is more flavorful than many beers of its style that I have encountered. As the clean finish passed down my gullet, I noticed a warming sensation as well (possibly due to the slightly elevated ABV and spice).

Turtle Stack Brewery is also working on a Baltic Porter, which should be on tap by late January. Everything about this beer is big, from its huge, smoky, chocolatey flavor to its roughly 9% ABV. The porter seems to pair perfectly with those long winter nights that get dark outside impossibly early. 

Stop in for a sample paddle or a couple of pints while you enjoy the bar room’s rustic interior, friendly atmosphere and unique art installations created by local artists. Different styles of beer are constantly put on tap for anyone seeking to explore new varieties. For those who want to drink Turtle Stack Brewery offerings from the comfort of their own home, growlers are available for purchase as well.

The Gateway Beer: 3 Floyds Gumballhead
(American Pale Wheat Ale; 5.6% ABV; $14 for a six-pack)

I was still in the throes of my Bud Light college years when I became acquainted with craft beer for the first time. I was in Madison watching my brother’s high school basketball team play at the WIAA State Tournament and had hopped over to a bar after the semifinal game to watch the NCAA Tournament.

I was drinking a Bud Light when a gentleman struck up a conversation about the game on TV (I think Florida State was playing because we were talking about how terrifying head coach Leonard Hamilton seemed to be). I was about to order another Bud Light when he bought me a 3 Floyd’s Gumballhead.

My motto was (and still is) “never look a free beer in the mouth,” so I accepted the token while not knowing what to expect. The first sip was equal parts confusion, euphoria and gratitude. I was shocked by the flavor.

Sweet and subtle, I drank the pint like a wanderer in the desert who just happened upon an oasis, then ordered another for my patron beer saint and myself. The flavor was nuanced by fresh, earthy hops, a fine wheaty sweetness, and citrus undertones that bounced on my taste buds. Like going from black-and-white to color TV, there was no going back. And with 3 Floyds distributing to only five states in the country (Wisconsin is among the chosen few), this is a brewery local beer aficionados need to investigate.

The Counter-Culture Kid: Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (American Strong Ale; 9.0-9.8% ABV; $14 for a six-pack)

Lagunitas has created a beer fitting of a name as evocative as Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (UISDA for our purposes). The beer is a direct response to the covert investigation by the Alcohol Control Board of the California-based brewery, cited for running a “disorderly house” and charged with “moral turpitude.” On the most sacred of drinking days, St. Patrick’s Day, the ACB handed down its findings and the brewery was shut down for 20 days. Hence, the name.

This heavy hitter is a thick, brownish-amber beer that borders on being opaque. Sporting a fresh hop and sweet malt scent, UISDA appeals to a variety of beer drinkers. The initial taste is rich and sweet, which is amplified by the “stickiness” of the brew.

Also present is a caramel quality that adds to the smoothness of the beer. The immediate sweetness is balanced out by a slightly bitter finish. Complex in its flavor, flagrant in its disregard for classic beer tropes, UISDA is a beautifully unique beer that is more than worthy of your koozie.

An honorary Wisconsinite after spending 15 years in various parts of the state, Owen Stevens graduated from UW-Stevens Point. Like any good adopted son of Wisconsin, he enjoys sports and, of course,  drinking, among other things.