By Kristine Hansen | Photo: Estabrook Beer Garden / ©Visit Milwaukee
Few things are more refreshing than sipping a cold beer outside on a hot day. Even better if the setting is lush, green and festive. While beer gardens — expansive outdoor areas with picnic tables and beer on tap — are not new to Wisconsin, they’ve certainly multiplied across the state in the last five years. Some are hosted by county or city park systems while others serve as an al- fresco extension, or outdoor tap room, of a craft brewery. Still others honor beer gardens’ German roots — these idyllic outdoor spots originated in Bavaria, Germany — by hosting live polka music and serving up large baked pretzels.
ESTABROOK BEER GARDEN, SHOREWOOD
Located in Estabrook Garden, along a winding section of Estabrook Parkway between Capitol Drive and Hampton Road and hugging the banks of the Milwaukee River, being here feels far from the city — even though downtown Milwaukee is only a 15-minute drive south. Many beer garden visitors bring the family pooch as a fenced-in dog park is literally next door, and also enjoy the park’s disc-golf course nearby. One can also arrive by bicycle, canoe or kayak. Food includes brats, hot dogs and giant, fresh-baked pretzels, and guests are welcome to bring their own food, whether it’s take-out from a local restaurant or a prepared picnic, just no alcohol. While the shining star here are beers imported from Munich (Hofbräuhaus), there’s a selection of local craft beers, too, along with draft root beer for the kiddos.
STABBUR BEER GARDEN AT AL JOHNSON’S, SISTER BAY
Seasoned visitors to Door County already know about the goats on top of the grass roof at Al Johnson’s, where Nordic sweaters are sold in the gift shop and thin Swedish-style pancakes are topped with lingonberries. A newer addition is the beer garden, which debuted in 2016. Boasting views of Green Bay’s shoreline across the street, there is plenty of room to spread out on picnic tables or play lawn games while enjoying a pint of beer. The beer menu is a mix of European (Carlsberg, Spaten Lager and Hacker Pschorr) and Upper Midwest selections, from a nitro brown ale from Mob Craft (Milwaukee and Madison) to Hinterland Brewing’s Door County Cherry Wheat, brewed in Green Bay. In terms of food, it’s substantial enough to be a hearty lunch or dinner, and detours from typical gastropub fare. Think Swedish shrimp roll, meatballs and mashed potatoes with lingonberries. For dessert, try Swedish Swirl ice cream, featuring Mullen’s Dairy Bar vanilla ice cream from Watertown, accented by lingonberries and Swedish gingersnap cookies.
OTTO’S BEER & BRAT GARDEN, MINOCQUA
With a wall-size mural depicting Bavaria (including characters in dirndls and lederhosen), and beer poured into glass steins, this beer garden is a little taste of Germany in downtown Minocqua. Live music fills the outdoor space on some evenings. Beer celebrates both Wisconsin craft brewers (New Glarus Spotted Cow and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy are two selections) as well as German imports (Spaten Premium Lager and Hacker Pschorr Weiss). With a nod to local roots,beer-cheese soup and Sheboygan sausage brats are on the menu, but so are German-style eats like a fresh-baked, jumbo pretzel and German “nachos” (tortilla chips topped with Monterey Jack cheese, ham and sauerkraut). There are also healthier, lighter eats such as hummus, salads and three meatless sandwiches.
BADGER STATE BREWING COMPANY, GREEN BAY
Although part of this craft brewery’s decade-old tap room is a few blocks from Lambeau Field, you’re not limited to their beers when it comes to choosing a pour to enjoy in the beer garden. Many of the guest taps are from other breweries, such as Lion’s Tail Brewing Company in Neenah and Topping Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa, on a recent menu. Although no matter what your palate prefers, chances are there’s a Badger State Brewing Company Beer to suit it, as there are 23 options on tap, from sours to stouts, along with hard ciders and seltzers. There is not currently a food menu. Catch live music here regularly and be sure to take a private tour with a group (minimum 10 people) to learn more about the brewery’s story.
MEMORIAL UNION TERRACE, MADISON
Even if one isn’t a Badger alum, or current student, the Memorial Union Terrace on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is open to everyone. And there are fewer better places in Madison to enjoy a beer with a view. An elevated, multi-tiered patio along Lake Mendota adorned with the Terrace’s iconic sunburst chairs (a total of 2,000) in bright hues matched with 400 tables cultivate an inspiring environment. Those who haven’t been here in years might be pleasantly surprised to learn that food options have expanded. Now you can order a wood-fired pizza from Strada or salads from Cartend. Of course, you must order a scoop of Babcock Dairy ice cream, crafted on campus. However, there’s nothing more fitting than a burger or a brat on a hot day: somewhere around 50,000 burgers and 60,000 brats are sold during a typical Terrace season, with a brat stand and barbecue stand putting them within easy reach.
STONE ARCH BREWPUB’S BEER GARDEN, APPLETON
While Stone Arch only dates back to 2004, when a father-son duo opened the brewery, it’s housed in an 1858 building (that once housed a brewery), so it feels much more historic. The beer garden’s potted plants and sunny perch provide even more room for a group to spread out, although it’s worth popping inside to see the stone-walled dining room, where horse carriages used to pull up and take delivery for Appleton Brewing and Malting Company. While the tap menu rotates often, a recent menu featured 14 Stone Arch beers, and a hard cider and seltzer. The brewery also crafts a selection of non-alcoholic and gluten-free beers. As for food, some of the unique menu items include an elk burger, mac ‘n beer cheese, elk stew and duck confit. Build-your-own pizzas are also popular, as are vegetarian-friendly items like an Impossible burger.