While the Twin Cities craft beer scene is brimming with bold new brews, our beloved craft-beer-forward neighbor to the east, Wisconsin, is also within our thirsty reach. Hudson, a mere 25 miles from the Twin Cities, has many of its own craft-beer-centric establishments, some of which hit the mark, and others of which, though well intentioned, slightly miss. Here we highlight three types of establishments in the Exit 2 area: a brewery, a liquor store, and a gastropub.
American Sky Brewing, 1510 Swasey St, Hudson, WI 54016
American Sky Brewing is one of three breweries in Hudson. With an almost excessive amount of freedom and Americana imagery, puns and accoutrements, the brewery is genuine in its patriotism — the taproom has a wall with photos of patrons’ military-veteran loved ones, offers discounts with military ID, and has a creation story centered around one specific veteran, the owner/brewer’s father-in-law, who taught the owner how to brew. Their flagship, Tailgunner Gold, is the first recipe they brewed together.
The taproom, open Wednesday through Sunday, offers daily specials. But Sundays are best, not only because you can’t buy beer at liquor stores in Minnesota, and you may end up in Wisconsin anyway, but because American Sky Brewing offers a Beer and Bacon special: free bacon tastings from local butcher RJ’s Meats & Groceries, $2 off growler fills, and of course, the Vikings or Packers game on big screen TV.
The kind and quality of bacon varies. Some Sundays they offer the familiar rashers, which can be less than desirable after sitting for hours in a pool of grease. Other Sundays, it’s thick cut cubes: tasty maple-infused nuggets that melt in your mouth. Unlike Twin Cities taprooms, which rarely have as much as a food truck outside, breweries in a small town like Hudson have to bring the snacks to you for free. And bacon is always better than bar peanuts.
Comfortable and homey, considering it is a big, warehouse brewery in an industrial park, American Sky has a several beers available. The best is the Tailgunner Gold, a hazy blond ale with slightly bitter clove notes. The Wombat Combat, a Belgian white IPA with a banana finish, is light and fresh. The Red Tail Marzen-style Oktoberfest, however, just tastes off.
Casanova Liquors, 236 Coulee Rd, Hudson, WI 54016
If you’ve ever made a beer run on a Sunday, chances are you’ve gone to Casanova Liquors, and if you haven’t, you’re missing out. Nestled on a hill overlooking the St. Croix and the southern end of downtown Hudson, Casanova looks like an old industrial warehouse. And it is. During Prohibition, it was a Coca Cola factory with a distillery in the back and the basement. Across the street are freshwater springs as well as caves — formerly used to house the contraband — into which no Coca Cola employee was allowed to enter. The narrow, brick building now houses both Casanova Liquors and The Nova Restaurant & Wine Bar.
Casanova Liquors is on par with Twin Cities’ favorites Zipps, Ale Jale, and France 44. Although smaller and more jam-packed, their selection of beer is the best Hudson has to offer. Not only do they have the ever-popular Spotted Cow — most stores in the area do — but they also carry Three Floyds, the Surly of Indiana. There are little signs in the cooler case in the back indicating beers “not available in MN.” Clearly they know who their audience is.
They offer single bottles for sale at reasonable prices, and even more novel for Minnesotans, growlers from local and national breweries. The list includes Delaware’s Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, not available in Minnesota, as well as many Wisconsin brews. You can bring your own growler, from any brewery in America, and have it filled. And if that novelty isn’t enough, they offer Casanova-Liquors-branded growlers in 32- and 64-oz. sizes. They also sell an extensive array of specialty glassware including branded pint glasses, tulip glasses, and pilsner glasses.
Stone Tap, 517 2nd St, Hudson, WI 54016
Opened about a year ago, Stone Tap is in the heart of Hudson’s historic downtown. Since our first visit, the service and staff appear to have improved, but the food is still hit or miss. This is a place you go for a few pints and not much else. The interior features beer art, murals of bottle caps, and a sign that reads, “This beer is making me awesome.” It feels warm and inviting without the air of pretension frequent in beer bars.
In search of a bar snack to go with your perfect pints, you might choose the pretzels or Stone Tap fries. The 4-inch-long pretzel pieces are savory and soft inside and crusty and salty outside. They come with a side of New Glarus beer mustard that has a horseradish bite smoothed out by the beer, making for a perfect blend. We were enticed by the Thai coconut curry mussels, but disappointed when they arrived covered in a thick paste and resting on two toasted pieces of hard bread; savory broth was nowhere to be seen.
A few weeks later, we tried again, and the mussels, with their delicious and not too spicy broth, were the stars of the show. The deviled eggs, however, were relatively bland, and the chunks of bacon were too large and were stabbed into the filling, forcing you to eat them in one awkward bite. The stuffed jalapenos were actually overstuffed and served with a bland pico de gallo salsa.
But the Stone Tap flourishes with its tap list. It is so intriguing that any beer lover can find something to enjoy on site or take home. The bartender is knowledgeable and helps visitors make their decision, introducing them to beers they may never have considered, or even heard of. In Wisconsin fashion, Stone Tap also sells growlers, or will fill yours, with any beer on tap. Offering Wisconsin brews like Hinterland and Milwaukee Brewing Company, the list also includes a “Next on Tap” section, enticing you to come again.