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Cercis Brewing Company

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Columbus, WI


Crusin Rating: A-

Booze Rating: D+

(A- for Cocktails)

Cercis beer taps behind the bar

This week we are traveling to a small, sleepy town that once boasted the set of a Johnny Depp movie, Columbus, Wisconsin. In what was once an old bowling alley lies Cercis Brewing Company. While we traveled there for the beer, we stayed for an unexpected treat created by a bartender who traveled a similar path to us, long before the blogs were a thing, and instead when people turned to guidebooks, local barmen, and word of mouth for their recommended watering holes.

Belying it’s outer exterior, Cercis is quite the pleasant surprise when you step through the doors. The signage features the town tree, the Redbud (also known as the Judas Tree) . An interesting bit of trivia, the brewery was initially supposed to be named after the Redbud tree but Budweiser took issue with the name “bud” and the red associated with their label. The owners then opted for the Latin name Cercis canadensis. The inside is very classy. The bar is made from the wood trim of the late Prime Quarter Restaurant in Madison and the back bar was salvaged from an old bowling alley out of Oshkosh. The entire place is, you guessed it, industrial, but I think it’s done correctly here. Hard wood (the original stuff), corrugated tin, and exposed brick and plants give the feeling of an upscale, trendy wedding venue rather than a brewery.

I’m going to talk about the beer and get that out of the way, because the real star of the show was something we tried after our sampling. If you’re interested in reading about who and what we discovered, skip right to the end.

We got a flight of six beers for $10.

Ten Pin Pale Ale (5.8% ABV) - This pale ale was dark amber in color with distinct citra hops on the nose, medium-high carbonation and a self-described citrus finish but we both tasted a distinct dry hop finish, sans citrus

River Bend Red (5.7% ABV) - This red was the color of dark, lacquered wood with a pretty neutral nose. It really tasted like a rough Irish red that I got a funky olive taste out of, even after a re-pour with a hoppy end. Again, I really didn’t taste the caramel or chocolate notes as described by the menu.

Carriage Haus ESB (6% ABV) - An English Special Bitter, Carriage Haus was very different from other beers we’ve had at the while writing for the blog. It was stained cherry wood in color, with malted caramel and toffee on the nose. Medium carbonation gave way to a rich, malty flavor with honey esters and a bitter finish. This one is worth a try.

Clocktower Cream Ale (4.6% ABV) - Man, did I want this one to be creamier than it ended up but nevertheless ended up being a solid alternative to a standard lager or ale. Smelling of malted corn and looking close to liquid of the same, you taste the sweetness of the biscuit malt that was used and a strong cascade hop finish. Golden in color with low carbonation. This was an easy sipper that was mildly pleasant.

You’re my Beer Blue (4.7% ABV) - This blueberry ale comes garnished with blueberries, which is fun, but a little too obvious. It smelled like home-made blueberry muffins fresh out of the oven and was extremely sweet. Low carbonation and rich gold in color, this beer was too sweet between the blueberry flavoring and malt. It was akin to drinking a breakfast muffin which was too much, also the blueberries were not fresh, a small thing, but no one wants a crunchy blueberry.

Swheat Ride (4.5% ABV) - This wheat ale had a nose of sweet malt and extremely light golden color with high clarity. It was described as a riff on a Hefeweizen which I suppose is correct, except it wasn’t cloudy at all and there was absolutely none of my favorite banana esters. Riff might be too loose a term as it was clearly not a Hefeweizen at all, and not even a great wheat ale. I’d pass on this one.

The Adventure after the tasting

As you can tell, most of the beers fell flat, Cercis has snack food (we got a large pretzel that was fairly crispy and not great) and we were pretty much ready to pack it up. The entire time that we had been there, our bartender, Chuck, had been friendly, quick with a joke, and was ready to answer all questions. I picture this guy as the one that Billy Joel is singing about in Piano Man really.

So through talking to Chuck we find out that he, in his younger days, had traveled all over Wisconsin tasting Old Fashioneds. He told tales of places long-since closed, places that had different ownership over the years, and secret spots that I’m sure no one but locals have heard of. We were both in awe of his knowledge of the varying corners of Wisconsin’s bar and supper club scene and moreover, the Old Fashioned scene that you all know dominates Wisconsin cocktail menus like no other cocktail can in our great state.

Come to find out that Chuck has been to so many spots he’s become something of a word-of-mouth Old-Fashioned critic and has so much expertise in the subject that he’s considered writing a book. As you all know, we are always fans of those who have traveled the booze scene before us on their own pilgrimages and, of course, someone who studies a cocktail with such dedication no doubt can make a mean one. We enthusiastically requested an Old Fashioned from this hidden master.

Chuck's Brandy Old Fashioned

Obviously, we here at the blog have been to many distilleries and cocktail lounges throughout the state. I have had some pretty good Old Fashioneds, from the trendy The Old Fashioned Restaurant in Madison, to the praised Ishnala Supper Club, to the unique creations at Central Standard, the Ironhorse Hotel, Driftless Glen Distillery, and all over. I can tell you, without exaggeration, that the simplicity of Chuck’s Old Fashioned at Cercis is easily in my top five. I’m not going to give away his secrets of how he makes it, bartenders code, you know, but I can tell you you’ve most likely never been to a place that makes one like Chuck. No frills, no candied bacon or smoked glass, just the basics and it tastes so smooth and well balanced I had three more just to explore the drink (well, the last one may have been just to keep the good times rolling). I think that if Chuck was given sway to turn the bar into a proper cocktail spot with just a touch of elevation to the cocktail Cercis could hands down become one of the premier destinations for an Old Fashioned in this state.

He’s there, without the bells and whistle ingredients, serving up a phenomenal drink that I encourage you all to go and try. Even if you don’t love the beer, that Old Fashioned is definitely worth a trip to this little town.

Chuck holding his home made Brandy Old Fashioned
The Man, The Myth, The Old Fashioned Master

Chuck, if you are reading this, please write the book, if only if it’s for our people here at Crusin' For Booze to read, we will read it. Although, I’m sure all of our wonderful followers would as well.

Until next time, keep on Crusin’, don’t stop boozin’!

To learn more about Cercis Brewing Company visit their website at: or Facebook at: @CercisBrewing or Instagram at: @CercisBrewing

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