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Rock County Brewing Company

Janesville, WI

 

Crusin’ Rating: B

Booze Rating: C+

 
Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel- Rock County Brewing Company

This week’s Crusin’ stop is looking at Rock County Brewing Company, just a short jaunt from Madison, in Janesville, WI. After a lovely brunch with my Grandparents and Aunt at the unexpectedly hip Gastropub Drafthouse that featured Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, Zombie Dust, and a decent Bloody Mary, we headed a mere 300 feet to the brewery. Unfortunately, we were not able to coax the Grandparents into being guest reviewers (was a little too chilly) like we did in the picturesque Potosi article. After a lovely farewell that featured cute Valentine’s day treat bags from them (yum) it was a walk just to the other side of the same block (I think Google said a grand total two minute journey) to the brewery.



While it was a little brisk outside, the sun was shining on a February day and, thanks to a large glass garage door that dominates half of the front of the brewery, there was ample light inside and enough warmth that I stripped down to a t shirt while sitting in the sun, the downside was the need to wear sunglasses inside to look at the menu! That’s the kind of natural light we are talking about!


I work with a very nice fellow, we will call him “The Judge” who lives in Janesville and gave us the suggestion of both a spot to grab brunch and the brewery afterward. While we had heard of the brewery, it’s always nice to get a local’s perspective on the best places in town for a bite. Judge, if you’re reading this, that was an excellent brunch!



Anyway, back to the brewery layout. It’s full of exposed brick that looks part of the original construction with bar wood dividers and oozes historic character. A wooden American flag commands the eye on one wall while the other features a projector screen to watch the game. I personally didn’t think the TV was necessary, but it became apparent that some were there just for the screen, so I guess it works. The lights are hanging Edison bulbs which are, of course, entirely on trend and there is sunken seating down a small flight of steps that puts you beneath the screen and near that glass garage door. Throughout our three hour visit the brewery remained consistently busy which was a little surprising for a Sunday without any Wisconsin sports running. There isn’t a ton of space for seating, and what was there was filled constantly.


The brewery featured a small snack menu, a pizza menu (although we didn’t see anyone order any), beer, and non alcoholic offerings, but no cocktails. They really didn’t need a cocktail menu though with a bar directly across the street and the Drafthouse slinging fancy drinks just a brief walk away. Flights were $10.00 each and came with 5 beers, of which we ordered two.


Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel- Rock County Brewing Comany

Snow Bird (6.5% ABV) - This fruited sour was a bright orange-gold when held up to the sun and very cloudy. Smelling it brought on scents of canned pineapple and orange juice. There was a bit of silkiness in the mouth for this beer, almost like a smoothie with definite notes of orange and pineapple, as promised and had enough sourness to be noticeable but not overpowering. I could see this making an excellent beermosa but if you’re counting on finding peach as the description suggests, I think you’ll have a tough time finding it. All around, a decent brunch beer.


Strawberry Margarita Seltzer (5.5% aBV) - This was a pink lemonade colored seltzer that featured high clarity and smelled of that pink Jose Cuervo margarita mix. Take that as you will. It tasted anywhere between strawberry syrup and a pink starburst with some lime juice on the end. Hannah and I agreed that this being a little less sugary and merely a strawberry-lime seltzer would be a sufficient name as neither salt nor tequila flavors were present.


Enzo Pale Ale (5.0% ABV) - This pale ale features Cascade, Chinook, and Idaho 7 hops and was a cloudy but bright straw color. The description reads “definitely tropical” in the nose and I thought most “definitely NOT” tropical on the nose. It may be the hardest I have disagreed with the notes on a beer yet this year. I got almost straight sticky pine sap on the nose as if I had just finished cutting wet branches to make a pitifully smoking fire in the Northwoods. There was no topicality whatsoever.

Now look, I’m going to go off on a slight tangent. Idaho 7 are supposed to bring a tangerine flavor but a woody aroma, Cascade should bring grapefruit flavor and floral aroma, Chinook bring notes of grapefruit and woody aroma. Now, I am not a brewer but if a ten minute google search leads me to descriptions of three hop varietals that give off woody or piney aromas, how can the beer possibly have a tropical aroma?

Back on track. This beer did have some fruity notes mixed in (as it should from the hops) but I thought the sweetness that came through at the end was closer to sap than juicy bright fruit. I will say that the 5.0% ABV makes this an easily drinkable beer but if you read the description you are just setting yourself up for disappointment. On principle, I’m giving this beer a HARD PASS.


Weizenbock (7.2% ABV) - This beer was the color of soldered copper and was full of malt, as the style permits all over the nose. Grainy wheat and a little bit of acridity, like burnt caramel on the nose. Right out of the beer guidelines that we study, smoke is a fault on the nose while smoke and sourness are faults in the flavor and I actually found both of those and have them in my own notes. There were notes of banana and definite prunes in the flavor which is absolutely on point but it was tough to get past that little sour bite at the end and the acid scent. Pass on this one.


Sweet Stout (5.3% ABV) - This dark chocolate-colored stout smelled like a latte and featured a creamy beige head but the taste was full of black coffee and moderate bitterness. It's a tough thing to do, to balance sweetness in this style with the roasted bitterness and if either of us were coffee lovers we might be more fond of something like this. As it stands though we both agreed that this had a little bit too much bitterness that outweighed this beer and we lost the sweetness everywhere except the aroma. I don’t feel this one was brewed in an incorrect way or that it shouldn’t taste like this, it just wasn’t for us but if you enjoy an espresso with a touch of cream I think you’ll love this.


Coro-no-no Mexican Lager (4.8% ABV) - What is the name of this beer trying to say? No to

Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel- Rock County Brewing

Coronavirus? No, no, it’s not Carona? Both?

Naming convention mystery aside, this beer was served with lime, which makes me (unlike the name may suggest) think it is absolutely a Corona knockoff. Adding a lime to a beer actually makes it outstandingly difficult to pick apart notes on aroma and taste and had I known I would have requested no lime. As it stands though, this beer was light yellow with brilliant clarity and actually was a better-than-original knockoff of Corona since it featured zero skunkiness that some love about those Mexican Lagers. The lime almost fooled me into thinking it was summer mixed with the sun pouring through the window. Maybe it’s because it's February but this was the beer I went back to get a pint of because the light corn flavors and lime reminded me of lake days and grills. If you want a local Mexican Lager (which I rarely am in the mood for, but when I am…), this is your beer.


Prerequisite IPA (6.5% ABV) - This beer features five hop varieties and two yeast strains which sounds tantalizing. “Which varieties?” you say. No one knows! The description speaks of none of them and the brewer decided to keep it a secret from the staff as well. I can only assume it’s because Plankton has been after not only the Krabby Patty Formula but also a cold brewski formula to wash it down with while watching the game.

This beer featured medium clarity and was just slightly cloudy gold in color. There were very strong notes of pine on the nose and a decidedly earthiness about the aroma mixed with the scent of prairie grass. Picture a field of wildflowers and meadow just beyond a line of trees on a hike in spring. The taste starts a little sweet then moves to hoppy floral with a little wildflower honey and a touch of fruitiness and then circles back to finish in hop resin. It was quite the journey, really, almost like a full day’s hike in your mouth and it might be a hike that just might grow on you. Much like long enduring hikes, you need to prepare for this beer and if you’re already tired, you might not seek it out.



Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel- Rock County Brewing

Blonde Ale (4.7% ABV) - This beer featured brilliant clarity and was a pale straw color. The first pour we had was skunky so I figured it was lighstruck and I took it back for a re-pour. Pour two featured high carbonation and had a little sweetness on the nose. It was crisp and sweet in taste with a slight buzz of hops and could almost be mistaken for the Coro-no-no. In fact, on finishing I was not entirely sure this wasn’t that beer sans lime. There was that corn sweetness for sure. I did not find enough to differentiate it from that beer and I would honestly skip this one and just stick with Coro-no-no if you’re looking for something on the lighter side.


Tower 81 Irish Red Ale (5.8% ABV) - This beer is named after a ladder truck in service with the Fire department which is a neat little blurb of local lore. Like most Irish ales, this was easy drinking with a balanced nose of malt and hops on the nose with a little bit of nuttiness hidden in there that translated to the first thing you taste, then a little spent grain and a punch of hops in the finish. Irish Reds, with their signature red-copper color are usually middling for me and I could take or leave but this beer hit all the notes that it should and even though it may not be a wow-factor, it was solidly crafted.


Dunkles Bock (7.2% ABV) - The first Dunkles bock I have tried and it hits the characteristics it should. This is a stronger beer at 7.2% and actually hits the high side of where the ABV of this style should sit. The color of burnt amber thanks to the Maillard Reaction that is tied to this style of beer (yay chemistry!). This beer smelled strongly of toasted malt and breadiness. That Maillard reaction, I have learned, was also present in the flavor since I got some caramel notes and a buttery malted sweetness. While this style typically does not have any hop flavor, I found just a little bit on the end of this beer. This beer was surprisingly a little more complex than I expected. I would like to try this style again.


In sum, this was a neat space to hang out on a Sunday afternoon and it was the perfect follow up to a visit to the Drafthouse for brunch or lunch. The Coro-no-no made me crave summer days by the lake while Snowbird would be an excellent addition to any brunch, regardless of the season. The Dunkles Bock left me curious to try another of the style, the Irish Red hit all the checkboxes and the Prerequisite was a journey, although I’m not anxious to take it again. The Enzo description is really sticking with me and is one I will not likely forget this year. There are decent beers, and beers I would drink again. It’s a very nice, bright space and the staff are friendly. I would definitely meet family at the Drafthouse again and give this place another try. However, since it is a natural halfway point between Burlington and Janesville it makes a convenient spot for us. It is a short drive from Madison and while I can suggest trying the Drafthouse, it’s more of a "if you’re there at the Drafthouse, you should stop by for a beer or two around the corner". I do not think that it would be worth the trip by itself, even though the space is authentically rustic. 45 minutes from Madison puts this spot into competition with Second Salem or Corner Pub Brewery, and some breweries we have yet to review in Montello, Baraboo, the Dells, and New Glarus. There’s definitely competition.


The short version? If you want a nice little afternoon trip for a decent lunch that’s outside of Madison or are headed in the direction of Chicago. Stop by the Drafthouse and the brewery is close enough to check out. I would not recommend a trip out there just for the brewery though over some of the other spots that are offering beer in that radius.


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


To learn more about Rock County Brewing Company please visit their website at: www.rockcountybrewingco.com or on Facebook: @RockCountyBrewing or on Instagram: @RockCountyBrewing

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