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Rocky Reef Brewing Company

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Woodruff, WI

 

Crusin' Rating: C

Booze Rating: C

 

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Rocky Reef Brweing Co.- Extieror

We are back this week checking out a brewery that is just over 200 miles directly north of Madison on Highway 51 in what I would consider not only the North woods of Wisconsin, but also right in some real lake county - looking at you Oconomowoc - with a lake every couple of miles on one side of the road or the other. We brought family along this time, Cabin 8, as a group, to check out Rocky Reef Brewing Company on a daytime excursion from our resort out in Phelps, WI.


Rocky Reef was a spot I had been excited about, perhaps naively, on the name alone. A spot in the North woods named Rocky Reef has to be kind of unique right? I am not entirely sure what I was expecting, maybe a tiki-themed brewery in the North woods, or maybe a brewery named after some sort of shipwreck spot in a local lake with tons of nautical themes. What I got was something quite different from those expectations. The space is a little hard to put into words but reminds me of what could have been a garage-like building that was converted into a brewery. There’s a mural to the left of the main entrance and the door is wooden with a storm screen. Most of the windows similarly remind me of my childhood neighbors front porch which had glass windows and a screen door and was not well insulated but was a neat little spot to hang out that seemed both inside and outside simultaneously. Inside, the space is dominated by a bar that fits a decent number, maybe 20 seats and has the taps behind it. The floor is concrete and there are a handful of high top tables, two of which we combined to fit our group. To the left there is a pretty unique idea map that shows how different beer ideas relate to one another and how different styles are tied together. I thought that was a pretty cool touch as you could really see some of the brewing team’s thought process.



By and large, the space is pretty unadorned. There was a bike suspended against one wall and I think a large wooden wheel but the decor was sparse and didn’t really fit a theme. There is a neon sign above the bar sporting the name “Rocky Reef” but I didn’t really feel much of a theme having to do with rocks, a reef, or any combination of the two. Just a few random items hung on the wall. There were two TVs that seemed a bit small for the space, especially since a football game was on and there were several patrons who were clearly invested in the outcome. Between the random decor, the brainstorming wall, screen door, and concrete floor it really gave off the converted garage vibe which can be cool if done right and invested in. Here, it just seemed sparse. The bartender was friendly and polite and while there was only snack food available they welcomed walk-in food and there were two bars within a hundred feet that you could probably grab a bite from.



While both Cabin 8 and Hannah and I got flights, we stuck with our usual four beer review. They have a solid dozen or so beers on tap and I’m confident they have a good enough variety for anyone to find a style to sip at. I will say that we picked some of these beers off of their cheeky names alone.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Wine Beer Distillery Blogger- Rocky Reef Brewing Co- Beer Flight

Breakfast in Bed (5.1% ABV) - This blueberry maple sour was a dull magenta beer featuring zero clarity smelled exactly like walking into a kitchen that is currently in the full swing of producing breakfast featuring plenty of sweet blueberry pancakes, maple syrup, and tangy fruit juice. This beer was sour up front to begin with, and while I detected the distinct taste of beets, Cabin 8 and Hannah said it tasted of fresh blueberries. The mother of Cabin 8, Auntie Librarian, said she picked up everything that was promised in this beer in smell and taste and thought it was very appropriately named. Hannah thought this beer was not sour enough, but admitted to a tangy fruitiness when first tasting, but said it was closer to raspberry than blueberry. We all agreed that this beer, after tasting, left the unique syrupy coating mouthfeel and maple sugar aftertaste. While not my favorite beer and sours weren’t really Cabin 8’s jam, we all agreed this was a decent beer that encapsulated its namesake.


Nice Pineapples! (5.4% ABV) - You know me, always looking for a decent pineapple wheat beer. In this instance I found this Pineapple Blonde Ale. This beer smelled squarely of canned pineapple and the pineapple syrup that it drowns in within the can. Hannah said it tasted like carbonated dole pineapple juice. Auntie Librarian, quite astutely, surmised that this beer tasted closer to a Weissbier than a blonde and I was surprised at her attention to detail because I had to agree. A blonde is usually a delicate beer to me that has fruity notes come through often and is distinctly malty. I think adding the pineapple here is a heavy-handed choice that takes over a lot of that subtlety. While I didn’t pick up on the banana and clove, that doughy sweetness was definitely present and I think the presence of the pineapple made this a heavy mouthfeel than the style would usually have. It’s easy to see then that this became a doughy, wheat-tasting sweet beer rather than, in comparison, what should have been clean and understated.


Hard Tea with Lemon (5.0% ABV) - Cabin 8 and Hannah wanted to try a house-made hard tea and I couldn’t blame them. We see so many seltzers that a hard tea was a unique offering that was off the beaten path. Unfortunately though, this was a solid, brown water-colored miss for the entire group. Varying comments of the smell ranged from sweet tea, to champagne, to flat zinfandel, and even a mention of sweatiness from one of our amateur tasters. Auntie Librarian accurately described this as tasting like a Bartels & James wine cooler (you know, from the 90s) that had gone flat. Hannah and I picked up notes of white grapes but no one in the group tasted any sort of lemon or anything resembling tea. I think, unfortunately, you could get the same flavor profile from a wine cooler or evena boxed wine if you are feeling extra fancy.


Reeftoberfest (6.6% ABV) - Of course we are trying some Oktoberfests (although many support uninspired names - I guess this one tried?) right toward the end of September. Another style that I have become more and more fond of as I get further into the beer world, this beer was the color of a cloudy topaz and smelled slightly of toasted malt but primarily of vanilla. While not many in the group were fans of darker beer Hannah was familiar enough with this style to note that it was tough to pick up on the usual aromas and she said it was too bitter. While I found the aromas faint, but present I have to agree with here that this Oktober was entirely too bitter and the hop presence was unbalanced. There was not enough malt to counteract the hops here and you ended up with a flat attempt of what should be a rich, balanced and satisfying beer style, especially with fall rolling in. Skip this one.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Rocky Reef- Idea wall with Packer game

There were several other beers that were tried, mostly with somewhat funny names: Down in my Plums, Just Wheat It, Passion in my Pants, and Musky Bite just to name a few. While we did not write about them, we found them to be mostly middling. The overall winner with Cabin 8 at this spot was Breakfast in Bed. Founded in 2015, I was really hoping for a stronger showing of this brewery and again, the picture in my head really did match what I ended up with which I can’t really fault them for. I can mention that I would have liked there to be some sort of theme or decor inside, that would have been nice. While I definitely won’t recommend a trip from Madison, if you’re in Minocqua and Minocqua Brewing isn’t quite your vibe (that is a whole other story) this is a fun place to stop. Where Minocqua ends and Woodruff begins is a mystery to us. So, if you’re like us and checking out the distillery in town (coming soon) and want to keep the booze cruise going, stop in at Rocky Reef especially if you need a spot to bring some food in of your choice. Other than that though, I wouldn’t recommend a trip from farther than 30 minutes away.


We will see what else the North woods has to offer! Until then, keep on cruisin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about Rocky Reef Brewing Company please visit their website at: www.rockyreefbrewing.com or on Facebook: @RRBrewCo or on Instagram: @RockReefBrewing

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