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Sawmill Brewing Company

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Merrill, WI


Crusin’ rating: B+

Booze Rating: B+

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Wine Beer Distillery Blogger- Sawmill Brewing Company- Exterior

We’ve seen a few breweries that have some history to their buildings in places like Commerce St. Brewery Hotel and The Explorium Brewpub. This week, we are checking out a brewery whose location is tied to civil service, and, quite fittingly, DNR civil service at that. That’s right, Sawmill Brewing Co. finds its home in what was once a DNR building that housed fire-fighting equipment built in the 1940s. Of the handful of breweries we checked out in the Northwoods, not only was Sawmill the second-furthest south (the first being Central Waters), but it was unexpectedly the most Northwoods-feeling of all the spots we visited on our booze cruise vacation.

Not only does Sawmill have a cool main building, tucked away from main road, but it also sports an outbuilding, ample outdoor space, semi-permanent tent, and tons of extra seating outside, and a full parking lot lined with Pine trees. The outdoor area reminds me very much of a state park campsite. Cut logs, tall pines, dried pine needles covering the ground, picnic tables and some camp chairs give you the impression you’ve booked a site away for the weekend and really sucks out the stress of a long week. All it was missing was a large fire in the 6 foot wide fire pit (Thanks Elizabeth!). We heard that on a nice day you can catch some live music outside and that food trucks show up here and there to make the campground quite the community space over summer.

We didn’t have the warmest or driest weather by the time we arrived so we opted to sit inside. The space inside is well appointed with wooden 4-seat high top tables, some live-edge low tables and a live-edge bar. The walls are a mixture of old timber and old stone and it really gives you a frontier cabin-vibe. Antique logging implements adorn the walls along with a large, mounted elk head that really bring home that cabin feeling.

While we expected the space to be dark, there was actually a surprising amount of light thanks to some large windows that replaced the previous garage doors on the front of the building that are accented outside by vines. Studying the vines closely revealed that they sported some late-season hops which was a cool touch. Of all the breweries we’ve been to, this is the first time we sat amongst hops, which was a nice touch not only for the brewery but really tied back into the history of the building and the relationship the DNR has with nature. There is a lofted second floor that I didn't check out too closely but Hannah said it was cozy and just as bright. While I liked the idea of the loft, I could see how it would lead to some pretty loud evenings if it were ever full since you’re packing double the people in what is a modest-sized space. We also learned that all of the wood for the tables was reclaimed/rescued after a tornado tore through the area in 2011. Again, we were impressed by this fact and it’s always nice to see materials upcycled rather than go to waste. The last bit of trivia and relation to Merrill’s history is that not only was it a boomtown of Sawmills (thus the name) but also had some local brewing over 70 years ago that went extinct and is now brought back with Sawmill’s opening in 2016.

Sawmill had pretzels heated in some type of convection oven, popcorn, and a small fridge of beef sticks and cheese curds. Frozen pizzas were also available which was just enough food without it crossing that line. If anything, a solid brat would have gone a long way, nothing fancy, just a house-beer-soaked brat on a regular bun with some spicy mustard to top it. I think that would have tied in with the camping feeling outside. You know, come to think of it, they could lean into that by selling s'mores kits and having a fire pit or two and this place would be a perfect slice of brewery. As it stands, Hannah was far from in love with the big pretzel as it had the unfortunate qualities of tasting both a little wet and burnt at the same time, and we were not eager to try anything else in terms of food. Maybe we will have better luck next time with a food truck.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Sawmil Brewery- Beer Flight

Still, this was a small blip on an otherwise promising lookout as we ordered our beers. While Hannah was ecstatic to see cute and trendy full pints served in mason jars, we opted for a flight of 5 beers.

Birch Bark Blonde (5.4% ABV) - You know I have a thing for blondes - blonde beers of course! This bright golden beer was light on the nose with a little biscuit sweetness, and honey. That distinct flaky, doughy sweetness came though when tasting and there was plenty of pleasant carbonation to be had with a dry finish. This was a decent blonde that made for some easy drinking.

Barley Pop Lemon-Lime Lager (5.0% ABV) - You know, this was something we wanted to try because not only were we sort of half-hoping/half-dreading some unholy mountain dew-inspired beer, but it also shares a name (Barleypop) with a pretty sweet space in Madison to pick up some rare beers. This beer used some Vass Kveik yeast from Norway in its brewing and was pale and cloudy. It smelled of lime rind and that back-handed undersmell (coining this to mean a secondary smell that undercuts the primary scent) of artificial citrus. Hannah thought this tasted like a lime-heavy sprite and I could see that with some high carbonation, citric acid, and a lingering aftertaste of lemon juice, this beer was not quite sour enough to be a true sour but was too tart to be a shandy. It sort of ended up as the forbidden love child that can be described as a sour-lime shandy.

Oktoberfest (5.3%) - Is it a month that is after July and before January? Then in my book it’s the perfect time for festbier. This beer was dead pine needle brown and smelled of slightly overcooked caramel (not quite burnt). I tasted leaves, wood, light toffee, roasted macadamia nuts and it finished slightly bitter. You know, I kinda feel like they went outside, scooped up with their hands and brewed it. While I appreciate the different flavors present and it definitely tasted like fall, usually “taste like fall” isn’t taken quite so literally.

Kahuna Matata (5.4%) - You know, they acknowledge right in the description that this is a riff on the beloved Swahili phrase made famous by the Lion King.

They say this beer will make you forget your worries since it’s filled with tropical fruit. The part that bothered me was that it could have just been named “Hakuna Matata” which translates roughly to no worries. Instead, by including the Hawaiian word “Kahuna” which means “expert” in fields ranging from the medical to the sorcerers they inadvertently named their beer “expert of trouble or expert worry”. A little entertaining that it sort of ends up the complete opposite of what they are going for. I’d also welcome anyone who speaks either language fluently to correct my translations. Shoot me an email!

Naming irony aside, this kettle sour smelled of Citra hops and mango juice. Tasting it brings a wave of mango followed by tangerine, with some sour in the middle and an end full of grains. Although a high carbonation content was present, this beer had a thick mouthfeel. Hannah enjoyed it for the sour aspect for sure.

Maple Pecan Brown Ale (5.4%) - We saved the best for last (without knowing it). This beer smelled of Sunday morning pancakes, coffee, local maple syrup, and raw batter included. Hannah and I both picked up notes of coffee, pancakes, butter, syrup, and candied pecan nuttiness when tasting. A breakfast beer that wasn’t so sweet we could only have one (we went back for a pint or two) and one that conjured up warm feelings of family and home on a 48 degree, rainy fall evening. Excellent beer!

Even after being further up North, this was far and away the most Northwoods vibe we found on our journey. While I won’t spoil anything, we have one brewery left on this maiden booze cruise to the Northwoods and our last review was exciting, but not necessarily because of the Northwoods vibe. If you are looking for a chill place to spend a cold afternoon, and I’d venture to say a nice spot to kill a warm afternoon outside, I’d recommend hitting up Sawmill Brewing Co. in Merrill, WI. Some beers were fine, one was excellent, but that up north feeling was in full swing and the theme of the Sawmill was there in the decorations and (most) of the beer names. If you’re going to be in Wausau, it’s worth the 25-minute drive. I’d even say it’s worth an hour drive. If you’re heading up to the Northwoods I’m not going to say it is an absolute-must stop, but I would highly recommend the detour.

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

To learn more about Sawmill Brewing Company, please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @SawmillBrewing or on Instagram: @SawmillBrew

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