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Tribute Brewing Co.

Eagle River, WI


Crusin’ Rating: B

Booze Rating: B+


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

This week we are checking out our final stop on our first Crusin' For Booze trip to the Northwoods. Unintentionally, our first stop on our trip is our last reviewed! Tribute Brewing Company is located in Eagle River, Wisconsin and it was the first town that we passed through wherein we really realized that we were up north. While we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it, there’s something different about the layout and feel of a northern town that surpasses the obvious. It’s not just the snowmobile dealers, the pine trees dotted around, and a plethora of local watering holes, I don’t know, maybe it’s all the fresh air, or something else in the air that says you’ve made it to the Northwoods. All I know is we went from being “north of Wausau” and gradually we were “up north.”

We had left early in the morning with a first time reviewer, the Thirsty Badger. It took us the better part of four hours to make it there on a Friday before we had to muster for a wedding rehearsal dinner. There was just no way that we were going to drive all that way through Wisconsin without at least one little stop off to try a local spot. It just so happened that Tribute Brewing Company was (almost) directly en route to our destination.

This is one of those breweries that we had the address in hand and still drove right by it. The building, while unique, is also fairly unassuming. What was once home to a log home design company and their woodshop now serves as a taproom that has a distinctly down pole-barn/garage feel to it. There isn’t a huge sign out front which was also part of our issue, coupled with the fact that we got there just a bit too early which meant the gravel lot was empty. The three of us thought it was a business that had long shuttered on our first pass. After exploring the town for a little bit and taking in what sights we could, we returned to find several cars in the gravel only ten minutes after the brewery opened. Always a good sign! This building with its domed roof and galvanized metal walls ended up with a lot more space than we first realized. Not finding the front door - our own oversight - we ended up at a back outdoor space that probably could double the size of patrons served. A concrete patio with picnic tables, partially covered by repurposed shipping containers and sporting a garage door led us into the back entrance of the space. Had it not been in the 50’s and raining, we would have been up to sitting out there.

Inside, everything is pretty no-nonsense. Lots of metal, plywood on the walls, some functional wood and metal high tables and some lower tables, a large bar that sits on top of large steel drums. There was lively chatter and the Thirsty Badger immediately picked out a free popcorn machine as a snack. We chatted with some friendly locals asking what we were up to with our notes before we even started to write and were greeted warmly by staff behind the bar, including the owner, Bill. Two small things we noticed that we weren’t in love with was that, outside of our table, which was right next to a window, the inside is fairly dark and could use some serious lighting, pole-barn style. Also the logo seemed a little corporate for a space that seemed like such a cool little local hangout spot. Outside of those, while it wasn’t flashy, we appreciated the large growler collection atop the floating wall that separates the taproom from the production space.

Although on a bit of a time-crunch, we were able to spend an hour taking our time and walking the Thirsty Badger through his first tasting. We were really impressed by how quickly he picked up on things and are looking forward to him reviewing with us more in the future!

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

You can get up to six samples and we figured the average is about $18 for a flight, with most beers available as a $3 sample (with a few $4 exceptions). As a small side note, I had actually had their beer before, as the fiance (now wonderful sister-in-law, Nurse of the North) had once gifted us with beer from here and I really liked it, although it took me going to the taproom to put the cans I had tried at home together with the location where they were created!

White Legs Jalapeno Wheat Ale (5.5% ABV) - You already know it, if there’s a spicy beer on the menu, Hannah is absolutely going to try it. This beer sports a Gold Medal from the 2018 Great American Beer Festival and seeing that definitely had our hopes high as we dove into the flight. This beer definitely had heat on the nose, not jalapeno, capsaicin (the active component of spicy peppers) and it also smelled vaguely of nacho cheese. Not exactly a cheese aroma, but you know you get a whiff of someone carrying snacks at a Badger game and you’re thinking to yourself “wow those smell good” while ignoring the pleas of your arteries and protests of your intestines? Yup, you definitely get an aroma reminiscent of that when smelling this beer. When tasting this beer, all three of us did not find a ton of beer-like characteristics. We found it lacking in hop presence, malt presence, and even the promised spice as there was not much more kick when tasting this beer than nacho cheese. Those high hopes we dashed.

Blueberry Train Wheat Ale (5.0% ABV) - This beer’s name is a tribute to the train that used to carry wild blueberries from Conover, WI to Chicago, IL. This beer smells like blueberry muffins straight from the oven with plenty of cooked blueberry and muffin sweetness. The Thirsty Badger noticed that the beer even smelled as if they did a little sprinkle of sugar atop the muffins after they were done baking. This hazy gold beer was maltly up front with medium carbonation and some nice breadiness when tasting, it finished tasting of macerated fresh blueberries with just a little whisper of their tartness hanging around. While Hannah was not a fan and I thought it was decent, the Thirsty Badger enjoyed it.

Old Copper Oktoberfest (5.8% ABV) - Much like Hannah will always try a Jalapeno or spicy beer on the menu, I will always try a German seasonal. This beer was Jurassic Park Amber in color (not taking credit for that, that was all Hannah) this beer’s name was a tribute to Old Copper Indians, according to the menu. I picked up malt notes on the nose but there was a noticeable lack of toasted malt character. I got a little bit of caramel as well. This beer featured high carbonation and whatever hop variety was used was overly bitter and really overtook the beer. Whichever way you slice it, a Marzen or more traditional Festbier (found in Germany) are going to have restrained bitterness and some toasty malt character. This one, unfortunately lacked both.

Barefoot Charlie IPA (6.8% ABV) - This highly carbonated IPA was named after “Barefoot Charlie” - a man with a colorful history who owned a spot that was part tavern/restaurant and museum near Land’O’Lakes. Known for boldness and creativity this beer is supposed to embody that. This beer smelled of fresh citrus and Hannah picked up on citra hops which was a great teaching moment for our Badger trainee. There was a little bit of pine needle there as well and the hop character was definitely in your face from the get-go. The Thirsty Badger astutely noted that “there’s a lasting impression alright, I’m going to be tasting hops for days.” While the hop character was strong, Mr. Tin Fox, an IPA expatriate, has had me taste some IPA’s that I was certain would blow out my palate for weeks. Looking past all of those hops I found some floral sweetness that gave way to some rich earthiness and then returning to a very floral finish, sans sweetness on the finish. I would agree that the hops really linger and herein lies a dilemma we always face, do we tank our palates with hops early in or do we wait and tank our pallets with some dark beers? Beer struggles.

Motor Tobaggan Coffee Stout (6.0% ABV) - I always like my stouts stronger than the low-end of 6% but with a stout named in tribute to a motor toboggan (go ahead, look it up) this beer uses local coffee beans which is always a welcome detail. This beer was dark brown with just the slightest hint of red if you really looked into it through the light. I let the Thirsty Badger take the reins here as he got more comfortable and he said: "this one smelled like beans right at a small town coffee shop, was fairly smooth, and tasted of black coffee. On the second sip there was a little booze on the nose and it was fairly heavy-feeling in the mouth and the coffee carried through from smell to taste and finish." Not bad for his first time, not bad at all.

Mele Kalikimaka Coconut Porter (7.0% ABV) - This dark brown beer smelled like more coconut than a bottle of Malibu and tasted strongly of toasted coconut candy, was mildly carbonated and not too sweet with a dry finish. For someone who enjoys porters and coconut, I was all over this one. For those who don’t (Hannah) and for those who are just okay with coconut (Thirsty Badger), it might be a little too much.

As it so often happens, when we get a pint while we are chatting and talking about the space after our review, we find the beer that really stands out. This time, it was something that the Thirsty Badger dubiously selected for it’s high ABV (around 11% if I recall). It was a Belgian quad aged in dark rum barrels named Strong & Manly Series #1. This beer was so complex and fantastic that I ended up getting a pint of it myself after I tried a sip. Full of those characteristic rich notes of deep fruit and spices, compounded by notes of oak and complemented by the richness you find in a nice Jamaican rum, this beer had several layers of flavor and complexity that could easily be overwhelming for the non-beerventerous. But for those of us who dig some complexity and unexpected funkiness when trying new beers, it was just outstanding. Get your hands on some if you can, especially with winter fast-approaching. The brewery’s website has an excellent list of vendors right on it, which really is something that I wish these smaller breweries would do.

In sum, this was a spot that is clearly popular with the locals, being almost at capacity ten minutes after they open and really had an approachable feel to the space. While some of the beers left us wanting more, I would say that the overall quality of the beer, even those we don’t like were fairly decent. We also found a beer right at the end that I regret each day not getting a growler or even two of for the weekend. It’s a long way from Madison so I can’t realistically suggest a trip all that way for one brewery. However, I am going to put it on our must-stop list for the Northwoods booze cruise and if you are up in that area, even an hour away, I would absolutely recommend trying them out.

Until next time, when we head back down south, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about Tribute Brewing Co., please visit their website at: or on Facebook: Tribute Brewing Co.

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