If there’s one thing that six months of winter teaches me each year, it’s how to fully appreciate the simple joy of drinking beer outside in shorts and a T-shirt.
To date, I can’t recall a time I was sipping a crisp beer as a warm summer breeze swirled about while thinking, “Well this sucks.” It’s from that place that I offer my best beer advice: If a brewery offers outdoor seating, take it. We’ll be packed into our parkas soon enough.
Here are five beer gardens for your consideration while traveling across Wisconsin this summer.
Badger State Brewing
Where: 990 Tony Canadeo Run, Green Bay
The setting: Grass and fieldstone underfoot, trees, shrubbery and other plants scattered about under bare bulb lights strung above create a serious backyard vibe. Except from this backyard, you can watch the sun set behind a portion of Lambeau Field.
Hanging out outside: Live musicians perform each Friday night through mid-September as part of the Badger State Block Party Summer Concert Series. A few Saturday night shows are also slated.
Dogs are welcome in the garden with clips on the table for leashes.
Water bowls for dogs and 16-ounce cans of beer for humans are available from the beer garden bar. Pours of pints and flights of beer can be ordered in the taproom.
If the taproom is open, so is the beer garden: 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Popular brews: Grassy Place Hazy IPA and Brewski, a lager-style ale, are big sellers. Badger State began making hard seltzer earlier this year and it’s been the bestseller in the taproom since its release, said brewery president Andrew Fabry.
Summer seasonals: Fabry expects the hard seltzer and Tiki Tom series of slushy beers to be popular throughout summer. Recently released Buzzy Blonde Coffee Cream Ale and Wi Bien Mexican Style Lager return due to strong demand.
Eats: Snacks are sold in the taproom. Food trucks make regular stops in the parking lot.
Before you go: Badger State added a machine that turns its beer into ice cream, alcohol included. A different brew flows from the soft serve machine each week.
Central Waters Brewing: barrels of rural vibes
Where: 351 Allen St., Amherst
The setting: Set at the end of a dead end road, the brewery’s exterior uses a mix of field stone, brick, wood and metal roofing to create an Old West, but stylish, saloon style. You can watch rows of corn grow on the neighboring farm throughout summer while sipping beer.
Hanging out outside: The patio is open all year during normal business hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Friday and Saturday nights are your best bet to catch live music. Dogs on leashes are always welcome on the patio. Fire rings warm up guests on unseasonably chilly nights.
Popular brews: Barrel aged beers made Central Waters famous after winning gold medals at two prestigious beer competitions. The brewery’s expansive barrel-aged program includes imperial stouts, barleywine and other styles aged in barrels and infused with coffee, maple syrup and Door County cherry flavors.
Honey Blonde Ale, made with Wisconsin honey, and Rift IPA appeal to those who want something a little lighter.
Summer seasonals: Crew Drive Pils, Tangerine Dreams Milkshake IPA, Salty Dog Grapefruit Gose, and Peach Bellini NEIPA (New England IPA) are slated to be released through July.
Eats: There isn’t a kitchen on-site but prepackaged snacks and popcorn are available.
You can bring your own food. (Pro tip: A couple scoops of Zanzibar chocolate ice cream from nearby King Cone pair well with the brewery’s stouts and porters, barrel-aged or not.)
A rotation of food trucks set up in the parking lot on Fridays and Saturdays.
Before you go: Taproom exclusives and less widely distributed beers can be purchased in crowlers, 4 packs and bombers to go.
Door County Brewing Co. Taproom & Music Hall
Where: 8099 Wisconsin Highway 57, Baileys Harbor
The setting: You wouldn’t know this is the quiet side of Door County judging by the popularity of this beer garden located on the main drag through Baileys Harbor. To be fair, this spot is a double bubble of craft beer being home to Door County Brewing and Hacienda Beer.
All 32 taps are busy during the height of summer when as many as 1,000 guests visit in a day.
From hewn wooden posts of the front porch to the metal silo out back with “Keep Wisconsin Beer’d” painted in white letters, Door County Brewing Taproom embraces the state’s rural origins. Reclaimed wood from Wisconsin barns and old bricks bought from “some guy” in Jacksonport add authenticity.
Hanging out outside: Picnic tables near the porch make for good people and car watching spots of “downtown” Baileys Harbor. Privacy wooden fences surround the beer garden located along the side and back of the brewery. Slat wood pergola, wood stage, picnic tables and an outdoor bar extend the taproom aesthetics outside.
Matt Sampson, director of brewing operations, said live music returns to the outdoor stage this year.
“We are looking forward to bringing this back this year after last year’s absence due to COVID,” he said. “We don’t have a set schedule at this time, but it will likely vary throughout the season.”
Dogs are welcome in the beer garden.
A big gas fire pit in the middle of the beer garden and two wood-burning pits out front keep chilly nights in check.
“It’s open now and all year, as long as you can handle the weather,” Sampson said.
An outdoor bar in the beer garden opens Memorial Day weekend for the summer, but availability is based on weather.
Beer garden hours are the same as the taproom. Summer hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Popular brews: Lower ABV options like League Night Lager and Pallet Jack Cruiser Session IPA are popular beer garden beers, Sampson said. Though Vacationland, a juicy IPA with a creamy mouthfeel and minimal bitterness, regularly makes the rounds outdoors.
Summer seasonal: Hibiscus Witbier, a slightly amped up version of Door County Brewing’s Little Sister Witbier, and brewed with “a ton” of hibiscus flowers, is already flowing from the taps. The flowers add a pink hue, hint of floral tartness and make it really refreshing beer, Sampson said. He expects it to be available through July, possibly into mid-August depending on demand.
Eats: DCBC Eats is now open in the former Bearded Heart Coffee building next door. Barbecue meats, sandwiches and sides are served 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. For dessert there’s a s’mores box with graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows and skewers. A small selection of snacks like soft pretzels and cheese curds are available in the taproom.
Before you go: The tiny shack with weathered wood siding and shag shingles houses Hacienda’s koelschip, a shallow rectangle pan that nearly fills then entire building. Each spring and fall when the temperatures are right, hot wort is pumped into the koelschip where naturally occurring yeast fall into the liquid, which help the beer develop tasting notes unique to that night and place.
There’s no guarantee that one of these beers, usually a blend with other barrel aged brews, will be available. However, Sampson said they are targeting a mid-June release date for their first 100% spontaneously fermented beer out of the koelschip.
“That beer has been aging for well over two years in barrels,” he said.
Fifth Ward Brewing
Where: 1009 S. Main St., Oshkosh
The setting: A long-vacant building on the corner of South Main Street and West 10th Avenue was renovated to become home of Fifth Ward Brewing. Co-owner Ian Wenger said the name is an homage to the Fifth Ward Brewery that operated in the same part of Oshkosh during the latter half of the 19th century and served beer to the neighborhood.
Located two blocks north of the Menominee Nation Arena, the taproom is a popular stop before and after events.
Hanging out outside: Tree branches from neighboring yards tower over the wood privacy fence surrounding the beer garden. A metal roof overhang from the brewery and tables equipped with umbrellas provide more shade.
There isn’t a set schedule of weekly or monthly live music, said Wenger, but typically there is some entertainment scheduled 3 to 7 p.m. Friday or Saturday during the summer.
Fifth Ward hosts a vintage market from noon to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month from May through September. There are 12 Midwest vintage sellers of clothing, décor and other items of interest to collectors and admirers of all things 60’s through Y2K.
Beer garden season is weather dependent.
“We put out the patio furniture as soon as the snow is gone and put it away when its too cold to sit outside anymore,” Wenger said.
Hours are the same as the taproom — 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; noon to midnight Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday — but a noise ordinance begins at 10 p.m.
Dogs are welcome in the beer garden. A doggie station includes poop bags and a garbage bin.
Popular brews: Haze It or Love It, a hazy IPA, is the bestseller.
Summer seasonals: Fruited sours and cream ales like Margarita Frootenanny and Tangerine Dream are planned for release throughout the summer.
Eats: Food trucks are scheduled throughout the summer, Wenger said, especially during the days of events. Village Pub Pizza (based in Oshkosh) frozen pizzas are always available in the taproom and guests can bring carry-in foods.
Before you go: 4 packs of 16-ounce cans of popular beers and 22-ounce bottles of barrel-aged beers are sold for carryout.
Fox River Brewing Company
Where: 1501 Arboretum Drive, Oshkosh
The setting: A full service restaurant, bar and brewery set along the Fox River. A large outdoor seating area provides the best water views. Fox River Brewing docks have room for over 30 boats, said brewery CEO Jay Supple.
Hanging out outside: Watch boats motor up and down the river or catch a sunset over the water and cityscape. Drink orders can be placed with servers or at the outdoor bar which is easy to spot — look for the ginormous yellow chair perched on the roof.
Returning this summer are live music (Thursday through Sunday), beer delivery to the docks (yes, beer delivered to boats) and yard games including oversized Jenga.
The patio opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes when the bar and restaurant do.
Dogs are welcome on the patio.
Popular brews: Blü Bobber, a blueberry blonde ale, has long been Fox River Brewing’s best selling beer, said Supple. It’s even inspired series of Bobber beverages including Red Bobber, a raspberry beer, and White Bobber, a cherry apple hard seltzer.
Summer seasonals: Nothing Rhymes with Orange Milkshake IPA is already on tap and Winnebago Wheat is scheduled for summer release.
Eats: A full kitchen makes appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, desserts and more. Crunch tenders, so named for including a crunchy sweet cereal in the breading, are popular.
Before you go: Hop up in the oversized wooden chair (the one in front of the bar, not on top of the bar) for a photo. Yeah, it’s totally kitsch, but did you really experience summer if you don’t have at least one photo like this?