'Smuggled Out of the Woods for Your Drinking Pleasure' is the motto of Lake Louie Brewing in Arena, and it is apt. The enterprise began in the 1990s when owner Tom Porter and a few friends were making beer in his driveway ' strictly small-time, like smuggling moonshiners of yore.
Porter honed his craft as a home brewer, and then, in 2000, the private-business bug bit him. So he cashed in a retirement account, quit his day job in manufacturing and transformed his garage into a brewery ' with the help of friends, who often worked for beer.
To look at Lake Louie, you might not even think it a brewery, if you have ever toured a big industrial brewery the size of an oil pipeline terminal. Lake Louie is at the end of a long, pine-tree-lined drive, and it is still tucked into the two-story, two-car garage on Porter's 20-acre farm. Common beer vernacular would call it, romantically, a farmhouse brewery.
Lake Louie takes its name from the quarter-acre pond on the property, which was once owned by Tom's uncle Louie. Growing up, Tom and the locals enjoyed the pond's skinny-dipping opportunities. On a recent snowy Saturday, the namesake pond was white-covered and frozen.
Despite being named for a pond, Lake Louie beer is no pond-water macrobrew. The Coon Rock Cream Ale, named for a rock formation in a local Arena bluff, is a pre-Prohibition-style beer with soft, bubbly texture and smooth flavor. The addition of corn to the wort ' the liquid that is drained from the grain mash, then fermented ' makes this a light-bodied golden ale with a lot of flavor.
The Arena Premium is an American-style pale ale with a crisp, firm bitterness that makes the beer a great companion to barbecue and other rich, zesty meat dishes. A Scotch ale called Warped Speed is a deep reddish-amber with a sweet caramel malt taste that'll melt the chill off a snowy day. Warped Speed is currently ranked the number-one Scotch ale in the world by BeerAdvocate.com.
In the summer months, the brewery's seasonal Prairie Moon is a light-golden, Belgian-style ale with hints of coriander and orange. It's refreshing stuff, and it pairs well with fish and seafood. Current seasonal beers include Milk Stout, a creamy, medium-bodied dark beer with light sweetness, and a very hoppy India Pale Ale called Kiss the Lips, which Porter introduced last fall. Named as a tribute to Porter's wife, Deann, the beer has proved so popular that Lake Louie continues to make it.
And turning up in stores this week is Mr. Mephisto's Imperial Stout, named for the host of a horror-movie television program that aired in Madison in the 1970s. (Mr. Mephisto has been known to visit the brewery.) This beer has lots of body, a rich, black color and a warm finish. Mr. Mephisto costs a little more than the $8 most Lake Louie six-packs run in local stores.
Business is booming at Lake Louie Brewing, which is expanding; production could top 2,500 barrels in 2007. Lake Louie bottles are found in most area liquor stores, and the beer is on tap at several restaurants ' including Player's Pub, in Spring Green, where Porter sold his very first keg of Scotch ale seven years ago. All the business' cash was in that keg, and it paid for the ingredients that went into the second batch of beer.
'We were just that one batch of beer away from not surviving,' notes Porter with a laugh. Lake Louie now markets that Scotch ale as Louie's Reserve, or L.R. (Locals jokingly call it Liquid Reefer.)
My pick of the Lake Louie beers is Tommy's Porter, a deep, dark ale that is medium- to full-bodied, with assertive chocolate maltiness and a light, dry-roasted finish. A wonderful traditional porter, Tommy's is true to the style that emerged in the 1800s, in England, as an everyday beer for the working class.
With a last name like Porter, you'd better make a damn good porter, and Tom Porter makes one of the best you'll find in town.