In 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, Vasily Borodin (Sam Neill) is second in command to Sean Connery’s Marko Ramius aboard a Soviet nuclear submarine. At one point in the film, the two men are discussing their plans for (spoiler alert) their defection to the United States, and Borodin mentions his desire to live in the American West afterward.
“I will live in Montana,” he declares. “I will have a pickup truck. Maybe even a...‘recreational vehicle.’ And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?”
“No papers?” he asks Ramius, dubious. “No papers,” Ramius assures him.
We can, for the time being, still cross state lines without offering ID or stating our purpose, and so long as we have that freedom, and since this is a beer column, let’s talk about beers worth going over state lines for.
Obviously, there are nearby breweries worth visiting: Surly in Minneapolis, Goose Island in Chicago, Toppling Goliath in little Decorah, Iowa. But those beers distribute to Wisconsin. I’m talking about the beers that come from the far reaches of the United States but can’t quite make it across the border into our state.
A few of these bad hombres are coming up from south of Wisconsin — Missouri, to be precise. Schlafly Beer is made by the Saint Louis Brewery, a confusing arrangement necessitated in part by a contentious relationship between the brewing Schlaflys and their conservative icon relative, Phyllis Schlafly. The conservative Schlafly took issue with the family name being used to sell alcohol, though her lawsuit to prevent such use was ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2016.
So unless her surviving relatives — Ms. Schlafly passed away about a month after the ruling — continue the suit, you’ll still be able to walk into bottle shops in Illinois and eastern Iowa and ask for a Schlafly beer. Maybe its Tasmanian IPA, or its excellent Pumpkin Ale, a standard-bearer for the often love-it-or-leave-it style.
Also from St. Louis, Urban Chestnut is distributing its classic Old World-style beers to Illinois shelves. Look for tongue-tying names like Schnickelfritz, Zwickel, and Stammtisch. Elsewhere in Missouri, and in a lot of states not named Wisconsin, Boulevard Beer brews a whole bunch of beers. Frankly, it’s easier to say which states Boulevard doesn’t distribute its classic Tank 7 saison or its big Smokestack Series beers. For now, Wisconsin isn’t one of them. Rumors, however, swirl; some folks wonder if maybe this is soon to change.
Prairie Artisanal Ales hails from Oklahoma, and makes such sought-after stouts as Bomb! and Noir. Those beers and others are distributed to Iowa and Minnesota, but not Wisconsin.
From farther west of the Mississippi, there are a great number of beer migrants not quite reaching Wisconsin terra firma. Durango, Colorado, sends cans of Ska Brewing’s lovely Modus Hoperandi and others to Illinois but, with the odd exception of North Carolina, no farther east. The distribution map of the wild beers of Crooked Stave looks like a route from a Ticket to Ride game, circuitous and haphazard. You’ll have to hit Iowa for those iconic 375 mL bottles of Nightmare on Brett and Vieille Artisanal Saison.
Fort Collins, in particular, cranks out a lot of beer for a small western city; neither Odell nor Funkwerks are sold here. The former makes everything from interesting sours to hoppy pale ales that are sold in Minnesota and Iowa; the latter’s beers are as funky as its name implies and only recently started distribution in those same states.
From the farthest of our teeming shores, the state of California, come a handful of breweries from cities proudly bearing Spanish-language names. San Marcos is the home of Port Brewing and its boutique offshoot The Lost Abbey. While many of Lost Abbey’s more well-known sours stay in-state, both Lost Abbey and Port distribute quality beers to the Chicago metropolitan area. From Paso Robles, Firestone Walker was recently welcomed into the Duvel Moortgat fold along with Boulevard. As such, an expansion of its distribution footprint would not be a total shock, but for now, the Chicago metro area is as close as it gets. (Iowa looks to come aboard soon, perhaps within months.)
And though it was once partially brewed in the state of Minnesota, San Francisco’s 21st Amendment — yes, there are 21 of them and even more! — is now only narrowly available in the Twin Cities market. Look for its cans in cube-shaped four-packs, including a nice black IPA called Back in Black, or one of my favorites, the controversially fruity Hell or High Watermelon.
So unless it’s Sunday in Minnesota, it doesn’t matter when you make a run over the border to buy beer, or why, or where it comes from. It’ll always be welcome to stay in Wisconsin until you’re ready to drink it.