Interview with Kevin Revolinski, Author of Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide

Late last year Kevin Revolinski released an updated version of his 2006 book,  Wisconsin Beer Guide: A Travel Companion and retitled it  Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide.  Since 2006 there has been so much change in the Wisconsin Brewing industry  and that change is reflected in this book.  Numerous breweries included (but definitely not limited to) Lakefront, Central Waters and Capital are  embracing the drink local mantra and are using Wisconsin grown hops, wheat, and barley in their beers.  Smaller scale breweries and brewpubs are opening up in smaller towns, and many brewers are moving beyond traditional style guidelines and making more creative and unique beers that while hard to categorize, are very tasty.
 
This book is also unique in that it also is sort of a coupon book. Bring the book into any number of participating breweries and you can have the brewery sign the book and give you a free beer or some other beer related item. 
 
The best part of the book is that it isn’t written from the perspective of a beer snob (or at least doesn’t come off that way).  Some beer writing has almost reached wine-snob pretention levels but Kevin’s approach will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about Wisconsin beers from the most ardent beer connoisseur who wants to try every craft beer the day it is released to the casual Spotted Cow fan.
 
I interviewed Kevin a couple of months back via e-mail, here is what he had to say:
   
So how fun was doing research for this book?
If you can ever find away to get paid to drink beer and talk about it, I highly recommend it. I’ve always said that work can ruin anything, but there weren’t too many times I felt put out by trying get the project done. The research part, of course, is great because the people making the beer are typically very interesting types and always love talking about their passion for brewing. 
 
What changes in brewing have you seen since your first edition of this book (published in 2006)? 
Besides a general increase in the number of breweries, I’m seeing smaller operations, which is great. Everyone should have a local brewer, no? But the other thing I love to see is the trend toward sustainability and local sourcing. More and more brewers are starting to try to use local ingredients. Bo Belanger at South Shore Brewery gets all his grain from local farmers. Capital Brewery made a big splash when they touted Island Wheat which brought some Washington Island farmers into the business of brewing. That’s great that we can drink locally and it really means “local.” Also, you’ve got Dave’s Brew Farm using wind and solar power, The Grumpy Troll and Central Waters going solar, and more and more clever ways to save energy, recycle spent grains and such. 
 
Also, though appears there are even more breweries than in 2006, have you seen any that closed since the first edition? 
Sadly, yes. It’s a tough business to survive in and a lot of hard work. But we still had a net gain in numbers since 2006 and there are a good number of new breweries starting up now or in the near future. In 2010 there were over 1750 breweries nationwide. That’s amazing. That’s old school. And it just keeps growing. I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling around the world for my writing work, and the more I see of beer and its availability outside the US, the more impressed I am by what we have going on here. Belgium? Germany? Sure they are great and I would love to explore them more sometime, but the future of brewing, in my opinion, is in the US. (and Canada.) 
 
The book touched on all kinds of breweries, from larger corporate breweries to very small-scale producers like Brown Street in Rhinelander. What is it about breweries that makes them such an attraction for people, no matter how large or small.  I know we all like the samples at the end but there seems to be something larger at work.
People like to see how things are made. It’s the “magic” of nature that takes what looks like breakfast ingredients and makes such an amazing beverage as beer in all its styles and potencies. That’s fun to see and sample. Beer is the drink of the people, too. So there is a camaraderie of strangers going on tours together. The corporate breweries impress us too just for the amazing scale of the operation.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on all of the microbreweries in the state but there were at least a dozen places I had never heard of (and now have to visit) in your book.  Were you surprised at how many breweries there are in Wisconsin, particularly in smaller towns?
I am always surprised. As I said it is a tough business to survive in, and places like Rowland’s Calumet Brewery supported by a town as small as Chilton for over 20 years? That’s just awesome. A microbrewery inside a University of Wisconsin student center? Ah, Wisconsin…

Were there any truly surprising or unique beers or beer styles that you discovered during the writing of this book?
Always. The creativity out there is impressive. South Shore’s Coffee Mint Stout? Who’d’ve thunk? With White Winter Winery they revived Brackett as well. More brewers are pulling out imaginative recipes, throwing in hop alternatives, smoked malt, beets (Furthermore), peppers (Great Dane and others), coffee, whole hop buds in the beer bottles (O’so). Titletown gave us India Ink, a sort of IPA-stout hybrid I think? Whatever. It was great. Saison, I’ve read, was almost a dead style in Belgium. Now it seems a lot of American brewers have picked up on it for summer (although the recipes vary greatly). Double IPAs, bourbon-barrel-aged stuff. The sky is the limit.

Were there any beers or styles that you didn’t like?
Of course. I’m still not a Pilsner fan. I know, I know, horrifying to hear. Yet occasionally someone comes along with one that gives me pause (Hinterland’s Euro Pilsner a while back). But it’s the style that I don’t care for, not an issue of quality.

This being a site that talks about food too, were there any memorable food experiences you had during your travels (either at the breweries/brewpubs) or at nearby restaurants?
So many of these places are also serving great food. I am a big fan of the foods that use the beer, the sauces, marinades, the beer batters. But also just set me up with some deep-fried cheese curds on the side and I am good to go. Hinterland with its gastropubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee, really turns it up a notch with the fancy cuisine. But the other brewpubs – Titletown, South Shore, Blue Heron, Great Dane, etc. make beer and great food almost an expectation. And one can never forget the Lakefront Friday-night fish fry with polka band after a brewery tour. Quintessential Wisconsin.

What are your favorite foods to pair with beer?
Cheeses. Take that wine geeks!

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring 1 six-pack filled with your favorite Wisconsin Beers, what 6 would you include?
Don’t get me in trouble here. Let’s just say I’d need a good oatmeal stout, coffee stout, an IPA, a bourbon-barrel aged somethin’, something sour, and maybe another stout or IPA. And then some kind of signaling device so I could get myself the hell off that island before finishing number 6. Scary thought.

I noticed that you do a lot of travel guides, what are you working on next?  
I am just finishing up a hiking guide for Grand Rapids, Michigan, but I have a lot more in the works. An e-book about my year in Southern Italy. And also an iPhone app version of the Wisconsin Beer Guide which I am putting out under my new imprint “Pilsgrimage.” I like traveling for beer and will start keeping track of the places I find it on my travels at www.pilsgrimage.com.

 
I’d like to thank Kevin for taking the time out of his busy travel and writing schedule to do this interview. 
— 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
About the author:
Kevin Revolinski is a Wisconsin native and professional travel writer who has written for a variety of publications ranging from local newspapers to the The New York Times and Chicago Tribune. But he entered the world of beer drinking, er, writing when he wrote The Wisconsin Beer Guide: A Travel Companion back in 2006. In addition to his beer writing, he has authored ten other books, mostly hiking, road-trip and camping guides, as well as a memoir of a year in Turkey. Find out more about Kevin Revolinski and his travels on his website http://www.TheMadTravelerOnline.com and blog www.Revtravel.com
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4 thoughts on “Interview with Kevin Revolinski, Author of Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide

  1. Pingback: Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide

  2. Pingback: Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide – 2nd Edition (2012)

  3. Pingback: Michigan’s Best Beer Guide – coming soon!

  4. Pingback: Michigan’s Best Beer Guide – coming this fall!

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