O’so Brewing Company in Plover, Wisconsin was the second brewery we visited in producing our first season of Beer Geeks. Having finally gotten the business end of the new series together, we found ourselves with limited time to get it shot. And that meant our first shooting trip would have to accomplish a lot – five breweries in two weeks, scattered throughout the upper Midwest. This would be a grueling shoot-and-drive road trip.
Our first brewery took two sixteen-hour days in Minneapolis. At the end of day two, we hit the road for a three and a half hour trek to begin shooting O’so in Plover. I drove Michael and our director of Photography (the world’s best, by the way), Greg Barna. The rest of the crew went in a second vehicle (along with our production assistant and all the food and beverages he was supposed to have distributed among both vehicles). Our lack of provisions began to matter when we realized a) we were starving and b) we must be in Wisconsin’s Area 51, since mile after mile there was no open restaurant to be seen. Until we hit the town of Thorp - home of the Thorpedo Restaurant. Nothing has ever looked so good as this timeworn roadside café/diner – basically because its lights were on and, thus, it appeared to be open. And while we discovered, as we barreled in, that the staff was preparing to close, these kind folks graciously seated us, took our orders, and then delivered one of the largest heaps of food I’ve ever seen.
It was perfect night-time road food -a classic country style breakfast the chain places pretend they turn out with care, but which can only really be found at small locally owned gems like the Thorpedo: massive omelets cooked up fresh, home made hash browns, bacon and sausage that haven’t been sitting under a heat lamp for hours. I created the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I know my roadside dining, and these folks did it right (while also saving us from becoming starvation road kill with buzzards circling above Wisconsin Route 29).
There’s a real analogy between a restaurant like this and the world of craft beer. Virtually all craft breweries– even what are now the big ones - started small. Often the brewers began at home, then took a career risk to open a brewery and make something special the old-fashioned way, using real ingredients and traditional hands-on processes to serve a local customer base.
And that’s the story behind the brewery we were on the way to visit, O’so. It began when a local home brewer, Marc Buttera, took a five thousand dollar gamble and opened a brewing supply store, built it up, and then opened his own brewery. It’s long, often grueling work – and he loves it. The techniques are traditional and hands-on. And many of the beers he brews are built around local Wisconsin ingredients - hand made and hand bottled. As Marc told us while we watched his crew stuffing individual hop cones into IPA bottles before they were capped, this is something the big boys can’t do. And that is at the heart of the craft beer revolution. Just as there’s a real joy in eating local, there’s a similar pleasure in drinking local. Wherever I am, if I have a choice of beer, I make a point of finding the one that travelled the least, especially if I’ve never heard of it. Not all of them will knock your socks off (though I’m a big fan of everything I tried at O’so), but most of them will make you happy, and plenty of them will likely turn out to be terrific. So surprise yourself. It’s a great part of the craft beer experience.
Catch a highlight from this Thursday October 9th episode of Beer Geeks on Ora.tv featuring O'so Brewery
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