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Beams, Beer, and Beans

August 12, 2016

Every night as I start to write this, I think back on the day and try to come up with some kind of unifying theme or idea, or at least something our various activities had in common.

Today we were in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. We saw a lighthouse, a brewery, a mansion, and a candy warehouse. The best I can do in terms of unifying them is the alliteration in the title of the post. Which is appropriate, because the only other thing they all have in common is that they were pretty enjoyable but not quite as great as we had hoped. So in more ways than one, if I were to give Thursday a letter grade, that letter would be a B.

Despite everything we did in Milwaukee yesterday, we still had more of the city to see today. We started at Lake Park, so named because of its location on the shore of Lake Michigan. The park’s main attraction is the historic North Point Lighthouse, which protected ships from the shore for well over a century before it was decommissioned in 1994 when GPS became widely available and ships no longer needed lighthouses for navigation.

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The attached building used to be the lightkeeper’s quarters but now houses a cute little museum about the history of the lighthouse. It’s the kind of museum that would take a normal person 15-20 minutes to get through. Unfortunately, the woman who was working there when we arrived took it upon herself to walk us through the entire museum, explaining every photo and artifact, thus forcing us to spend almost an hour listening to her tell us stories that were all explained by the text of the museum and half of which we would’ve skipped if we had been perusing on our own.

Eventually she let us climb up to the top of the lighthouse, which was all we wanted to do all along. Our patience was rewarded, as the sky was clear and we had spectacular views of the lake and of downtown Milwaukee.

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Upon leaving we had another interesting view from the ground: the park was absolutely packed with zombies staring at their phones in a desperate search for Pokémon. Seriously. Dozens of people just standing in the middle of a park, right next to each other, interacting with nobody, saying nothing, ignoring the beautiful views, completely entranced by the possibility that they might capture a virtual imaginary creature.

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I know I’m hardly being original when I mock the zombie-like state of Pokémon Go players, but holy crap, we’ve been to many of the most fun parts of a dozen states, and we see this everywhere. It’s great that this game is getting people outside, but what good does it do if they don’t even realize they’re outside? As my grandmother would’ve said, it’s enough to drive you to drink. So that’s exactly what we did.

Most people’s first association with Milwaukee is either beer or Happy Days. We saw the Fonz yesterday, so today we needed to see some beer.

Miller, like most major breweries in this country, gives free tours that include tasting. I’ve now been on four of these tours (Budweiser, Coors, Sam Adams, and Miller). What makes the Miller tour a little different from the others is its focus on the packaging and distribution rather than the actual beermaking. We got to watch as cans and bottles sped through the factory conveyor belts, which was pretty cool to see.

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Sorry, wrong photo. Here are the real ones:

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We also got a peek at the massive warehouse, which holds roughly 15 million beers briefly each day before getting them onto trucks for distribution. And maybe the most interesting part was walking into one of the caves dug by hand in the brewery’s early days so that barrels of beer could be stored in a cool, dark place.

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But we heard absolutely nothing about how the beer is made. No discussion of hops or barley, and only the briefest mention that the strain of yeast they use is the same yeast that founder Frederick Miller brought with him when he immigrated from Germany. There’s an optional add-on to the tour that takes people up to see the actual vats and tanks they use to make and age the beer, but they mentioned that there’s no A/C in the rooms, which stay at around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. We declined.

All in all, the tour was pretty good but not as good as the others I’ve been on. The best part, surprisingly, was when our tour guides, Kaylie and Bailey (really), told Sam that he looks just like someone in a Miley Cyrus movie called The Last Song. We looked it up, and OH MY G-D, THEY’RE TOTALLY RIGHT!

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You see it, right? I know the hair is different, but the face is an exact replica. It’s uncanny. Here, let me show you one without the hair so you can see it more clearly:

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The kid’s name is Bobby Coleman. The more photos we found the more freaky it got. An image search is like looking through photo albums of Sam. I actually have pictures of him in some of the same poses, making some of the same faces.

Anyway, when we finished at Miller it was time to have one more beer (baron) before leaving Milwaukee. Frederick Pabst (what is it with the Fredericks?) took over his father-in-law’s brewery in the mid-1800s, renamed it after himself, and built it into one of the largest breweries in the world (for a while, at least). He became the richest guy in Milwaukee, and built himself a Flemish Renaissance revival mansion in a trendy part of town. The Pabst mansion is still there, still maintained, and there are public tours on the hour.

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Unfortunately, the timing of the tours was such that if we took the tour it would mean we’d probably miss the last Jelly Belly factory tour of the day (Jelly Belly is about 45 minutes away in Pleasant Prairie, WI). Faced with such a choice, we decided to skip the Pabst tour so we’d be sure to catch the Jelly Belly tour.

One factor in our decision was the little sign on the Pabst mansion saying that photography is not allowed on the tour. I hate that. How does it hurt to allow photography? Are you really concerned that if people see my photos, they won’t pay to take the tour themselves?

Since we were already there, we spent a few minutes walking around the exterior of the house, and out of spite I took a photo through one of the windows. Please steel yourself emotionally before you feast your eyes on this incredibly illicit image:

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Take that, Pabst!

We did indeed make it to Pleasant Prairie in time for the Jelly Belly tour. But it turned out to be just a tour of the warehouse, not the factory, so we saw no actual production of jelly beans. We did, however, get to wear ridiculous paper hats and ride in a little train to take the tour, so it was a net positive.

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The tour itself turned out to be pretty lame. An unenthused tour guide read everything off a paper, and the train just took us from one video screen to another so we could watch brief videos about the company’s history, the other types of candy they make, and how they make the jelly beans.

The real excitement was the candy store at the end of the tour. Most of the items were pretty pricey, but they also sold cheap bags of “irregular” candies that are slightly off in size or shape. More important, there’s a sampling bar where you can have a couple of jelly beans of any flavor they make, and there’s no limit. Sam and I made the guy behind the bar work pretty hard. My favorite moment was when Sam asked to try the beer-flavored jelly beans, bit into them, and loudly announced to the entire room, “Wow, that really tastes like beer!”

We had dinner in Chicago, despite monumental traffic that attempted to prevent us from ever getting near the city. Dinner, like the rest of the day, was not outstanding, but it was good.

 

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