Berghoff has been brewing in some capacity since 1887. Since its inception, the classic beer has undergone a number of changes in regard to brewing site, business model and taste. Most recently, Berghoff was the crown jewel in the corroded crown of Monroe, Wis.'s cheap beer magnate Minhas Brewery. However, the longstanding libation sought to rebrand itself to better fit the reputation of its popular upscale Chicago gastropub. Labels were redesigned, recipes were altered, brewing operations relocated to Point Brewery headquarters in Stevens Point (soda production remains at Minhas), and new brews were added to Berghoff’s arsenal. The stark changes were on grand display at Burnhearts (2599 S. Logan Ave.) last Friday night, as Berghoff took over the bar’s tap lines and granted patrons an early taste of its revival beers — with brats to boot.
As one of the first guests to enter the lounge laden with Berghoff regalia, I took some time to peruse the eight options detailed on the sell sheets (scattered at various points of the establishment). After giving due diligence to each description, I opted for the Reppin’ Red (6.2 percent ABV). I’d been an ardent fan of Berghoff Red years back, and I was pleasantly surprised to experience the overhauled body rife with a smoky and unapologetic bitter flavor profile.
While I made slow work of the red, I happened upon Ben Minkoff, Berghoff's sales manager/director of marketing and PR. As he politely witnessed me less-than-classily devour an Odd Duck bratwurst stacked high with home-pickled sauerkraut and yellow mustard (the sausage alone warrants 800 words of praise), Minkoff told me about Berghoff’s feeling that it needed to reinvent itself in order to produce a product that matched its rich, distinct — at least in Wisconsin and Illinois — history.
He made apt comparisons of his employer’s new products to beers from Great Lakes and Bells breweries (Minkoff once lived in Bells country of Kalamazoo, Mich.), we eulogized the short-lived Backyard Ale, and he divulged the brewery’s search to find its flagship beer. If he was seeking input, I was grossly under-informed. In effort to help (yeah, that’s what it was), I ventured further down the tap line to sample pints from each end of the spectrum.
I crossed over to the dark side with my next pour, opting for a Sir Dunkel Dark (5.5 percent ABV), a lager whose midnight-black bark is much worse than its easy-drinking, toffee-tinged bite. I followed the Dunkel with its polar opposite, Berghoff’s operative summer beer, Solstice Wit (5.2 percent ABV), which is comparable to an effortless, Germanic-style Blue Moon. Speaking of Germany, I made sure to sample the Germaniac Pale Ale (6.3 percent ABV), which Minkoff touted more than any other variety. Admittedly, it didn’t stand out from the others, but the light body and hint of molasses and honey made the often-imposing pale ale a fitting beer for meals and otherwise.
After braving judgment for daring to snag another brat (honestly, these were hands down the best bratwursts I’ve ever eaten), I concluded my own personal tap tour with a tall, frothy Dortwunder Lager (5.5 percent ABV). Fittingly, the lager conjured comparisons to a Spaten lager, with its hearty and hoppier take on the pilsner.
As a person with memories (both fond and not so positive) of Berghoff throughout my decade of drinking, its refreshing to see a brewery that could as easily skate by on its past accolades tear out the foundation and rebuild from nothing.
I left Burnhearts that evening equal parts impressed, intoxicated and inspired. The next time you’re seeking something you’ve never had, give one of the oldest new beers another shot.
In-text images by Tyler Maas. Homepage image courtesy of Berghoff Beer.