Cross Plains brewer has no brewery

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By Kathy Flanigan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, August 28, 2014

There are no tours at Cross Plains Brewery. There's no tasting room. No fermenters or bright tanks. At most, there are a few bottles in the warehouse out back.

Larry and Wayne Esser run the brewery from a small building on a main road that passes through blink-and-you'd-miss-it Cross Plains. The family owns Esser's Best, which is brewed using a family recipe from 1853.

The beer—Anniversary Ale, Esser's Best and Cross Plains Special, a pilsner—is brewed and bottled at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls.

Inside in a paneled office, Wayne Esser takes calls about the University of Wisconsin Badgers between talking about the extended history of his family's business. Six generations of Esser kin, from George Esser in 1863 to Larry Esser, Wayne's son, who joined the business in 1979, have been in the beer business. The exception was Prohibition.

They tell the story of George Esser's brewery, built about the same time Jacob Leinenkugel planned a brewery. George got his up first. Jacob moved on to Chippewa Falls.

“We laugh about it,” Wayne Esser said.

The Esser family eventually moved toward distribution and became the wholesale company for Heileman products and Blatz beer. In 1995, the Essers dipped a finger back in the beer business by having the Esser's Best recipe translated from the original German and brewing it at what is now the 10th St. Brewery used by MillerCoors.

“We had it easy going for a while,” Wayne Esser said. “Us and New Glarus.”

With increased competition from a growing craft beer market—Madison was recently named a Top 10 market for craft beer by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—Cross Plains is making the push to get the name out of the city and into Milwaukee.

“The craft beer segment is growing, and there are more fingers in the pot,” Wayne Esser said. Cross Plains Brewery has a representative hosting tasting in various locations.

The Essers celebrated 150 years in business in 2013 and marked the occasion with a parade that mimicked the 1933 Beer Parade, a celebration that beer was once again legal.

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