Lake-Aire & Point Beer

Lake Nokomis & Stevens Point

Returning from a trip north to visit a friend in Mercer, Wisconsin two years ago, Heidi and I were detoured on the way back home due to some road construction. The route took us through the small town of Nokomis and past Lake Nokomis.

Lake Nokomis

The detour was an easy and painless one, and it took us through some very scenic areas; I took special notice of the lake and promised myself that I would return. It took me too long but I did make good on my promise.

The Lake-Aire Best Western (now the Centerstone Resort Lake-Aire) was the lodging that had caught my attention on that detour and I had been checking every now and then to see what availability was like. (I had judged from the look of the area that availability would be almost non-existent and I was right.) A window of opportunity finally opened and a rare non-working weekend coincided with a rare vacancy at the Lake-Aire, and we decided to make the trip.

We would piggy-back a "side-trip to Nokomis with one to the Point Brewery that I had been wanting to make. Normally, 300 miles is a long way to drive for a single night's lodging, and precious little opportunity then exists to check out an area thoroughly enough to satisfy my curiosity for new destinations. That wouldn't be a problem on this trip though; fortunately, a last-minute change in schedules allowed for an additional night away and the plan was set!

The most difficult part of driving north into Wisconsin is extricating one's self from the tangle of traffic and urban sprawl west of Chicago. Once that has been successfully accomplished, the remainder of the journey -- whether one is using interstate Route 90/94 to the west, or 39/51 to the east -- is relatively painless (except for the portion around Madison north to the Dells area).

Our journey, being so late in the year, was reminiscent of trips many years ago... when the traffic was almost nonexistent. Northernmost Nokomis would be our first stop, and although we had gotten a very late start -- 9:30am -- we were cruising through Wausau a bit over four hours later. We soon eased off of Route 51, heading toward Tomahawk (about 5 miles south of Nokomis) and took county roads from there into Nokomis.

The view of the lake and surrounding area was vastly different from the last time I saw it, but the reasons were clear: it had been really dry this year, the lake had been lowered by design (Nokomis is an impoundment) since the winter season was just around the corner, and the "tourist" season was over.

The lake itself was still pretty and it was easy to imagine what the peak summer season was like with the lake full of boaters, fishermen, water skiers and swimmers. Not being at all familiar with the lake, I was almost glad that I was unable to pull my boat along for this trip. I am not one to take chances with low water levels on an unfamiliar lake, but I will be back to check out the fishing!

Deck overlooking Lake Nokomis

We were able to secure an early check-in and, driving around to the back of the hotel, it was easy to see why the Lake Aire was a popular and busy venue during peak season.  The place was nestled right up to the shores of Nokomis, had docking facilities available and also sported a large deck that was perched above the lake -- a great place to enjoy one's favorite beverage while enjoying the incredible view (The hotel faces west end of the lake and the sunsets must be gorgeous). 

We unpacked and decided to check out a spot for dinner.   Numerous possibilities existed but we decided to dine at the Silver Birch Supper Club on Half Moon Lake, about four miles away.  A pleasant surprise awaited me: a Blue Gill Fish Fry -- only offered once every three weeks -- was featured!  Even at 6:00, the wait was almost an hour; the place was obviously a favorite of the local populace.  It was worth the wait though, as Heidi's Poor Man's Lobster was equally as good as my 'gills.  A good night's rest and we were headed south to Steven's Point in the morning.

The day had dawned with a clear blue sky and crisp temperatures -- 27 degrees and a heavy frost -- and the trip to Stevens Point was only about an hour and a half... with almost no traffic.  The website directions to the brewery were not as clear as I had thought and did not lead us directly to the place, but we found it with little difficulty and were soon standing in the small but very crowded gift shop, waiting to sign up for the 11:00am tour. 

We had made one small error in our preparations: we had not made tour reservations... and had not realized that this was Homecoming weekend at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point!  But luck was with us.  Someone had not shown up for their reserved spot on the tour and we were at the top of the waiting list, so we were added.  The next available tour was not until 2:00pm!

Point Brewery, Stevens Point

Our tour guide was Anthony -- aka Flip -- and he was one of the best tour guides I have had.  Energetic, animated and knowledgeable, Flip spoke easily and loudly enough for all to hear (30 of us were assigned to his tour group) as he guided us through the brewery, supplying us with a sufficient amount of anecdotal information that was both interesting and informative.

I realize that may sound strange to some who might feel as if all brewery tours are very much the same: "seen one... seen 'em all"!  But although the beer-making process itself is pretty standard, the tour can either be a boor or it can be fun.  Flip made it fun with an appropriate joke here and there and some subtle humor occasionally thrown in.  It was clear that he enjoyed what he was doing.

Our tour guide Flip

The Point Brewery is a fairly small operation, employing a mere 25 people. But the product is a very good one and it's no wonder: the company is the fifth oldest privately-owned brewery in the nation and the brew-master has been there for at least 20 years. This certainly helps to ensure the quality and consistency found in Point Beer.

And speaking of beer, why else do folks normally take a tour of a brewery in the first place -- especially on a bright and beautiful Saturday morning? Well, of course it is to sample the beer! The last stop on our tour was the tasting room, and taste we did. Fresh, hot popcorn was served, along with the numerous samples of many of the fine Point Beer products, including the very excellent Point Root Beer, which I highly recommend!

The memorabilia that graced the walls of the tasting room and the anti-chamber just outside the door spoke volumes about earlier times -- all the way back to prohibition and beyond. And of course their is some more modern history portrayed as well, attested to by the picture of John Candy as he enjoyed some Point Beer in the well-known movie "The Great Outdoors".

Soon Flip lightheartedly announced: "Last call", of course signaling that it was time to put an end to the tour and the sampling.  The nice part was that we were able to keep our sampling glass as a souvenir.  we said goodbye to the Point Brewery, but nor before purchasing some of the Point Special to chill as a treat later in the evening...

Tasting Room at Point Brewery

We weren't quite as lucky in our selection of a dining venue on Saturday night. A place called the Red Mill was recommended to us. We made a reservation for 7:15 -- the earliest we were told was available. We went early -- about 6:30 -- to have a cocktail and found the place almost empty. No explanation was given.

We stayed for dinner but I wish I hadn't. My lake perch fish fry was definitely not the kind to which I have become accustomed while in Wisconsin. It was the only disappointment of the weekend! We skipped dessert and headed back to our hotel -- a brand new Hampton Inn in Plover (just south of Stevens Point) -- where a bag of microwave popcorn and a cold Point Beer put an end to the evening.

An early morning workout on the treadmill in the fitness room and a quick whirlpool before a complimentary hot breakfast from Hilton, both put a nice exclamation point on a wonderful excursion -- one that I highly recommend you consider -- especially during the fall when things have slowed a bit but the days are still warm, the nights brisk and the colors are still wonderfully bright.

The drive home from Plover felt almost short... it was certainly not stressful! We arrived back home just in time to enjoy the remainder of a beautiful Sunday afternoon and to contemplate just how many days until ice-over...

R. Karl

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