Posts Tagged: wiscopop

Driftless Day Trip: Viroqua, Wisconsin

ViroquaDowntown

By Inspire(d)

Viroqua, Wisconsin, is just one of those places – the kind you hear about and so want to visit, but getting there seems impossible – literally. We’re pretty sure it’s uphill both ways. But once you do get there, and you take in the views of valleys and bluffs, you wonder: “What took me so long?” And then, “I might never leave.”

That seems to be the case for a lot of people who call Viroqua home. Folks came for a variety of reasons – like those who settled there in the mid-1800s, it might simply be the beauty of the region pulled them in. Or more recently, the surge of organic farming – not to mention the headquarters of organic biz-moguls Organic Valley nestled one town over in La Farge. Maybe it was the Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School that drew one family to town, and the great food co-op recruited another.

Whatever brought these people together, they’re working hard – together – to make their little town of 5,000 special, sustainable, and a fun place to be.

Which, in turn, makes it a fun place to visit! We made our way on a sunny weekend to check out this little community big on cooperatives. The historic downtown is easily traveled on-foot and is filled with quirky stores, handmade shops, cafes, and boutiques. And behind every counter is a person recommending the place next door or just down the street. Calling these people friendly would be an understatement.

We’ve laid out just a few of our favorite spots to help you find your way – whether it’s packing out into the 8,000+ acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve, or hunkering down for a quiet romantic weekend, enjoy all the bounty of the Driftless Region!

Get Outside:

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. S3661 St H 131. La Farge, WI . 608-625-2960. kvr.state.wi.us
The “KVR” (as they say…) is one of the most impressive expanses of land in the entire Driftless Area. 8,500 acres between La Farge and Ontario, Wisconsin (just a few miles from Viroqua) cradle the Kickapoo River, offering up unlimited recreational opportunities. Originally pegged for a controversial damn dam project in the early 1960s, the project failed to ever be completed, leaving this treasure to eventually become a public reserve.

Snowflake Ski Club. Westby, WI. snowflakeskiclub.com
Giant ski jump in a town of 2000 (just up the road from Viroqua)? Awesome. Make sure to mark your calendars for the 92nd (yes, you read that right!!) Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament January 30 and 31. Fun!

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Bluedog Cycles & Brewdog. 201 South Main Street. 608-637-6993. bluedogcycles.com| Pete and Alycann Taylor have been holding things down at this unique bike shop since 2005. Not only do they offer great products and service, but they are great resources on getting outdoors near Viroqua. Stop in, tell them we sent you – and check it out before you get outside!

 

Check It Out:

Viroqua Public Market. 215 South Main Street. www.viroquapublicmarket.com | The Viroqua Public Market is the center of many good things downtown. First, the market serves as an outlet for hundreds of vendors from across the region. The same building also houses Bramble Books and the Viva Gallery, as well as the occasional indoor farmers market. The building also houses the Rooted Spoon (more below).

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Temple Theatre. 220 S. Main Street. 608-6637-8190 | www.temple-theatre.com Refurbishment was finished in 2002 on this anchor of downtown Viroqua. With nine murals, a full rehab of the 1922 Temple Theatre’s Wurlitzer organ, and the grand marquis, it’s a grand venue for events and performances.

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The Ark. 401 E. Jefferson Street. 608-637-7824. artarkviroqua.org | Viroqua’s community and regional arts center – offering classes, space, movement, and a home for the arts in the midst of the Driftless Region.

Viroqua Farmer’s Market. Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., May – October – Location: Western Technical College Parking Lot | Rockin’ farmers market – amazing variety of local and Driftless Region products.

Driftless Folk School. www.driftlessfolkschool.org | Ever wanted to learn more about practical, sustainable, lifelong skills? Do you like to work with your hands, create objects, or learn traditional crafts? Check out all of the classes at the school – from ‘Clay in a day’ and ‘Design your own small building,’ to ‘Fruit tree grafting’ – the possibilities are great, and ever changing. Check out the schedule online.

Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. (Coon Valley) 608.452.3424. www.norskedalen.org | Norskedalen or “Norwegian Valley” is a 400-acre site dedicated to preserving and interpreting “the natural environment and cultural heritage of the region”. Open daily for visiting, in addition to special events, a guest cabin, historical displays, and much more.

Eat / Drink:

Driftless Café. 118 W Court St. www.driftlesscafe.com | “Seasonal menus – Locally Sourced – Written in Chalk” Seriously good local food. Really, these guys aren’t messing around. We mean it. Go now. Get a Wisco Pop with dinner, and don’t skip dessert.

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DriftlessCafe1

Rooted Spoon. 219 S. Main St. www.rootedspoon.com | Adjacent to The Viroqua Public Market, these fine folks host “219 Drinkery” every Friday, often with different themes, and an amazing brunch every Sunday. They also offer incredible monthly dinners and special events, but are not open for regular daily service. Plan ahead to hit one of their events – great space, good people, fun menus.

RootedSpoon

Tangled Hickory Wine Bar. 120 S. Main St. www.tangledhickory.com | Downtown wine bar with changing seasonal entrees, a wide and affordable wine list, and nice ambiance. Happy Hour specials on wine and appetizers everyday from 4-6pm.

Viroqua Coop. 609 N. Main St. viroquafood.coop | Cooperative awesomeness! Beyond the normal co-op grocery and bulk findings, offerings include a great deli/hot bar, coffee and bakery counter, fun gifts, and a fantastically selected beer cooler. You can even get Kickapoo Coffee or a WiscoPop!  Early or late-ish, this is a great stop for supplies!

WiscoPop! www.wiscopopsoda.com | If you didn’t already know it (perhaps you read the story here?), we love WiscoPop! Three Viroqua business partners making incredible craft brewed soda from nothing but great ingredients. Their product is currently available only on tap or by special order mini-kegs (bottling coming soon!). You can find them in Viroqua at the Coop, Driftless Café, and across the region.

Kickapoo Coffee Cafe. 302 S. Main. www.kickapoocoffee.com | Since 2005, Kickapoo has been sourcing and roasting incredible coffee beans from around the globe. We drink it here at Inspire(d) HQ every day! Co-owners TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes don’t cut corners when it comes to finding the best coffee beans possible and coaxing out their incredible flavors. The Kickapoo Coffee Cafe in Viroqua is an amazing meeting spot in Viroqua, with exceptional beverages and offerings. Kickapoo Coffee also offers monthly tours and coffee cupping / tastings at their production facility– it’s a wildly educational (and caffeinating) experience! (Check website for details.)

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Kickapoo

Stay:

Heritage Inn. 220 & 217 East Jefferson Street. 608-637-3306. herinn.com  Beautifully restored historic Inn with private baths, cable, AC, etc. Just a block off of Downtown Viroqua, leaving you easily on foot for in-town adventures!

Natures Nook Retreat. S4878 Cty. Rd. S. 608-637-3928. www.naturenooksretreat.com | Rural Kickapoo Valley cabin rentals meant for relaxing – there’s the Little Barn, Cabin-in-a-barn, and Kinship Place gathering space. The west fork of the Kickapoo River runs through the 95-acre property, including access to brown trout, kayaking, and hiking trails.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve. 608-625-2960. kvr.state.wi.us | If you really want to get out there and enjoy the woods, this is your place to throw down a tent and watch the stars. 25 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis with minimal fees. Remember to pack necessities as the KVR is a little ways away from civilization – which is all the more of a reason to visit!

PLAN AHEAD:
Driftless Wisconsin Portal. driftlesswisconsin.com
This portal is a fantastic guide to all things in the Viroqua area. Take a look and plan your own adventure!

Community Powered Radio – WDRT 91.9FM. Also listen online: wdrt.org
Viroqua’s community powered radio station. You’ll hear an eclectic mix of music, shows, and events broadcast from their downtown studio!

Wisco Pop!

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Story by Aryn Henning Nichols . Photos by Komifoto

It’s no big surprise that it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find great soda with all-natural ingredients.

“If you think you’re in the wrong place, you’re probably in the right place,” says Hallie Ashley, one of the three founders of Wisco Pop, Wisconsin’s Holy Grail of soda.

WiscoPop kitchen headquarters can be found in a non-descript, former cash register factory on the north side of Viroqua, Wisconsin. From the outside, it appears that there’s very little happening there, but things are really – and literally – cooking inside.

The Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) has turned this 100,000 square foot building – with the help of a $2 million grant – into a Food Enterprise Center. It’s an incubator for businesses that are involved in local food production, processing, marketing, and distribution, and the just-added element: exercise and movement.

Keewaydin Farms, Just Local Foods, LuSa Organics, Fifth Season Cooperative, Sole Expressions Dance Studio Cooperative, Kickapoo Coffee, and – of course – Wisco Pop all currently or will soon utilize the space in one way or another.

The day Inspire(d) made the trip to Viroqua, Wisco Pop’s Austin Ashley (married to Hallie) and Zac Mathes were in the center’s commercial kitchen cooking up a 60-gallon steam kettle of ginger for their popular ginger soda. Bits of ginger peel and spent lemons, juiced one-at-a-time, marked the start of their 125-gallon Monday production. The two self-proclaimed “cosmic brothers” obviously work well together, as conversation easily flows from the Food Enterprise Center to Viroqua to the Driftless Region and even pizza farms. A reporter could easily get off track!

“Let me get out my list of questions so I don’t forget anything,” I say, pulling my notebook out of my bag just as Hallie arrives.

“That’s funny,” Austin says. “We have a list of questions for you too! Is your first one, ‘Why are we so good looking?’ ‘Cause we just can’t explain it.”

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Jokes aside (even though they are a dapper crew), what they can explain is their quest for really delicious soda.

It all started with Austin. He was making ginger beer and kombucha at home, and wishing there were more options for natural and even organic sodas.

“I was sitting on the idea for a long time,” he says. “Hallie kept saying to me, ‘Just start it. Just do it.’”

And so they did. Wisco Pop launched just over a year ago at the Kickapoo Country Fair in Viroqua. The response has been amazing, and rightly so.

“People at first are all, ‘Craft brewed soda?’,” Austin says. “But then they taste it and are like, ‘Oh! We get it now! Craft brewed soda!’”

“This is what soda is supposed to be. It’s the way it used to be,” Zac continues. “No chemicals, just good ingredients.”

They stand by their motto: “Keepin’ it real. No processed corn, no artificial flavors. Just fresh fruit juice, pure honey, genuine spices and herbs for a real brew.”

Take their Cherry Bomb soda, for example. They whisked me across the kitchen to take a whiff of the kettle brewing for this batch. (Below, much lower-quality photos, by Aryn Henning Nichols

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“You really have to get your face in there,” Austin says as I lean in for a sniff. “Can you guess what’s in it?”
“Hmmm…something I cook with,” I muse.
“You’re on the right track,” sings Hallie.
“I can’t quite place it…”
“It’s probably the vanilla.” Zac interjects.
“No, that’s not it…”
“Cinnamon?”
“Yes!”

Each flavor – they currently have three: ginger, cherry bomb, and root beer – is filled with complex flavors that keep you guessing, “What’s in there?”

“Comparing it to craft beer is a good analogy,” Zac says. “We spend a lot of time making sure it’s just right.”

The root beer was recently released and is Austin’s Sistine Chapel, although like an artist, he’s his own biggest critic.

“Ask Austin how long it took him to ‘perfect’ the root beer,” Zac says with a smile.

“A while,” Austin replies. “I don’t know if it will ever be perfect.”

It’s pretty darn delicious though. Not too sweet, with hints of maple syrup – local, of course. That is just one of the ingredients keeping the root beer subtly different with each batch. If the syrup’s different, so’s the soda. Same goes for the local honey in the oh-so-delicious ginger brew. Following that ever-changing notion, in the future Wisco Pop hopes to release special seasonal brews that will highlight special flavors or fruits.

Even though they’re obviously a happy little a Wisco Pop family, they’re business partners as well. Austin is the head crafter and develops those new brews – they’re working on a cola recipe now! – then Zac and Austin head up production together. Zac follows through on details such as ordering supplies and building useful things. “He’s our mathematician,” Austin jokes. And Hallie is the manager, bookkeeper, and customer contact person. All three work together on sales.

On top of that, Hallie works at Kickapoo Coffee and Zac runs Heartbeet Family Farm – along with a brick-oven-on-wheels pizza business called Homegrown Pizza – with his wife, Sara, and four-year-old daughter, Noa. Austin holds down the Wisco Pop and daddy front – he and Hallie have three kids: 11-year-old Alden, two-year-old Fern, and newborn Otis.

It’s this combination of family, business, community and good taste that brings it all together. In a time when soda gets a bad rap – commercial soda is filled with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives – Wisco Pop is out to bring back the charm and integrity what was once a very real craft. As they like to say: “Wisco Pop makes it okay to drink soda again. So welcome back old friend, welcome to…craft brewed soda.”

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Aryn Henning Nichols is amazed she failed to use any bubble puns in the story. Guess she’ll have to save them for the story on carbonation! She wants to be part of the Wisco Pop! family ‘cause they’re so fun, and also because she’d like to have a lifetime supply of ginger soda. Yum.

Luckily, Wisco Pop! is making the great soda search a whole lot easier for the rest of us. You can find it in the Driftless Region here:

Driftless Cafe
Brew Dog
Rooted Spoon
The Root Note (La Crosse)
Viroqua Food Co-op

Plus multiple locations in Madison and Milwaukee. See www.wiscopopsoda.com or Wisco Pop! on Facebook for details.

Update: Wisco Pop held a Kickstarter fundraiser in December of 2013 to move on to bottling their delicious brews for the masses. They’ll be available EVEN MORE locations soon. Hooray!