The Old Sugar Distillery produces small-batch liquors made from Midwestern ingredients. Its cornerstone concoction, the Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur, is distilled from dark-brown beet sugar and then aged in a wooden womb of American oak before being subtly sweetened with pure Wisconsin honey. The Cane and Abe Freshwater Rum, named in honor of President Lincoln and his favorite criminal-scaring stick, is made with cane sugar lovingly beamed up from the saccharine states of Hawaii and Louisiana and then aged in charred American oak barrels. These luscious liquids can be sampled either by sipping a freshly made cocktail ($6) at the distillery's long wooden bar, or by buying a bottle ($30) for midnight sips in the dead chill of winter. The Old Sugar Distillery also offers free tours and tastings with up-close views of the large copper pot still.
Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.
Visitors have an unusual transportation option for getting to Summer Solstice: if they get an early enough start, they can float up to the day of craft beer and concerts by canoe. As the Fox River ambles past the historic buildings of downtown Yorkville, it deposits a flotilla of revelers in Riverfront Park. Those who don’t want to paddle in are also allowed to arrive on foot or palanquin to enjoy the rootsy music and frosty brews of the fest, a collaboration between Rogue Barrister Records, Three Angels Brewing, and the Yorkville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Artalé edifies eager palates with a Herculean selection of classy beverages and elegant edibles. The epic selection of bottled marvels includes a variety of imports, specialty imbibitions, and wines, such as the Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2007, whose black-cherry fruitiness and spice earned it a rank of 83 from Wine Spectator ($29.99/bottle). A bevy of bruschettas, nuts, chocolates, and cheeses serve as a solid foundation for other intoxicating distillations, from the Elk Cove pinot gris 2009, which follows notes of pear, apple, and lime with a almond-petal finish ($16.99/bottle), to the Castello d'Albola chianti classico 2007, a miracle of dark cherry with a floral kiss ($14.99/bottle). An army of 400 craft and microbrew beers flank this cork-crowned armada, and a selection of top-shelf liquors brings up the rear. Artalé's bottle-lined stronghold frequently hosts tastings to exhibit cheese-and-wine-pairing techniques, seasonal drink selections, and the latest oenological lingo, with terms including "woody" and "purple-ish."
Schnitzel. Hefeweizen beer. Polka dancing. These are just a few of the facets of German culture that the German Society of Rockford has preserved and celebrated since 1964. At the group's annual German Society Oktoberfest gatherings, live bands perform and crowds take part in games such as the barmaid-stein race, which challenges men and women to carry dozens of sloshing beer steins without spilling a drop. The German Society of Rockford also organizes outreach programs, scholarships, and educational events.
Dozens of local products and cheeses populate the comfortable confines at the Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Chalet, where a knowledgeable staff greets guests with friendly grace. Catch the breeze on the outdoor patio, or sample from the wine selection as the team prepares its signature Wisconsin Cheese & Sausage 18-inch tray, a massive mound of meats and cheese perfect for sating starving Labor Day revelers. The platter arrives stacked with one pound each of mild cheddar, colby jack, and pepper jack cheeses from the Wisconsin Cheese Company. The array of summer sausages includes 12 tasty ounces of the Wisconsin Sausage Company's original, garlic, and cranberry summer sausages, each crafted from 100% Angus beef.