Verena Street Coffee Co.'s java mavens oversee the full roasting and production of arabica coffee beans from their Dubuque roastery. Small batches of coffee reach full-flavored perfection in a supervised roasting drum, replete with an analyzer that detects levels of roast via bean color and SAT score. Before earning the mantle of specialty coffee, beans must be inspected for size, uniformity, and defect count, after which they graduate to a higher plane of brewable existence. Nine different coffees in whole-bean or ground form arrive in 11- and 12-ounce packages, such as the succulent blend of Mississippi Grogg, a medium roast with flavors of butterscotch, caramel, and hazelnut. The Sumatra dark roast's earthen flavors waft from a midnight-colored coffee bean, and the airy Lock & Dam 11, a brief, light roast named for the lock and dam north of Dubuque, reminisces with palates about sunny river beds and the power of gravity. Indecisive java cravers can seek the guidance of an interactive coffee selector, which narrows down coffees by roast level, caffeine content, or type.
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Just past the glowing sand bars of the Lower Wisconsin River Valley, 80 acres of fertile hillsides present the ideal spot for winemakers at Weggy Winery to produce their award-winning vintages. With 30 different labels, the wines range from a sweet apple-and-black-currant dessert wine to a dry, clean white traminette to a smooth, red sabrevois. The Oak Ridge red, made from Wisconsin foch grapes, recently took home a gold medal from a California wine competition and a handwritten letter from a Sheboygan-area grandma who’s convinced that bottle messages are the most efficient way to send mail.
Visitors can sample the estate-grown wine in the winery’s tasting room, a sun-drenched space overlooking the vineyard. During the summer, groups can tour the acreage in the back of a tractor-pulled tram during a one-hour guided excursion which highlights the property’s 16 acres, out of 24 total acres, of cherry, asian pear, and apple orchards, the property’s 11,000 grape vines, and the spot where aliens once stopped for a brief but memorable picnic.
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.
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To winemaker Alwyn Fitzgerald, The Fisher King isn't just a medieval legend; he represents a way of life. According to Arthurian myth, as the wounded Fisher King grew stronger in the spring and into the summer, so did the surrounding land and harvest. Inspired by this relationship between man and Earth, Alwyn founded Fisher King Winery in spite of the Midwest's temperamental climate. There, he hand-processes the local, cold-hardy grapes that give his small-batch wines a light yet complex flavor profile. His decision to use mostly Midwestern grapes in his winemaking process has certainly paid off: his Blue Rapture white wine won a gold medal at the U.S. National Wine Competition, as well as a Best of Class and double-gold award at the International Eastern Wine Competition in 2013.
Outside of Fisher King Winery, a hanging sign with gold letters depicts the company's mythological namesake. Inside, large windows provide a glimpse of the tanks and pipes in the production area, where Alwyn and his family produce their award-winning Blue Rapture wine, alongside other dry-to-sweet red and white varietals. The tasting room's hardwood bar and tables give visitors a place to sip popular wines by the flight, glass, or bottle, and nibble on local artisan cheeses. Fisher King Winery also hosts regular live performances from local and regional musicians.
At Art & Soul Tattoo and Gallery, artists decorate more than bodies. They also adorn the walls. In addition to its staff of talented tattoo, piercing, and permanent-makeup artists, the business also welcomes local painters and sculptors to showcase their work in the gallery. So on their way to commission some fresh ink, customers can peruse and purchase a slightly less permanent form of art.