Sampling a variety of different beers before breakfast is not something I do often since my college years, but being I recently got to go behind-the-scenes of Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewing Company for my latest Dells Bucket List adventure, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to partake freshly brewed beer in the morning slip away.

For the past decade Moosejaw has been the home to the Dells only microbrewery. Serving ten different styles of hand-crafted beer at all times, some of which change with the seasons or just when trying out something new, keeps visitors and locals alike coming back often for the chance to drink beer that is extremely fresh.

Arriving at Moosejaw early in the morning, I climbed the stairs of the beautiful rustic looking building to the third level where Dells Brewing Company is housed. This is where I found Jamie Baertsch, who holds the title as the “Only Female Brewmaster in Wisconsin,” getting ready for a day of brewing. Usually doing so once or twice a week, sometime three times in the summer, I learned that they only brew about 1000 barrels a year, which may sound like a lot, but as Jamie pointed out: “Miller does more in one shift than we do in a year!”

Climbing up in between two big copper kettles, Jamie first explained that the one billowing steam is called a “mash tun”, which is used in the mashing process of mixing coarsely grounded grains that comprise malt, with warm water to produce a sugar-rich water called “wort.” The wort is then drained into a brew kettle, where the wort boils for one to two hours, and specific types of hops are added depending on what type of beer she is brewing. In this case, it was a Great American Beer Festival award winning dark larger called Dunkel, which she was preparing to enter in this year’s World Beer Cup. 

After the wort was done boiling, it was separated from the hops and pumped into one of the four fermenter tanks, where yeast is added to ferment the beer. This process can last anywhere from one to several weeks, depending on whether making an ale or lager.

While demonstrating and explaining each of these steps of the more complicated than I thought process of brewing, she used terminology like:  terminal gravity, microorganisms, inoculation, dehydration, germination, exothermic reaction, enzyme activity and utilizing carbohydrates. I was beginning to feel like I was back in Chemistry class, and it left no wonder that this Portage native went to school for Biotechnology.

Even though she originally had no interest whatsoever in brewing beer, as she rarely even drank it, her teachers, who were all home brewers, thought that her personality was better suited being a brewer then a biotechnologist. “I had maybe like five beers my whole life before that, but it sounded like a cooler job then wearing a white lab coat all day!” Now she seems to be a verifiable expert on all things beer.

After tasting their tasty flagship beer now available in six-packs called Rustic Red, poured directly from one of the fermentation tanks without carbonation, all I could think about was the classic 80s film Strange Brew where the character Bob McKenzie outlandishly consumes a whole brewery tank full. Recalling this movie from my youth, I was tempted to put my mouth right up to one of the nozzles and start drinking from it!

Sensing that I was starting to feel like a kid in a candy store being around all the fresh beer, Jamie graciously sat me down to taste some of her other liquid wares. Sitting in front of a row of huge serving tanks, where all ten beers go less than fifty feet to the draft line on tap, she poured various samples while giving me tips on how to properly taste it. 

Suggesting that I hold my nose before drinking, she explained how different parts of the tongue have separate taste receptors to differentiate bitterness, sweetness, sour and salty. Her highly trained palate that was developed by time and sensory training was quite evident as she explained in depth exactly what I tasted with each sample.

After tasting their best-selling Honey Ale, and a Smoked Porter that she says goes really good with ribs, I asked her if she ever created anything really off the wall, or unique to her. She told me about a recipe she came up with when her daughter was born called Betty’s Breakfast Stout: “That had lactose in it, because I never drank so much milk then when I was pregnant with her!”

Following my crash course on their various craft beers, I was anxious to get my hands a little dirty in the beer making process and asked if there was anything I could do. She said: “We will be more than happy to put you to work. We even have rubber boots for you.” While I told her that her pink boots wouldn’t really match my ensemble, I did end up getting to help “dig out” the grain that filled the brew kettle, which I learned later was used to feed the horses at Lost Canyon, as well as her pigs back at home.

I wrapped things up by telling her that while I was a bit envious of having the unlimited access her job brings; it was way too complicated for me to ever want to try as a career path. “I know. A lot of people think we just sit around and drink beer all day, but honestly it really isn’t.”

Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co is a family friendly, full-service restaurant that is celebrating their 10th anniversary later this year. For more information visit: or call 608-254-1122

- Chris Dearman

*** I'd like to say thanks to Jamie for taking the time to tell me about Moosejaw and showing me the beer making process - plus letting me taste all the samples! I'd also like to thank Jillian Murphy for allowing me the access. For more pictures, please visit the Dells Bucket List Facebook page here .