By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 26, 2022 at 9:02 AM

STEVENS POINT, Wis. – Beer lover? Pop up to Stevens Point for a tour of Point Brewery, 2617 Water St., whose history dates back to 1857, and you’ll get a peek inside the brewery and hear about what the country’s second-oldest continuously operating brewery is up to these days, including its popular Ciderboys ciders, sodas and, of course, beer.

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But time your trip for when you can buy a second round of Point, too, in the form of one of historian John Harry’s Point Brewery History Tours.

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Tour guide John Harry taps a pre-tour beer.
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The limited tours, which are a fundraiser for the Portage County Historical Society – where Harry, who previously worked at Milwaukee County Historical Society, is now the executive director – last twice as long and are focused on the old days at Point.

On Harry’s tour – which starts with a beer, of course – you’ll also get to see some parts of the brewery that are not on the current Point tours.

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The brewhouse today.
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“There’s history in every glass of Point Brewery product and a rich history in the brewery building itself,” Harry says. “These tours will take you from the 1857 foundation of the brewery, to the 1872 brewhouse, all the way to the more recent expansion of the complex.”

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Armed with an iPad, Harry shares vintage images throughout the tour.
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There was a tour in early May, but don’t worry, there are more, including at:

  • Friday, June 10 at 4 p.m.
  • Friday, July 1 at 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept. 9 at 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.

Tours are $20 per person and tickets can be purchased here. Guests must be 21 or over and closed-toe shoes are required.

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Note, too, that Point is an operating brewery and so there may be loud noises. Because the tour also explores areas not typically open to the public, there is some stair-climbing required.

As a side benefit, by the time the next tour takes place, Point Brewery will have its upgraded beer garden open.

This year, there will be a new permanent pergola built to augment the fenced in area that also hosts a beer-serving trailer and a 1950s Point Brewery pickup truck that was rescued from someone’s back 40.

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I went up to check out the tour and it was well worth the trip.

Harry – who literally wrote the book on Point Brewery – is extremely knowledgeable about not only the brewery and its history but about American brewing history in general, too.

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The keg line today.
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With his trusty iPad in hand to show visitors vintage photographs from the brewery across its long history, Harry discusses the founding of the brewery, changes in ownership, changes in the buildings on the site, how Point survived Prohibition and more.

He’ll lead you from the shop into a room packed full of fermentation tanks before showing you the brewhouse, packaging and more.

I was honored to get a special tour that took us to spots even the history tour doesn’t visit. That included lagering rooms, one of which has about a half-dozen huge steel fermentation tanks that came from People’s Brewery, the first Black-owned brewery in the state and among the first in the country – Harry has done a lot of research on People’s and I’d bet he’ll write a book about it some day.

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The tanks from Peoples Brewery.
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It also included the old grain milling area, which requires navigating a steep and narrow spiral staircase, which is why the public doesn’t go there, and the quality control lab.

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The quality control lab today.
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Up in the brewhouse he’ll surely tell you about how Point Special Lager became the No. 1 beer in the country in 1973.

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Climbing the spiral staircase is not part of the tour.
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And, because his passion for and miraculous recall of Point history are so strong he can likely answer almost any question you can think of.

You’ll also get samples of Point products and at the end, Harry will give each guest a goody bag of objects mined from the impressive collection of vintage memorabilia that Point has in its archives tucked into the attic.

My bag had a Point coaster, a can opener, a couple labels, a vintage can and more.

“This is a wonderful development for two reasons,” says Point Brewery Marketing Director Julie Birrenkott. “Our regularly-scheduled tours give visitors an overview of how modern craft beverages are made in a historic facility. For guests who want more, these History Tours will go deeper into that backstory.

“Second, Executive Director, John Harry continues to be an important partner. This is a small way of giving back to PCHS, and we hope the whole community turns out.”

My visit was also timed to coincide with one of PCHS’ History Pub Crawls in Downtown Stevens Point, also led by Harry, who entertains with fun and interesting tales of saloons, saloonkeepers, brothels and more as you visit three historic taverns and get a free drink at each.

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A scene from the history pub crawl.
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The tours take place this year at 6:30 p.m. on  Tuesday, Aug. 2 and Tuesday, Sept. 13. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.

The funds raised by the tours help the PCHS, which maintains a number of historic sites in the area, including an 1880s firehouse that is the oldest surviving civic building in Stevens Point, a mill in Nelsonville, Heritage Park in Plover and a 1905 synagogue in downtown Stevens Point that also serves as a museum of the area’s rich Jewish history.

For more information on PCHS or any of the tours, contact Harry at jharry@pchswi.org or (715) 600-1352, or visit pchswi.org.

(NOTE: Vintage images courtesy of Point Brewing.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.