A Brewpub and Tap Room Tour of Madison, WI
[Editor's note: Updated 1-18-13 with Karben4]
Madison, Wisconsin is a beer-loving city. It is home to the Great Taste of the Midwest, one of the nation’s largest beer festivals, and the wildly popular Madison Craft Beer Week is celebrated every May. The city has always had at least one local brewery, with the exception of the Dark Ages in the 1970s, and in recent years a new wave of tap rooms has sprung up throughout town, catering to everyone from the traditional lager lovers to extreme hop heads.
Listed below are six local breweries, owned and operated in Madison, that serve beer on premises. What connects them all is a love of a great pint.
2002 Pankratz St
Madison, WI 53704
Upstairs lounge is open at 4pm Sunday-Thursday and 2pm on Friday and Saturday
Beer: With over 20 draught lines, Ale Asylum’s new $8 million brewery and tap room is a look toward a future that sees local beer as the rule, not the exception. Hopalicious APA is one of Madison’s favorite brews as named by Isthmus and Madison Magazine, but for a really hop-heavy experience try the seasonal Satisfaction Jacksin double IPA, or the Bedlam! Belgian IPA that balances the hops with a good amount of malt and Belgian yeast. These beers tend to come at a higher octane than most Wisconsin beer, so be careful when ordering more than one at the bar. The lightest, Gold Digger Blonde, comes in at 4.8% ABV, while some of the brewery’s Belgian styles top out at 10%. At least six of the 16 beers are available on draught at the tap room. Pints are $4.25-$5.50 and growlers are $10-$15.
Food: Food is modest, with only a selection of Falbo Bros. pizza or in-house salads and sandwiches ($7-$10). If you’re looking for something more substantial, Smoky Jon’s #1 BBQ is only 3 blocks away and serves up some of Madison’s best ribs.
Details: Ale Asylum brought West Coast-style brewing to Wisconsin with higher-alcohol and big hops flavors. Founders Dean Coffey and Otto Dilba left the (now closed) Angelic Brewing Co. in 2005 to start their own brewery and in just seven years, Ale Asylum is set to quadruple production at around 20,000 barrels a year, with plans to eventually grow to 100,000 barrels a year. The tap room is sparse and slightly industrial, but spacious. Despite the enormous size of the two-story tap room, which features two outdoor patios, Friday and Saturday nights are busy. Try visiting on a weeknight to enjoy the pool tables and lounge couches without the crowd. If you come during the week, ask the bartender for any one-off or experimental beers that aren’t listed on the menu.
7734 Terrace Ave
Middleton, WI 53562
Capital Tap Haus
107 State St
Madison, WI 53703
Bier Garten (May-October)
Free live music every Friday and Saturday night, Memorial Day to Labor Day
Bier Stübe (October-April)
TAP HAUS HOURS:
Beer: Capital’s forte is lager, and there are plenty of pilsners and bocks to sample, but try their seasonal and limited availability lines that feature more malt, body, and alcohol. Hopheads won’t get too excited by the selection, but Capital’s light and malty beer evokes the classic German brewing traditions that Wisconsin’s beer industry was built on — and it may win over friends who have yet to get into craft beer. The Blonde Doppelbock and Maibock are celebrated by the immensely popular Bockfest release party every February that sells out all 2,500 tickets weeks ahead of time, and the Autumnal Fire is a solid fall brew that is similar to an Oktoberfest Märzen, but with more body and color.
The brewery also produces the rotating Capital Square series, which is readily available at the Tap Haus. Pints at both locations are $4.50-$5.50 (weekly special is $3), and the Tap Haus serves boots for $20 and growlers for $9-$18.
Food: Food is not served at the brewery, but guests are welcome to bring in food to the Bier Garten or have it delivered. Nearby Roman Candle Pizza is great, but downtown Middleton is rife with excellent eateries such as Hubbard Avenue Diner, which makes excellent beer food. The Tap Haus has a solid menu featuring burgers and sandwiches. Come in on a Friday evening for their fish fry featuring $2.50 pints of Supper Club lager.
Details: When Capital Brewery opened in 1985, it was the first brewery in the Madison area since Fauerbach Brewery closed in 1966. Since then, Capital has won a fistful of awards at numerous competitions, including gold medals at the American Beer Cup, BTI World Beer Championship, and the North American Brewers Association. Capital Brewery returns to Wisconsin’s roots by producing traditional German lagers, with an occasional ale or two for good measure. Brewmaster Kirby Nelson, head brewer at Capital since its beginning, has left Capital to join the soon-to-be brewing behemoth Wisconsin Brewing Co. (which aims to be one of the largest breweries in the nation). The yet-to-be-determined new brewer will be given space to make his own mark
on the lineup, but don’t expect Capital to change too much, since the brewery will retain the recipes to all of its classic beers.
Capital Tap Haus opened two years ago on State Street as a love letter to the brewery. Though not officially owned by the brewery, Capital Tap Haus serves only Capital Brewery beer and features their logo all over the bar. Sit at the bar for flat-screen sports and conversation or at the high-backed wood booths for a more private round with friends.
The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
123 E Doty St
357 Price Pl
2980 Cahill Main
876 Jupiter Dr
2305 Sherman St
Beer: The Great Dane is one of the country’s largest brewpub chains (by beer sales volume) and makes almost every category of beer there is, with more obscure ones rotating through their three-barrel cask-conditioned system. Year-round brews include Stone of Scone Scotch Ale and Old Glory APA, but keep an eye out for one-offs like Mid Westvleteren Belgian Abbey Ale or Belgian Barleywine, two styles that are rarely produced by other Madison breweries. Pints are a simple $5 and growlers are only a $10 fill.
Food: Food ranges from appetizers (sized for sharing) to a wide range of entrees like burgers and sandwiches to Tandoori Chicken and banana leaf-wrapped jerked pork shoulder. Food is locally sourced when possible from producers like Black Earth Meats, Hook’s Cheese, and Rushing Waters Trout Farm. The late-night menu makes The Great Dane ideal for after-hours nosh.
Details: The Great Dane is a Madison institution and now has four locations in Madison and one in Wausau. The chain recently walked away with two major honors at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The original location downtown always serves the largest beer selection and is a nightlife hotspot. Always open to at least 2am, The Dane is separated into a large dining area, a pool hall (with shuffleboard and darts), a basement rathskellar, and a backyard biergarten featuring high ivy-covered stone walls that offer one of the best spots for an outdoor pint. Weekends are busy and Packer and Badger nights are even more cramped. Come on a normal evening or earlier in the night for good service and a beer selection that will please everyone in your party.
House of Brews
4539 Helgesen Dr
Madison, WI 53718
Beer: The tap room runs six draught lines, of which the Snug Oatmeal Stout and Standing Stones Scotch Ale are the most popular, and for good reason. The Snug’s oatmeal base gives the beer a mealy heft that is missing in other stouts. Standing Stones is rich and has notes of honey and vanilla, akin to a Speyside Single Malt. Owner and brewer Page Buchanan’s 17 years of brewing experience are expressed clearly in his other beers on tap. Selection will rotate, but look for the Full House Pale Ale, Bungalow Rye ESB, A-Frame Amber, and Cellar Dark Brown Porter.
Food: No food yet, but guests are welcome to carry in or have food delivered. Due to the light-industrial location of the tap room, food options are limited in the immediate area. Plans to install a pizza oven and cold-food options are in the works.
Details: Through House of Brews, Page Buchanan created a beer CSA program — a Community Supported Brewery. A subscription with House of Brews is $260 for six months or one year for $500. Shares of beer can be received in either pints, growlers, or kegs. Beer must be picked up at the brewery, but the subscription service works out to be a great deal (for example, a year subscription taken in growlers will work out to less than $9 a growler).
Buchanan was formerly a union representative until he was laid off two years ago. Jumping on the chance to fulfill his dream of opening his own brewery, House of Brews started in production not long after, and opened the tap room in late August. The brewery is small and out of the way, but more bars around town are carrying House of Brews beer in their tap lines. Bottles are coming soon to Madison-area liquor and grocery stores.
3698 Kinsman Blvd
Madison, WI 53704
Beer: The taproom has six beers on draught that will rotate throughout the year and expand as the brewery builds its fan base. Immediately after its release, any given Karben4 brew is only available at the taproom, but you may find a keg or two around town at some of the more expansive beer bars. You can buy growlers at the bar but, despite the equipment to do so, Karben4 doesn’t plan on bottling until they’ve reached their desired 1000 barrels/year (which they hope to hit by the end of 2013). Brewmaster Ryan Koga got his start in Montana, but is enthusiastic to return to his home state of Wisconsin. “I think Karben4 will bring balance,” says Koga. “The flip-side of the creative freedom craft brewing enjoys is that it’s hard to know when to stop flying off into the wild blue yonder. We know when to push the envelope, when to be constrained, and how to be constrained whilst pushing the envelope to achieve a balance people haven’t experienced before.” On tap you’ll find their SamuRyePA (rye based American Pale Ale) with restrained notes of spice and sweetness, Lady Luck (Irish Red) which has maltiness that would rival a porter, and the surprising NightCall (smoked porter) which was layered and complex without being overwrought by the smoked malt.
Food: The taproom’s kitchen is driven by the artisan-powerhouse Underground Food Collective (also featured at One Barrel Brewing). Co-owner Alex Evans explains: “Right now the menu is pretty simple as we are still gauging demand. However once the additional overhead associated with scaling the menu is justified, we’re ready to rock.” Check out their sizable pretzel ($4), frankfurter with aioli and kimchi ($10), and the expertly-curated cheese and charcuterie board ($14).
Details: Karben4 is the newest addition to the Madison microbrewery scene. The four-man team (Ryan Koga, Zak Koga, Alex Evans, and Tom Kowalke) bought the old Ale Asylum facility (along with some of the brewing equipment) after Ale Asylum built their new brewery on the other side of the airport. The name holds many meanings, according to the Karben4 team – Carbon is the essential building block of life and beer was the building block of civilization. There is four electrons in carbon, four guys running the new brewery, and four hexagons in the logo. Koga sums the approach to brewing that the name is meant to conjure up: “We decided to take our inspiration from the plethora of delicate, intricate aromas and flavors that barley, rye, oats, and wheat offer. That’s not to say we don’t love and appreciate hops, because we go gaga over them and use plenty in our brews. However, we will only pair up malt and hop varieties if they will have synergy.”
One Barrel Brewing Company
2001 Atwood Ave
Madison, WI 53704
Beer: One Barrel Brewing’s philosophy is pretty straightforward: Brew one barrel at a time. This means Founder / Owner / Brewer Peter Gentry gives individual attention to each of his beers that some of the larger breweries may not be able to afford. Because of the small nature of the brewery, the lineup is constantly changing. Eventually Gentry would like to offer eight on tap, but for now expect to see about four house beers on tap with a selection of local guest beers available. The Commuter, a remarkably drinkable Kolsch, is low-alcohol and very crisp, while the #2 Strong Ale is hefty and classic – a winter warmer that started it all. Taps are $4.50 and a growler refill is $12-$16.
Food: One Barrel Brewing barely has a brewhouse, let alone a kitchen. But despite the limited facilities, the bar food is impressive. Meat and Cheese Board from Underground Food Collective ($12), Latvian Piragis from Stalzy’s Deli (two for $4), and a 12-inch pizza from Fraboni’s ($10), among others. If you need a larger meal, wander across the street to Alchemy for a large burger menu, the Green Owl Cafe for everything vegetarian, or Lao Laan Xang for Madison’s best Laotian food. Also nearby: Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace, which features awesome Austin-style tacos.
Details: One Barrel Brewing really is Madison’s nanobrewery. What began as an award winner at the 2010 Thirsty Troll Brew Fest (#2 Strong Ale) eventually became a full-fledged brewery. “Actually, it became more of a bar than a brewery, which is surprising,” claims Gentry. Before opening the doors to the brewpub, he brewed at Sweet Mullets in Oconomowoc to build up some stock. However, Madison’s thirst for great beer proved too strong, and they emptied his reserves in a matter of days. One Barrel Brewing focuses on no particular style, but rather simple beer that people want to drink. Gentry points out, “We keep most things simple but maybe with a tweak that folks aren’t used to. Like The Penguin Pale Ale uses 20 percent wheat malt, which is unusual but delicious!”
Vintage Brewing Co.
674 S Whitney Way
Madison, WI 53711
Vintage Spirits & Grill
529 University Ave
Madison, WI 53703
Downtown: Mon-Fri: 3pm-close
Beer: Vintage boasts an impressive range of around 40 styles in its repertoire, although only 10 or so are available at any given time (five on tap at the downtown location). Most are around $4.50 a pint, but Vintage is home to some amazing deals. At the brewery, Monday features select house beer for $2.50 and Tuesday will get you $3 bottles if you have a moustache — or buy a fake one at the bar for $1 (the proceeds of which go to charity). There’s the standard lager, brown ale, porter, etc., but ask for a sample of some of the more obscure offerings to see how Scott Manning, the head brewer, really flexes his brewing muscle. The hibiscus saison is spicy and dry with great effervescence, and the Pumpkin Disorderly pumpkin ale is one of the best available — an abbey ale full of ginger, nutmeg, and sweet pumpkin flavor without being cloying or gimmicky.
Food: The brewery location serves mostly comfort food entrees like Stroganoff ($13.75) and Bacon-Crusted Meatloaf ($12.50), as well as a long list of burgers, soups, and salads. The Downtown location is a greasy spoon grill that serves up burgers and other fried foods ($5-$9). Around the corner is iconic Ian’s Pizza and Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry (Madison’s Best Burger as named by Madison Magazine).
Details: Vintage began as just a college bar at the downtown location, but when J.T. Whitney’s brewpub closed in 2009, the owners of Vintage Spirits & Grill saw an opportunity. They hired Manning as their brewer and thus began Vintage Brewing Co. in 2010. Now they make some of the most unusual and innovative microbrews in town, such as an oak-aged IPA, smoked weizenbock, Finnish Sahti rye beer, and brandy-barrel aged sour ale. Nights at the downtown location (especially when there’s a basketball or hockey game two blocks away at the Kohl Center) are busy, so expect a wait to get in. But the front patio is worth the line; it sits on one of the liveliest intersections in Madison. The brewery location is large and has plenty of dining and bar space, making it a very popular hangout for Madison’s West Side.