Hoppy trails: Time to tour Madison's craft breweries
Go west, beer lover.
Madison's Great Taste of the Midwest—called one of the country's premier beer festivals by Beer Advocate—has passed. But don't despair. Madison has a thriving craft beer scene, making it easy to create your own beer festival by visiting the homes of Madison-brewed brews from Ale Asylum in town to Lake Louie on the outskirts.
First, note the sense of community among the tribe.
When Ale Asylum left its strip-mall site for a sleek two-story brewery, Karben4 moved in. Ale Asylum won't book bands because it doesn't want to compete with nearby High Noon Saloon. Capital Brewing doesn't serve food because its Middleton neighbors such as Free House Pub and Craftsman Table and Tap do it.
The sense of we're-all-in-this-together goes beyond the complex glass of barley, hops, yeast and water. When the Esser family, who owns Cross Plains Brewery in Cross Plains, had an issue with its brewing facility, Tom Porter, owner of Lake Louie Brewing in neighboring Arena, made the call to Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, which has brewed the craft brew since.
And during Madison's recent Craft Beer week, 12 brewers joined together to create Common Thread, a specialty brew made for the occasion.
Consider this a field guide about who is brewing what and where in the state's capital—and how you can taste it yourself.
2002 Pankratz St., Madison
Habitat: The sleek Ale Asylum brewery is equal parts restaurant and regional brewery. The brewery started small in an industrial park in 2006 but opened in its current location in 2012 and produces 22,000 barrels a year. Ale Asylum began selling in Illinois this year. Try the pecans that have been soaked in wort (unfermented beer).
Now serving: Tripel Nova, a Belgian summer sipper and Ballistic IPA.
Notable sighting: The bottling line, which is the same size as the entire brewing site in Ale Asylum's former location. Look for workers hanging from harnesses to clean tops and inside tanks.
Tours: Six tours are offered on the hour between noon and 5 p.m. Sundays only, and take 30 to 45 minutes. Tours cost $5 (cash only) and include a free pint of your choice plus a special sampling. Ticket sales begin at 11 a.m. on the day of the tour and must be bought in-person with a valid ID showing you are of drinking age. Each tour is limited to 15 people. The brewery is on the main floor, giving the tall fermentation tanks room for a second floor, where there is another bar and eating area.
7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton; a second location is planned for Sauk City.
Habitat: Across the street from a day care center. Look for construction on the corner as workers construct a Terrace Avenue festival zone near the beer garden. There are no Laverne & Shirley-like moments here. Packaging and bottling are done in Stevens Point.
Now serving: The brewery's flagship beers are Wisconsin Amber and Supper Club Lager. There's a tap room, and beer is served in the busy beer garden throughout the summer until the weather turns. Growler night is Tuesday.
Notable sighting: Brewer Ashley Kinart created Fishin' in the Dark, an Imperial Schwartz beer and dark lager, part of the brewery's switch from strict German lagers. Live music in the beer garden Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Bring in your own food.
Tours: $7 per person for tour, a commemorative glass and 4 samples or one pint. Touring the building might be too complicated to be considered handicapped-accessible, as it snakes down hallways and through tight production areas.
7556 Pine Road, Arena.
Habitat: Named for owner Tom Porter's teetotaler uncle, Lake Louie really does have a lake. Or a pond. Either way, there's a quarter-acre body of water next to Porter's house, and the brewery is a driveway's walk away. A former engineer for the auto industry, Porter started Lake Louie in 1999 in a shed and produced his first batch in 2000. He's added on a couple times since then (rooms at differing heights reveal the growth in volume). Porter said that since he opened, he has proved a craft-beer axiom: “We could make beer on a smaller scale.”
Now serving: It's likely to be an IPA (he has four planned for the year) or a variation such as Radio Free IBA, an Imperial black ale. Look for Apricot Goddess, based on the amber style of brewing. In the tank: 10-81, which happens to be the police code for a Breathalyzer test.
Notable sighting: The space where Porter used to sleep next to the fermenter. The story, told by the owners of Cross Plains Brewing down the road, is that when Porter first started the brewery, the fermenter would quit in the middle of the night and Porter would have to start it up again. Also, look for remnants of Milwaukee's Pabst Brewing equipment.
Tours: Lake Louie doesn't have a tasting room. Tours are given at noon and 1:15 p.m. one Saturday a month with Porter, who admits “my beer sucked really bad at first.” But he adds that “it got pretty good pretty fast.” RSVPs required. The beer is available throughout the state.
1025 Owen St., Lake Mills.
Habitat: Tucked on the outskirts of an industrial park off Interstate 94, Tyranena is claimed by neither Milwaukee, where it's sold, nor Madison, which makes it fertile territory for beer aficionados with a sense of adventure.
Now serving: Doubly Down 'N Even Dirtier Chocolate Vanilla Barrel-aged Double Stout and Hop Whore (that's the name). Year-round styles include Bitter Woman IPA and Rocky's Revenge.
Notable sighting: The bright tanks are named for founder/owner Rob Larson's female friends and exes.
Tours: Available at 3:30 p.m. each Saturday. The tasting room with 16 taps (including root beer) and beer garden are open 4:30 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Visitors may bring in their own food or can check the website to see which food trucks might visit. No outside drinks are allowed.
1079 American Way, Verona.
Habitat: Wisconsin Brewing opened in November, but it was built for summer. Enjoy a game of bags outside or sit in an Adirondack chair with a back crafted to look like the state of Wisconsin. The brewery hosts bonfires and bands from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays, picnics and special events. Don't miss the gift shop, which sells glass and stainless growlers, unusual candles and more.
Now serving: Brewmaster Kirby Nelson was known for his lagers during his tenure at Capital Brewing. Now his amber lager is joined in the inventory by a couple of IPAs and a saison called Zenith.
Notable sighting: Brewer Rochelle Francois working magic with four ingredients.
Tours: You'll want to buy a pint in the taproom before you take a tour. Taproom hours are 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 1 to 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Tours are given at 4, 5, 6 and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (no 7 p.m. tour Friday) and on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Reservations can be made online. The tour is accessible—if you skip the part up a small set of stairs to look into a tank.
Some of Madison's tasty brews aren't made in large production breweries. They also are worth a visit.
3698 Kinsman Blvd., Madison.
The storefront restaurant and brewery is a pleasant, art-filled surprise. Deviled eggs come in nearly as many flavors as there are beer styles. (Deviled eggs and a sausage plate count as breakfast, right?) Karben4 specializes in English-style beers called “malt bombs.” Romans' Pub and other Milwaukee beer bars carry Fantasy Factor IPA or Tokyo Sauna, a pale ale.
Karben4 is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
One Barrel Brewing Company
2001 Atwood Ave., Madison.
One Barrel is so named because “we literally brew one barrel at a time,” said owner Peter Gentry. That puts One Barrel in the nanobrewery category. Gentry is speaking from the patron side of the bar, the one built by his father, who helped Peter renovate the place. One Barrel is found primarily at the bar and restaurants around Madison (and one in the Wisconsin Dells), but there's a Milwaukee tie: The first Colectivo beer was test-brewed at One Barrel.
Look for the penguin art. Why penguins? “Because it's the only thing I can draw,” he said.
Gentry said he can predict who comes to One Barrel by time of day: From 4 to 6 p.m., young families come in; from 6 to 9 p.m., boomers get a pint; and from 7 to 10 p.m., he hands the place over to young hipsters. Some people want to take One Barrel home with them. Gentry sells 300 growlers every six months.
In fall, he plans to open the Parched Eagle Brew Pub in Middleton.
One Barrel is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday.
674 S. Whitney Way, Madison.
From their seats, diners can watch brewer Scott Manning or assistants Annie Leitzke and Adam Lovick prepare beer behind clear glass walls at the family-owned brewpub in a strip mall. It's a creative effort. Among the beers to look for are popular drafts Woodshed, an oaked India pale ale; Bee's Knees, a honey cream ale; and McLovin, an Irish-style red ale. For a quick minute, we thought Brett-ication was an ode to Brett Favre, but it's the Dedication abbey dubbel refermented with Brettanomyces yeast for flavor. Vintage also is served at Bernie's Tap Room in Waukesha, among other taverns.
Vintage opens at 11 a.m. daily.