Let's talk Wisconsin beer. My travels around the world and through this life have taken me to some pretty incredible beer destinations. Back in September, I visited Madison and Wisconsin for the third and fifth times, respectively.
From a beer perspective, you may be forgiven if all you know of the State is New Glarus Brewing Company and Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. Both continue to be longtime favorite fixtures in the regional beer scene. But like much of the rest of the country, there's more than ever to be discovered and consumed.
Enticing me back to Wisconsin this time were longtime friends and residents of Madison, Mark and Susan, and the Thursday Night Football game between the Eagles and Packers at legendary Lambeau Field. What Mark and I did with the remaining time was a simple agenda that took us to no less than 15 breweries and 2 distilleries.
Here's what I saw, learned, and tasted along the way presented in chronological order of visit. Clifs Notes style. Oh, and take my notes with a grain of salt, since I had no more than two beers at any one stop and each visit was made only once. Hey, I may fancy myself a pretty astute observer, but still I acknowledge that my view of these places was but a narrow window into what locals see there every day.
Ale Asylum- the only establishment on this entire list that I'd previously visited. Last time I was there, they were in the much smaller space now occupied by Karben4 (see below). Now, it's a much larger and impressive space with still plenty of room to grow the brewery. It's located less than a mile from the Madison airport exit. So after Mark picked me up, it was mere minutes until I had my thirst quenched by an excellent Oktoberfest and hunger sated by an Asylum burger (with smoked gouda, smoked bacon, IPA-caramelized onions, dark beer reduction sauce, and garlic aioli!)
Alt Brew- Admittedly, I don't know much about gluten-free beers, nor have been to a gluten-free brewery. But that's their game at Alt Brew and if their Kölsch is any indication, not only can gluten-free beers be very good, but Alt Brew could be a perfect place for you, too, to discover well-made gluten-free beers. Oh, and you know who else agrees with that? The judges behind the World Beer Cup competition, where Alt Brew was awarded a bronze medal for its Copperhead Copper Ale in 2018.
Karben4- Sure, it's been 12 years since I was at the old Ale Asylum - now the new Karben4, but I really have a difficult time envisioning it as Ale Asylum. Did it have less ambiance? Is it because the pool table is gone? Either way, now there's Karben4 (get it? carbon. four.?) They make a mighty fine Smoked Porter and will add CBD oil to any beer for $2 a "dose". Can't say I've seen that anywhere else before.
Arriving into Madison half way through Wednesday meant just three stops on the first day before having some quality friend time with the family back at the home base. Plus, couldn't flame out on the first day with the big Eagles/Packers game looming the next day - Thursday Night Football.
Badger State- The drive from Madison to Green Bay is just a shade over two hours. Once there, the football and community scene is unreal and I'm guessing dramatically different than any other professional, or perhaps even collegiate, game day experience. This isn't a sports blog, so I'll leave it at that. Since the last Packers game I attended in Green Bay in 2007, Badger State Brewing opened. Just a few "blocks" from the stadium and the brewery's outdoor space opens up into one of the municipal parking lots. So there's plenty of spillover between the brewery, the tailgating, and the stadium. Seriously, game day in Green Bay is all football, everywhere, all the time. In addition to the requisite brats from the grill, the brewery impressed with a very well made Coffee Brown, a Smoked Jalapeno Porter, and good ol' fashioned Red Ale, and of course the ubiquitous Hazy IPA. Ok, I lied. Here's a brewery where I had more than two beers. I had to carb up for the big game!
Next Door- Back in Madison the next day (Friday) from Green Bay, it was time to explore what more was new and tasty in the city since I last visited. The day started with brunch at Next Door. Next Door to what? Honestly, I never asked and therefore I still do not know for certain. What I do know is that their Poutine goes tremendously well with the Oktoberfest and the Livacious Lavender Saison was a standout as well.
One Barrel- I'm inclined to leave this "review" stand here with just the following words - Dam Pepper Ale, Kolsch, Landjager, and Pickled Eggs. I think that should suffice. Nope, sorry, no can do. The pepper beer was one of the cleanest with most distinctive chili pepper flavors I've had in quite some time. And, the meat stick was tremendous at the bar, during the car ride, and again the next morning as a breakfast appetizer. Really a nice and unassuming surprise stop.
Parched Eagle- Nothing here particularly wow'ed me, like in an over-the-top kind of wow way. But, in an atmosphere that'd I'd almost describe as a living room atmosphere with darts, the ESB and Mosaic IPA were both rather nice.
O’so Madhouse- The last stop of the day before heading back to home base for dinner was O'so. I've known of these guys only by name in the past and was never aware of their far-reaching distribution. For example, the following month we were in Hilton Head, SC and Savannah, GA, both where O'so beers are available. Back at their tasting room satellite spot in Madison (the production brewery is Plover, which is north from Madison, actually closer to Green Bay), a bustling atmosphere with friendly and knowledgeable service made our all-too-short visit that much better. The beers, like the one I had - Goldilocks Revenge - were mostly "big" beers (big on alcohol and more importantly big on flavor) and very good beers. So much so that two came home with me. The name? Dare I ask? I did and was humbled when the bartender said "yeah, you know, like these beers are oh so good"! Duh, right?
New Glarus- After way, way, way too many years of drinking beers from New Glarus (plus, four visits to its home state, the only state in which it is distributed....still!) I finally made it to this significantly important brewery. For its awards, for its excellent brewing styles before their time, and for its reputation as both an exemplary employer and landmark brewery, this 23-year-old brewery belongs on every traveling beer geek's itinerary. You can take an extensive - complete with tastings - tour or a very well constructed self-guided tour. We opted for the latter and got to see everything except for the "un"-clean brewing down the road. The outdoor beer garden atop the hill overlooking the town of New Glarus and the valley made for a perfect backdrop to enjoy an Oktoberfest and their fruit bomb that has stood the test of time - Wisconsin Belgian Red. I could go on for at least a few more paragraphs, but that's for another post.
Delta Beer Lab- This was something different. On the backside of a low-rise industrial park with an industrial and chemical theme as the name might suggest. Madison is a progressive place, which definitely helps it standout in the midwest. But I don't believe I came across any other stop on the this 96-hour tour that was more intentional about advertising inclusivity, right down to the restroom doors which you can see pictured in my gallery that I've included here. Beer-wise, the Helles lager and "regular" IPA were so very much spot-on, just like you'd hope a beer lab would achieve. But if you like more than just a "regular" IPA, they version it as well into all shapes and sizes of IPAs to your liking. I love the science theme here and, as they remind you, "yes, beer *is* a solution".
Funk Factory Gueuzeria- Next up on this epic Saturday was a stop at this place, this thing, that I've only occasionally heard of in passing - this Funk Factory Gueuzeria. A gueuzeria, you say? Oh boy, this is right up my allay. It sports a small tasting room manned by a friendly and knowledgeable bar staff. The sours, barrel-aged in a back barrel room larger than the tasting room, are excellent enough in person that I brought two home to share. The "backyard" has outdoor seating, a one-hole disc golf setup, cornhole, and plenty of space to enjoy the beers with friends. The wort comes from Octopi and one other place (whose name either escapes me at this point, or of which I never heard) and the Funk is pure Factory Gueuzeria.
Working Draft- My recollection of the beers is limited to my memory alone, which says that I enjoyed them. But, for some reason, my notes only speak to the creative short list of very good food options, amongst them the ones that I ordered - a Vegan Banh Mi (shiitake) and Shishito Peppers that were both out this world and went merrily along with a German Pilsner and a Brown Ale.
State Line- I don't write about spirits and my vocabulary is rather limited in this regard. However, I really like gin and, therefore, State Line, just a few blocks from Working Draft, is an excellent place to have gin a number or ways, including my favorite, simply with tonic.
Giant Jones- The beers here certainly puts the Giant in the brewery's name, where a current review of the available beers show most beers over 8% ABV. That certainly dictated a one-beer visit and, for me, that was the very big and very delicious Grand Tripel. Also its a brewery described as "an independent, women-owned certified organic craft brewery" and that's worth paying attention to as well.
Old Sugar Distillery- Again, the world of spirits. If you like rum, as I certainly do, Old Sugar Distillery will work quite well for you as it did for me in their take on the Brazilian Caipirinha, Honey-Cap, that was served up to me.
Tangent/Vintage- Vintage is the brewery; Tangent is the restaurant/bar. They sport a full menu and serve as the official restaurant for the brewery. Was a little confusing to me at first, but was cleared up with a Kölsch, an Altbier, and plate of poutine. Hey, no hiding that we're in Wisconsin!
Union Corners- Because I can't leave town without that one more beer, just before my midday flight back to Philly, Mark and I had brunch at Union Corners, part of an ambitious new live/work community called Union Corners still under development. So this definitely qualified as the youngest brewery (est. summer 2019) in my 4-day visit to the state. And, yet again, the brewery impressed, here with an Oktoberfest (I really hit the perfect time of year to visit this region, replete with a solid German beer history) and an American Pale Ale. Equally ambitious is the brewery, which routinely sports at least a dozen of their own beers on tap in addition to other guest tap for neighboring brewery friends. “Community brews” is something important to the brewery as a way to form relationships with area homebrewing clubs. For food, I was somehow lured away from the tempting Porchetta sandwich and steered instead to the excellent brunch Brisket & Biscuits that made for a perfect final stop on an incredible 96 hour tour of Wisconsin.
For bonus points, technically my last beer was a New Glarus Moon Man Pale Ale a scant 100 feet or so from my gate at the airport with about 10 minutes to spare until boarding time.
An epic trip of football, friends, and beer. One that, if done again when the Eagles yet again play the Packers in Green Bay for an almost unheard of back-to-back years, could include a whole other set of breweries and distilleries. Life is short!
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