Like many urban cities, Madison is blessed with an ever-expanding passel of brewpubs and craft breweries, all which serve some amazingly delicious varieties of beer. And while we love the local brewers who make beer you sometimes can't get anywhere else, we’re not here to talk about any of them. Instead, we’d like to turn our beer-loving attention to the local restaurants and bars that fill expansive tap menus with stouts, ales and porters as well as high-quality selections from around the country and the world. Whether you’re searching for a top-notch Trappist or a sour mash special, these are the places that’ll expand your tap-beer horizons. Note that nearly all of these places rotate taps on a regular to seasonal basis, which means that while every week can feel like new beer Christmas, you may want to double-check the current lineups.
OK, so we said we wouldn’t be talking about places that brew their own beer. We’ll make an exception here because Alt Brew, right across the street from Madison College’s East Campus, is one of the only taphouses that caters directly to the Gluten Free Nation. All the brews here are free of that problematic protein, but they’ve got more than enough flavor to make up for it. Alt Brew’s Copperhead Copper Ale is both delicious and a Great American Beer Festival medalist, while the Hollywood Nights Blonde IPA is a don’t-miss pint of hoppy goodness.
Blue Moon Bar & Grill
As neighborhood haunts go, you won’t find any more tap-beer savvy than the Blue Moon, where beermeister Jim Schmock holds court over 14 taps, eight of which rotate on a regular basis. Unlike others on the scene, Schmock prefers to program oddballs over locals—Spotted Cow is the glaring notable exception, naturally—and prides his bar as the place you’ll encounter regional and national offerings you’ve never quaffed before.
It’s no surprise the Belgians lead the way here. Of the Brasserie V’s 26 taps, 24 of them rotate on a regular basis, meaning there’s always something new from across the country to pair with your salty cone of frites. The big one that’s always available? The St. Bernardus Abt 12, an abbey ale with a truly potent 10.5 percent alcohol-by-volume. You can always count on a wit beer and an IPA among the taps at the V, but the rest are sure to be a delicious and unexpected adventure that expands your worldly beer credentials.
The Brass Ring
Nothing goes with great tap beer like a cutthroat game of billiards, and you can hit both hard at this East Wash staple, in the same complex as the High Noon Saloon and The Brink Lounge. The 20 changing taps include a trio of smooth-drinking nitros—including Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Milk Stout—as well as multiple offerings from Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. Tap takeovers are a common experience at The Ring, which is also one of the places to score the latest crowdsourced special from the formerly Madison-based MobCraft.
701 E. Washington Ave., 256-9359
Regulars know that the building that houses Brickhouse BBQ has three floors—and that the same set of 40 taps can be found on each one of them. That’s a lot of lines to keep clean, to be sure, but staffers don’t mind, and you’ll appreciate the convenience. As at a lot of Madison nightspots, New Glarus’ Spotted Cow rules the tap roost here, but there’s no shortage of darker and hoppier options, too, including Golden Nugget from Iowa’s Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. and rotating stouts/ales from O’so and Next Door Brewing Co.
Come here for the beer—or, more accurately, the bier—but be sure you bring your reading glasses, since the bier menu is a whopping 22—yes, 22!—pages long. Thirty-six of Hollander’s encyclopedic offerings are available on tap, including several brewed in Belgium by Lowland Brewery specifically for the café’s Milwaukee and Madison locations. We’re talking the High Speed Wit and a Tandem Dubbel, which tastes like chocolate-caramel heaven. And if Belgium’s not your thing, there’s always Lakefront Brewery’s Fixed Gear Red IPA included in Hollander’s Milwaukeean Bloody Mary.
The Coopers Tavern
Given the Tavern’s devotion to the time-honored tradition of the public house, it
makes sense that a stop here can feel like a personalized whirlwind European beer tour. While local and regional brews are certainly well represented among the 28 taps (the same 28 taps as in the upstairs bar), the foreign entries are the ones that give Coopers its curveball appeal. We’re thinking of a pint glass of Morland’s Old Speckled Hen from merrie olde England or a Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale from Belgium. Coopers is also one of a handful of places where you can end your evening with a tall glass of Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde—never a bad choice.
Talk about first-rate customer service for beer lovers. Dexter’s doesn’t just list the types of beer offered on the 24 taps that line the bar wall—they use a mobile app called DigitalPour to let you know in real time exactly how much of each offering remains in the keg. So when you see the line on your favorite offering into the dreaded red zone, it’s time to bust ass and get your mitts on that last pint. Dexter’s rotates its tap offerings often. So be sure to check your smartphone before heading out.
Dotty Dumpling's Dowry
You already know that Rachael Stanley’s emporium serves some of the best burgers in town, but the tap beer selection’s just as strong a draw. Choosing from 24 taps might be slightly easier than choosing your burger condiments, thanks to a heavy reliance on some of Wisconsin’s finest. New Glarus’ Spotted Cow is a clear and obvious fave here, but don’t overlook the three Ale Asylum offerings (one tap’s always rotating) and the Luminous IPA from Next Door Brewing Co.
HopCat is clever—or, if you prefer, kind—enough to categorize the whopping 130 (that's right, 130) different taps the regional chain offers, perhaps providing some relief from would-be beer aficionados who’d otherwise
be overwhelmed by the sheer array of options. If you’re adamant about drinking local, you’re also in luck, as one of those categories is called Local 30, a non-changing cast that spans the state, with a heavy emphasis on beer from Madison and Milwaukee (including faves from Wisconsin Brewing Co. and Lakefront Brewery), even expanding its reach to encompass new up-and-comer Door County Brewing Co. If you’re less provincially focused, well, you’ve got another 100 options to tempt your taste buds. Better get drinking, Skippy.
The Malt House
Hard to believe that such a small and unassuming building could be the site of one of Madison’s underrated tap houses, a place that, despite its relatively low profile, has been cited twice by DRAFT Magazine and routinely racks up local awards. There are 18 craft and import taps here to tempt you, and they’re constantly rotating. It’s not entirely a beer crapshoot, however: Count on a six-tap split between Belgian offerings, Wisconsin favorites and options from around the country and world.
Proprietor Bryan Riggles isn’t a huge fan of the digital apps that clue you in to what’s currently on tap at each local bar. Given that the 19 taps he oversees at the cozy Mason are in constant rotation, he’d prefer that you trust his impeccable curatorial talents. The always-changing American craft-beer mix here is like a slot-machine that always hits the jackpot. The Mason also doubles as an IPA paradise. Riggles, a self-described hophead, always makes sure IPA and IPA variations are well-represented.
416 S. Park St., 255-7777
Mr. Brew's Taphouse
Hopcat’s main chain competitor makes up for fewer taps—a “mere” 72—by arranging them in terms of style, for those of us who aren’t able to articulate the difference between a barleywine, a hefeweisen and an imperial IPA. Instead, you can direct your tastebuds using terms like “crisp and clean” (the home of One Barrel Brewing Co.’s Commuter Kolsch). “hoppy” (we see you, Surly Brewing Co.’s Abrasive Ale) and “dark and roasty” (Karben4 Brewing’s NightCall smoked porter). If word association’s the path to beer-centric goodness, lay on, MacDuff.
The Thirsty Goat
The Goat will be offering its own made-on-site brews soon enough, but in the meantime, feel free to choose from the 39 tap options at this Fitchburg purveyor of stellar BBQ. The Joe IPA from 10 Barrel Brewing Co. in Oregon is among the most popular choices—so popular it’s sometimes out of stock. But never fear, homers: There are plenty of good ol’ Wisconsin choices, too, including the Title Town Boat House Pilsner. If you really want to relax, order up a Black Velveteen, a mix of Guinness and Magners Pear Cider from Ireland, another of the Goat’s most popular tap options. Then order a plate of brisket. You can’t drink all your calories, right?