We’re serious about our beer in Madison. As we should be when neighborhood brewpubs and up-and-coming breweries are found around every corner—not to mention some well-established places are pouring pints that push the envelope with new and creative flavor combinations. The Madison-area craft scene that is beloved by local beer drinkers is only furthering its robust and ever-growing reputation, and in an elevated way. Beer we do well; that’s now a given. Some craft brew devotees want good grub to go with their suds (you’ll find food at brewpubs), while others like to keep the focus on the glass at hand (breweries keep it simple with brews-only menus.) Good thing our brewery and brewpub powerhouses—as well as some promising newcomers—continue to make Madison’s craft beer scene exciting and new.
Order up a Hopalicious, Ale Asylum’s celebrity American Pale Ale, and kick back at this brewery and tasting room that’s a gem of the north side. Work your way through a light food menu and more than twenty signature beers that are “brewed in sanity” throughout the year—six year-round, twelve seasonal and about six available in the tasting room that never make it to production. Two new beers to put on your to-try list: the Belgian-style Impending Dissent and Russian Impending Descent, two imperial stouts the Asylum released in late August. (Best of Madison 2015 winner)
2002 Pankratz St., 663-3926
It’s strictly beer (and beer done right) at Capital Brewery. This Middleton brewery has thirty years of experience under its belt and has plans to expand to a Sauk City location sometime in the future. The brewery’s beer list runs the gamut from classic Wisconsin lagers and ales to some European-influenced selections. The beer garden, known to some as “Middleton’s Backyard,” is a big seasonal draw, hosting more than 1,500 patrons on Fridays in the summer months.
7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton, 836-7100
The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company
Enter the mothership of Wisconsin brewpubs: the Great Dane. Each restaurant—whether you’re downtown, in Fitchburg or at the Hilldale or east-side location—has its own feel and slightly specialized beer list, but they all share the commonality of being Madison’s go-to place for good beer and good food. It’s fitting that it’s a hotspot for twenty-somethings. The original downtown location was opened in 1994 by a pair of college buddies, Eliot Butler and Rob LoBreglio. For Madison newcomers, it’s almost mandatory to check off a visit to each of the four locations. (There’s also a Wausau outpost for you die-hards.) If it happens to be game day when you stop by the downtown location, don’t forget to wear your Badgers gear, or you’ll stand out in a sea of red. (Best of Madison 2015 winner)
123 E. Doty St., 284-0000; 2980 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 442-9000; 357 Price Place, 661-9400; 876 Jupiter Dr., 442-1333
The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub
He’s not the only troll in town, but he’s certainly the grumpiest. The grimacing character adorning glasses, mugs and signs at the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub pays tribute to Mount Horeb’s town slogan: Troll Capital of the World. The brewery/restaurant/pizzeria’s forthright figure pretty much embodies the Grumpy Troll’s down-to-earth vibe. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve up praise-worthy brews and food; the Grumpy Troll has won several local awards, including the top spot in our very own Best of the ’Burbs readers’ poll for best brewery/brewpub.
105 S. Second St., Mount Horeb, 437-2739
House of Brews
This new kid on the block is one of Madison’s smallest microbreweries, and it’s stealing a page out of the CSA model’s book. Instead of community-supported agriculture, House of Brews is a community-supported brewery, in which customers who get weekly allotments of beer help the business raise capital and form relationships with their consumers. The House has a buzz-worthy list of six in-house beers that can be enjoyed at their small facility (no food needed here) or found on tap at other Madison brewpub hotspots.
4539 Helgesen Dr., 347-7243
Hopalicious isn’t the only Madison brew that boasts household recognition. Another well-known name for Madison beer drinkers is Fantasy Factory, Karben4’s IPA that accents a citrus flavor with soft, bready notes of malted barley. The brewery/brewpub has had a quick rise to local fame, having opened in 2012. Recently, it’s been Karben4’s focus on food that’s made it a standout. Don’t be turned off by its strip-mall façade; it’s in the same spot where Ale Asylum started out, so it’s basically a beer-brewing landmark. (Best of Madison 2015 winner)
3698 Kinsman Blvd., 241-4812
Some truly crazy ingredient pairings are finding their places on the palates of today’s audacious beer drinkers, and that’s exactly what MobCraft Beer capitalizes on. The crowdsourced brewer, which shares a beer-only facility with House of Brews, takes its customers’ ideas for new brews—like previous winner, Noctis Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout, a mix of cinnamon, vanilla, cranberry and cocoa flavors—and turns them into bottled beers. This innovative model has been gaining steady steam and has already won awards, including best new brewery in Wisconsin by ratebeer.com.
4539 Helgesen Dr., 535-4553
New Glarus Brewing Company
Renowned in Wisconsin and much of the Midwest, New Glarus Brewing Company is a flagship brewery that’s helped the state define itself as a beer-brewing headquarters. You’ll find Spotted Cow on tap nearly everywhere in Madison, and your favorite bars probably have a few bottles of Moon Man or Two Women in the fridge. A journey to New Glarus for a tour or just a relaxing afternoon on the Swiss, cobblestone-laden beer garden overlooking rolling farmland is a worthy trip. They have some snacks if you get hungry, and sometimes they host visiting food carts. All the more reason to love this place: Owners Dan and Deb Carey could easily sell their beer to out-of-state distributors, but they’re determined to keep their brews local. That makes us happy! (Best of Madison 2015 winner)
2400 WI–69, New Glarus, 527-5850
Next Door Brewing Company
Next Door Brewing Company is another friendly face on Atwood Avenue, having joined the neighborhood in 2013. If you’re unfamiliar with this microbrewery, order a beer flight and pick from five always-on-draught house beers. If you’re in for brunch, the NBDC benedict pork belly dish goes best with the Luminous IPA. For dinner, start with an order of Kaleidospoke APA beer-battered cheese curds and move on to a main course of the feijoada, a traditional Brazilian stew that pairs well with Next Door’s Rockets Red Ale. Lastly comes the show-stopper—the decadent beer pie dessert topped with a chocolate stout ganache. Can you say date-night heaven?
2439 Atwood Ave., 729-3683
One Barrel Brewing Company
The Schenk’s Corners neighborhood is the perfect spot for Madison’s first nano-brewery, One Barrel. Home brewers turned brewery operators Peter Gentry and Dan Sherman brew only a barrel at a time, which keeps them in the nano category. Stop by this small, cozy space, take a look at the locally-sourced food menu and ask for the Penguin Pale Ale, which they’ll pour you from a penguin tap handle.
2001 Atwood Ave., 630-9286
Vintage Brewing Company
The brewers at Vintage Brewing Co. are lovers of all things local when it comes to brewing. They source malt and hops from Chilton, Ashland, Mazomanie, rural Sauk County and a long list of other Wisconsin providers. This brewpub’s food menu, award-winning brewlist (try the McLovin Irish Red Ale) and huge dining room make it a prime spot for your brewpub-loving bunch. Can’t get enough of their beer? Check out Vintage’s Woodshed Ale House in Sauk City, which features a few Woodshed-only beers.
674 S. Whitney Way, 204-2739
Wisconsin Brewing Company
Wisconsin Brewing Company is one of those places that feels like it’s been in the Madison area longer than it has, but it only just opened its doors in 2013. Pack up some of your own food and bring the family out to enjoy live music and a fun crowd out on Wisconsin Brewing’s expansive patio area. This Verona brewery is also taking a fresh look at brewing through an experimental flight testing program and by working with a University of Wisconsin–Madison beer fermentation class.
1079 American Way, Verona, 848-1079
NINE OTHER PLACES TO FIND THE PERFECT PINT
We couldn't help calling out a few honorable mention pubs that have seriously impressive local brew lists.
Sprecher Brewing Co., 1262 John Q Hammons Dr., 203-6545
Dexter’s Pub, 301 North St., 244-3535
Eddie’s Alehouse & Eatery, 238 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 825-1515
Come Back In, 508 E. Wilson St., 258-8619
The Malthouse, 2609 E. Washington Ave., 204-6258
Gray’s Tied House, 950 Kimball Lane, Verona, 845-2337
Capital Tap Haus, 107 State St., 310-1010
Mr. Brews Taphouse, 610 Junction Rd., 824-9600
The Flying Hound Alehouse, 6317 McKee Rd., Fitchburg, 310-4422
NEWCOMERS TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
It feels like the 2012–2013 brewery boom all over again—several super new breweries, brewpubs and places with brew lists for miles have arrived on the Madison scene. Visit recently opened HopCat, a craft beer bar (boasting a gigantic list of suds) that just opened its seventh regional location on Gorham Street. Waunakee hit the brewery jackpot and will soon welcome two new breweries, Octopi Brewing Co., a new contract brewery that was originally proposed for Madison’s southeast side, and Lone Girl Brewing Co., a ten-barrel brew house that is setting up shop on Main Street. Hop Haus Brewing Co., joins Wisconsin Brewing Company and Gray’s Tied House as the third brewery in Verona, and Madison will add another brewpub to the list with Rockhound Brewing Co., set to open on South Park Street in January. Madison might also welcome a new brewpub on Regent Street if Lucky’s Bar and Grille owner Rod Ripley’s proposal is approved. If these new players aren’t good enough reasons to lift your glass, we don’t know what is.