10 Madison-area biergartens (plus a beer hall coming soon)
If your favorite garden is a biergarten, it’s going to be a great summer.
You may not realize it as you’re sipping a pint of the latest seasonal offering from your favorite local brewery or bathing in rays of sunlight at a communal table, but the biergarten experience you’re enjoying traces its history to a practical necessity, not a confluence of beautiful design. Way back in the day — or, more specifically, the early 1800s — Bavarian brewmasters built gardens on top of their breweries to keep the heat out and the temperature low, all the better to hone the taste of their legendary lagers. Not that any of the customers who camped out on the benches, tables and picnic blankets cared — they were too busy drinking and enjoying the fermented fruits of a natural paradise. Reasonable minds can disagree a little about what makes a biergarten a biergarten — for the sticklers, the key operating principle is “in the open air,” but we’ll quibble about that later. In the meantime, let’s take a slow and languorous tour of places that best exemplify Madison’s biergarten vibe.
The Biergarten at Olbrich Park
Madison is bracketed by a pair of gorgeous lakes, and it makes sense that each of them would feature a biergarten. Memorial Union Terrace is the Lake Mendota bookend, while The Biergarten at Olbrich Park sits right on the edge of Lake Monona. The latter has been operating only since 2017, but it revives the historic tradition of a biergarten that used to serve locals in the early 1900s at the nearby Yahara Place Park. With the cityscape lit by a pink-hued sunset in the distance and party lights strung above the picnic tables, it’s a beautiful scene, complemented by 12 taps of Madison- and Wisconsin-based craft beverages. In addition to serving snacks like pretzels from Clasen’s European Bakery and squeaky Farmer John’s cheese curds, Rutabaga Paddlesports also offers boat rentals at Olbrich Park, which means you can do more than just sit there and admire those beautiful Lake Monona waters. Throughout the summer, it also hosts tap takeovers from Wisconsin breweries like Karben4, Door County Brewing Co. and Lakefront Brewery. 3527 Atwood Ave., 608-237-3548, olbrichbiergarten.com
Let’s be honest: You don’t want to leave your best friend behind when it’s time to enjoy a biergarten, and thanks to one of the newest entries on the Madison biergarten scene, it’s no longer an issue. For a minimal entrance fee ($8 per single visit, with annual memberships also available) and a signature on a safety waiver, your canine companion can cavort with a teeming mass of other doggos in an enclosed, off-leash dog park area. While your dog plays, you can find a place to sit near a fire pit, enjoy the open air and sip a brew from a list of canned craft beers or a rotating chalkboard menu of tap beers. There’s a solid roster of food trucks (Jason’s Jerk, LT’s Aloha Wagon, Quick Chef Inc. and more) that routinely make evening and weekend stops, so you can sate your appetite. If you’d rather drink while watching other people’s pets, that’s also possible: There’s no entrance fee for human visitors. 1018 Walsh St., 608-216-8865, madisonboneyard.com
Capital Brewery Bier Garten
This is one of the only places in the Madison area where you can be at the edges of a thriving cityscape (and less than a few football fields from a packed Beltline Highway) and yet feel as though you’re in an entirely different universe. During the summer months, Capital Brewery’s Bier Garten is a social hub, with Friday evening concerts attracting hundreds of visitors to soak up its outdoor charm. Capital has had a lot of years to perfect the system, and it shows. While you might struggle to find an open picnic table on a Friday night, you’ll rarely have trouble scoring your next beer. Plenty of tap stations ensure that everyone has smooth access to a pint of Supper Club, Capital’s uber-popular lager, or the AweSummer Blonde Ale, a seasonal brewed with two different types of orange peels. 7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton, 608-836-7100, capitalbrewery.com
Essen Haus Restaurant and Bar
Speaking of traditional bier halls, there’s no question that the Essen Haus rocks one of Madison’s most authentic Bavarian vibes, even though most of the action is inside. Thankfully, behind the main building you’ll find a cozy outdoor biergarten, complete with an awning, where you can guzzle the same types of beers those original Bavarian brewmasters lovingly created — think hefeweizens, kolsches, doppelbocks and weissbiers. Quaffing from one of Essen Haus’ legendary 2-liter glass boots is for many a Madison rite of passage (as is navigating a few rounds of “Das Boot” with your friends), but there are also 5-liter steins or smaller 1-liter boots or steins. The party vibe is a little disrupted this summer by a massive construction project nearby, but that won’t stop the polka bands from playing or the beer from flowing. Once you have a boot of lager and a plate of jägerschnitzel in front of you, you won’t even mind. 514 E. Wilson Ave., 608-255-4674, essen-haus.com
Longtable Beer Cafe
Middleton’s Longtable Beer Cafe is another establishment that splits the traditional biergarten difference: Inside, the long wooden tables definitely support the big-group experience, as do the menu of cheese/meat platters and the shareables on the food menu. But beyond Longtable’s retractable garage door walls lies a comfortable and reservable outdoor firepit patio, checking that all-important open-air box. Truthfully, the bigger obstacle at Longtable isn’t deciding whether to drink inside or outside; it’s trying to decide between the more than 300 types of beer in the massive cooler. Pro tip: Make it easier on yourself and opt for one of the 12 offerings on tap, including Belgian ales, IPAs, sour beers and stouts. 7545 Hubbard Ave., Middleton, 608-841-2337, longtablebeercafe.com
Memorial Union Terrace
Madison’s signature biergarten is such a beloved local staple it’s often taken for granted. Whether you’re a University of Wisconsin–Madison alum or not, there’s no reason not to spend as many summer days (and evenings and weekends) as you possibly can parked in a trademark sunburst chair with a huge group of friends at the Terrace. If you’re jonesing for more of that traditional Germanic bier hall vibe, you can always head inside to the darker confines of the Rathskeller and Stiftskeller, where you can pair your beer of choice with a delicious giant pretzel in a dark booth. But then you’d be missing out on the cool lake breezes and the spectacular waterfront view of Lake Mendota. No matter which type of band is playing, the evening summer concert series at the Terrace always fills this place to capacity, so if you want the best seats — or any seat at all — make sure you get there well before the sun goes down. 800 Langdon St., 608-265-3000, union.wisc.edu
One of Madison’s most overlooked biergarten locations, this modest courtyard on East Washington Avenue is shared by not one, not two, but three businesses that combine to create a vibe that feels like stepping into a private little urban world. MadisonTap covers the beer angle, with a tap and bottle/can list featuring more than 100 brews, all of which are Madison- and Wisconsin-based. That alone is reason enough to experience the courtyard’s quaint and comfortable charms, but when you toss in coffee and crepes from The Black Locust Cafe or lemon and kalamata focaccia from the plant-based food menu at Jardin, the magic only multiplies. With a Fantasy Factory from Karben4 in your hand, you’ve found biergarten heaven and an escape from downtown. 829 E. Washington Ave., 608-478-0181, robiniacourtyard.com
Beer hall coming soon!
A Chicago-born beer hall is coming to Madison with a second location of Prost!, which is set to open this fall at 401 E. Washington Ave. It’ll start serving steins inside the church built in 1897 that for years was the location of Bellini Italian Restaurant. prostchi.com
The Modest Outdoors
We mentioned that “biergarten” can be a somewhat slippery concept, and that’s true, especially when you consider that one person’s beer patio can often be another person’s biergarten. A few breweries right outside of Madison have taken this concept to heart, creating inviting and efficient outdoor spaces where visitors can enjoy the beer that’s being brewed on-site.
Those who work at SubZero’s corporate headquarters in Fitchburg are certainly appreciative of Hop Haus Brewing Co., their neighbors across the street, who’ve been kind enough to turn the grassy lawn into a great location to enjoy a beer. A patio with table seating is inviting enough, but the real draws are the lawn chairs and fire pits. As it always has, Hop Haus — which also has a location in Verona — leans hard into the ongoing IPA trend, but a couple of lighter beers, including a new Mexican ale with lime debuting this summer, are designed to make you forget that Corona beer ever existed.
Out in Verona, the Wisconsin Brewing Co.’s headquarters features a patio that’s dubbed “Wisconsin’s backyard.” Patrons can sip both WBC and Lake Louie brews. Word is the brewery is looking to expand the concept significantly, creating a full-on biergarten that will include a pond and accommodate up to 4,000 people — that’s reaching Oktoberfest-in-Germany levels.
Octopi Brewing in Waunakee is making the most of its industrial park location. In addition to its indoor taproom, there’s a cute and cozy outdoor biergarten space with wooden picnic tables and a metal fire pit. Assuming it’s not too crowded — and that’ll happen on weekend nights — it’s a great place to enjoy one of Untitled Art’s fruity brews in the open air, like the Double Mango Sour or the Sweet & Sour Georgia Peach. Now that’s doing summer right.
Aaron R. Conklin is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine. This article appeared in the August 2022 issue of Madison Magazine.
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