Situated between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison has a diverse craft beer scene. I always enjoy visiting Madison, whether it be to attend a Badgers athletic event on campus, or to take advantage of the numerous outdoor opportunities. In terms of breweries, there are both established, well-known names, as well as some new players. This will be the first of two articles detailing a total of eight breweries in the Madison area. We will start with those located on the south and west sides of the city. Two of the bigger names in Wisconsin craft brewing will be featured, as well as some relatively recent options. So join me as I head west on I-94!
- Wisconsin Brewing Company
- Hop Haus Brewing Company
- Vintage Brewing Comapny
- Capital Brewery
Wisconsin Brewing Company truly strives to be ‘Wisconsin’s’ brewing company. Every piece of equipment that could be made in Wisconsin, was made in Wisconsin, and most of the ingredients used in their beers are from local sources. The brewery is situated next to a pond just outside Verona, which provides a beautiful setting while sitting on the large patio, complete with its own bar. Inside, while the taproom is somewhat small, the towering glass windows behind the bar and to the right of it allow you to see into the brewery itself. A selection of high tables provide seating, but most people take advantage of the patio when the weather is nice. There is also a large gift shop when you come indoors.
Wisconsin Brewing may be the first place I went where an IPA was my favorite beer. Depending what website you visit, Sunset Bruise lies somewhere on the IPA/DIPA line. This beer has an explosion of tropical notes, with melon and pineapple shining the most. S’Wheat Caroline is a refreshing offering, with citrus on the tongue. Badger Club is the flagship beer here, and is a great choice for those new to craft, as this amber ale is an easy-drinker, and is fairly docile compared to other more extreme options. I was slightly disappointed with the Chocolate Lab Porter, but as I said, I was pleasantly surprised with my fondness for the IPA.
Whether you want to play bags (cornhole, or whatever you call it) next to the water, or just sit inside with a beer in your hand, this facility gives Wisconsin Brewing a ‘destination’ feel. While it is a bit out of the way if you are in Madison, it is well worth the trip.
Hop Haus is coming up on their 2-year anniversary. Located in downtown Verona, they provide another nice option for those in this suburb of Madison. The taproom ties together rustic and modern elements, with natural wood mixing with concrete floors and clean lines. Besides seating at the actual bar, there is a smaller ‘bar’ that has a window into the brewery. Outside is a smallish patio with five tables where you can sit and enjoy the sun. One warning is that this popular place has limited parking, and you may have to go to a parking lot across the street.
I am a fan of Hefeweizens, and Hop Haus brews a good one. Dairy Air (as a Wisconsinite, this is an awesome, and fitting, name) starts with a thick head that leads into this hazy drink with plenty of banana and clove flavors. If you want to toss back multiple brews, Sweet Sunglasses is a light and crisp blonde, what many would call a ‘lawnmower beer’. For those who tend to favor hoppier beers, Magic Dragon is the citrusy Double IPA which clocks in with 90 IBU and an 8.2% ABV. El Andy is supposedly their ‘flagship’ but I found it to be just your everyday IPA, sitting at 55 IBU.
Despite being fairly new to the craft scene, Hop Haus is a great place to stop for a drink. The place was pretty full when I visited, and all the tables on the patio were in use. If the locals are buying it, so should you!
After starting as Vintage Spirits & Grill in 2002, the owners made the jump to become Vintage Brewing Co in 2010. It has a unique feel as far as brewery ‘taprooms’ go, as it is housed in a former restaurant and you get a slightly upscale/sit-down vibe when you go through the door. Brewery kettles line one wall behind glass, and a large U-bar is planted in the middle with a fish tank sitting in the center. Besides tables and booths, there are also some lounging areas with comfy chairs and couches. They take the food side of the brewpub serious, as they have an extensive menu. I had already had dinner, but the large hot pretzel I ordered was delicious.
There were some interesting beers at Vintage. My favorite was the cask-conditioned Peach Passion Tea Weiss, served at around 50ish degrees. This unique option had a strong peach nose and was incredibly juicy. I’ve mentioned before having smoked beers that took the smokey flavor too seriously, but Ulfberht, a smoked Baltic Porter, strikes a perfect balance. The smokiness is present, but does become overpowering. Maltiplicity is chock-full of malts (big surprise), specifically Munich and Vienna. Bee’s Knees is a cream ale brewed with honey, although the honey arises only slightly. One funny note from the menu, is that for the NE IPA called Northern Tropics, the IBU is listed as ‘???’.
Vintage is certainly an alluring spot, and if you are looking for a place to get a drink and a meal, there are few better options. With a comprehensive beer and food menu, there is sure to be something that strikes your fancy.
Fun Fact: Capital Brewery is not located in the actual capital of Wisconsin. Instead, you will find it just to the west of Madison in Middleton. The oldest brewery by a long shot in this article, Capital began brewing back in 1986, releasing a pilsner of course. While visiting the brewery is of course recommended, the true draw to Capital is the humongous Bier Garten located outside. A long bar sits on one end, with a substantial stage situated on the other. In between are several lengthy picnic tables, with most of the seating being covered by a voluminous canopy. Known as “Middleton’s Backyard”, this area is open April through October, and hosts concerts, events, and thousands of thirsty guests.
I sampled six beers at Capital, and they all proved to be solid examples of the represented styles. The flagship here is the Wisconsin Amber, and like others I’ve had, this was smooth, with a nice balance; not leaning too far towards the malts. My favorite was the Coffee Vanilla Dark, which of course features coffee and vanilla on the tongue. Mutiny IPA will please the hopheads, with a nice aroma stocked with floral and citrus notes. The Baltic Porter was less thick than I expected, with malty and chocolate flavors. Meanwhile, the Capital Kolsch is by far the lightest option, and I would guess is a popular choice on hot summer nights. Another option if you want something with high drinkability would be Supper Club, the staple lager at Capital.
Capital is definitely a happening place, and I would love to return to the Bier Garten when they have a concert or similar event happening. They also have several other seasonal and year-round beers that I would like to test out as well.
Technically, only one of the four breweries in this first article is located in Madison. However, with their close proximity to the city, they are all easily accessible for those living or visiting Wisconsin’s capital. Varying in size, age, and style, I am sure you will find a place that pleases you.
Unlike this first article, all four breweries in the 2nd part of this mini-series are located in Madison. Another massive ‘destination’ brewery awaits us, as do several smaller spots around the city.
Current Brewery Count
71 breweries across 33 cities in 6 states (as of 6/21/17). For an up-to-date count, follow @brewerytravels on Twitter!