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Thursday, October 23, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 52.0° F  
Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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A 2013 All-Star break for Madison beer and breweries
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Cheers to a team of Madison brewing all-stars.
Credit:Robin Shepard

So much is going on in Wisconsin's beer scene lately that it's worth taking a moment to pause and consider local brewing developments over the last six months. Just as the All-Star break takes over the baseball world at the mid-point of each season, I find myself thinking about what's been great so far in the first half of 2013.


All-Star beers

1. Berliner Weiss from New Glarus Brewing
The Berliner Weiss is an acquired taste because of its sour and tart overtones. However, the edginess of this Thumbprint release from New Glarus Brewing is softened by an addition of Riesling grape juice. It's light, bubbly and with champagne-like qualities that are so different it makes for a great summer beer.

2. Cortado Imperial Stout from Alterra Coffee Roasters and One Barrel Brewing
Cortado is a brew that sets a new standard. This collaborative beer is made at One Barrel and sold exclusively at Alterra in Madison. It's smooth and rich in chocolate maltiness with a firm coffee accent in the background. I like it because that's where coffee should be when it's added to beer. Otherwise, it's just a fizzy cold coffee with a kick.

3. Common Thread 2013 for Madison Craft Beer Week
This beer made by 10 regional brewers for Madison Craft Beer Week in May was a home run. Brewed as a collaborative project, all participating brewmasters gathered at Capital Brewery on a Saturday in March to provide their insights, pitch in on the brewing, and even share some beers. Making Common Thread has become an annual event; this second year's version was a Bière de Garde, a farmhouse style originating in northern France.

IBU and ABV over replacement

1. Assertive hoppy beers that are light-bodied are a growing trend with, with White Cap IPA from Hinterland clocking in at 66 IBUs and 4.2% ABV; and Square Pig Ale from Vintage at 64 IBUs and 5.9% ABV. Both are beers with assertive bitterness, yet are easy drinking.

2. Brian Destree, the production manager and brewmaster at Capital Brewery, has been charting new waters with hoppy brews like Mutiny IPA and a double IPA named Capsized. Both beers send a signal that Capital is branching-out beyond its well-established line-up of traditional German lagers.

3. Big beers offered in 22-ounce bottles are on the rise in local stores. Among the most memorable (so far) for me: The Great Dane's Unleashed series that includes Jolly Old Scratch Black Barley-Wine Style Ale, Über Bock and Double Dubbel, along with Capital's Jacked Maibock and Capsized. Still coming up in 2013: New Glarus Brewing will be releasing a strawberry-rhubarb ale, and House of Brews is planning to release its Standing Stones Scotch Ale in bomber bottles.

Rookies and prospects

1. One Barrel Brewing debuted a year ago on Madison's east side. It makes beer in 31-gallon batches, and was swamped upon opening by the thirst of patrons. Earlier this year, owner Peter Gentry hired a full-time assistant brewer, Dan Sherman, and together they've increased brewing and are now offering up to 10 beers on tap.

2. Karben4 Brewing made its official debut last January. There hasn't been a bad beer yet offered by brewmaster Ryan Koga. My early favorites include Silk Scorpion Black IPA and NightCall porter. The brewery offers a seasonal IPA rotation and recently unveiled Fantasy Factory in May. This is a brewery with signs of great potential.

3. Blair Street Brew and BBQ opened in May. Owner Nick Sierzant is hoping to add his own in-house beers by later summer. Initial styles are expected to include a pilsner, an IPA and a bock.

4. MobCraft Beer is pioneering a new brewing business model for Wisconsin. The brewery will select some of what it makes based on crowdsourced preferences of its customers. The crowd's suggestions will include ideas for beers, ingredients and even recipes. Mobcraft will offer a taste if its first beer at the Lakefront Pub in Whitewater, starting at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 2. Named "Participation Pale Ale," it is an American pale ale made with seven different hops. It finishes at 5.6% ABV

6. Wisconsin Brewing, a venture of former Capital Brewery president Carl Nolen and long-time Capital brewmaster continues to move towards it goal of launching this fall. Construction at the new brewery site in Verona recently involved setting the grain silos in place, and installing the beer taps in the taproom. In late February, Nelson traveled to Michigan in a snowstorm to pick up a pilot brewing system that he'll eventually install in the new brewery for fabricating recipes. Nelson has been periodically trying out some of his recipe ideas in collaboration with the downtown Great Dane and Vintage Brewing. His third trial batch, a porter developed in the Vintage brewhouse, will be released at both locations on Tuesday, July 16.

7. Next Door Brewing, a new neighborhood nano-brewery planned at 2439 Atwood Avenue, is taking shape. Owner and brewmaster Keith Symonds hopes to open later this fall.

8. Greenview Brewing is planning to debut its gluten-free beer by early fall. Owner and brewmaster Trevor Easton has teamed up with Page Buchanan at House of Brews to co-locate his new brewery there on Madison's eastside. Greenview will function independently as its own production brewery, making one barrel batches in an enclosed and isolated area of the facility.

Heavy hitters

1. Capital Brewery has been talking about expansion for the past several years. In June the brewery announced it had reached agreement with the village of Sauk City to construct an $11 million production facility that would open in spring 2014. It will keep the Beer Stübe and beer garden in Middleton open, and use that location to produce limited-release brews.

2. Ale Asylum started introducing limited one-off brews at its new brewery. These special beers are based on favorite homebrew recipes provided by Ale Asylum brewing staff. They are not offered regularly, but rather when a brewer has time to make one. Look closely at the current tap menu to see what's unveiled. Early this year they offered a hoppy Blood Red Ale, which was was followed by their Belgian Table Beer. A new release should be on tap over the next month or so.

3. New Glarus Brewing continues extensive expansion by starting more than $11 million in projects this year. Those changes will allow the brewery to nearly double its annual production over the next few years to 250,000 barrels. On July 4, the brewery officially celebrated twenty years in business. To mark the occasion, brewmaster Dan Carey made his special 20th Anniversary Ale, a Belgian-style Dubbel. It was released in May and has already become hard to find. It's sold in single 20-ounce bottles for around $9-$10 each. It offers a robust malty sweetness with hints of plum and raisin that will only get better with age. I'm tempted to call it my beer of the year, but I'm just thinking what it will be like in another year -- or 20.


Several more new breweries for Madison are in the works with hopes of opening later this year or sometime next year. Wisconsin's beer industry is burgeoning, and the second half of 2013 looks even better as new brewers open and established businesses expand, making for an even richer selection on local shelves and taps. If that doesn't make you excited about the immediate trends in Madison's beer scene, the annual Great Taste of the Midwest returns on Saturday, August 10. It's a great time to be a Wisconsin beer fan.

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