The fourth annual Madison Craft Beer Week officially runs over May 2-11 -- if you're counting, that's actually 10 days. The celebration is all things to the beer enthusiast, with special tappings, unique beer and food pairings, beer dinners, educational programs and personal appearances by many local brewers at numerous Madison area restaurants and taverns.
With over 350 events that are planned across the 10 days, there's almost too much to choose from. Just scan the Madison Craft Beer Week guide, and it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed.
For me, the decision of which events to attend is often based on the beers that are intended to be served, with an emphasis on finding new ones I've not tried before. There are plenty of limited releases planned for the week, including a sextet of special brews for Tex Tubb's, and another series of beers created in collaborations amongst local breweries and taverns.
Here's my list of what not-to-pass-up, with a focus on rare brews, unique beer-food pairings, and special events that feature brewmaster appearances. While there's no way I'll get to all of these, it's a good starting point for making the most of a problem caused by too many good options.
Friday, May 2
- Common Thread: Madison Craft Beer Week opens with the debut of Common Thread 2014, the third annual collaborative beer made for the celebration. The project features the participation of many Madison-area brewers, with dozens gathering at Wisconsin Brewing Company for the brew day on March 15. This year's edition is a Bohemian pilsner -- this limited release will be served at breweries and brewpubs throughout the region over the course of the week.
- Karben4 release party: Ryan Koga, brewmaster at Karben4 Brewing, releases his new seasonal IPA called Horse Face. This hoppy wheat beer features the bitterness of Simcoe and Chinook hops. It finishes around 5.3% ABV and nearly 60 IBUs. It's intended to be a lighter and more seasonal IPA for summer. Released in this all-day party at Karben4 Brewing, it will be Koga's first wheat ale since the brewery opened nearly a year-and-a-half ago. "Horse Face" is a reference to the nickname of a good friend, so it better be a good payback.
- Lake Louie meet and greet: This Arena-based brewery is mixing line-up of beers in 2014 and introducing several new products. Tom Porter, owner and brewmaster of Lake Louie Brewing will be at the Argus Bar Grille at 6 p.m. to talk about changes and unveil at least two new beers for Lake Louie fans. Look for Bunny Green Toe, which borders on an imperial IPA with its Magnum, Columbus and Amarillo hops. The beer gets its name from the wife of The Big Lebowski. Porter will also be pouring Maple Surple, a classic brown ale made with maple syrup. It's name is inspired by a line in the Roger Miller song "Dang Me" that states, "Roses are red and violets are purple, you are sweeter than Maple Surple."
Saturday, May 3
- Madison Craft Beer Week kick-off celebration and Cask Ale Festival: The ten-day week officially opens in grand style with a party at the East Side Club, starting at 1 p.m. Beers from over 15 different breweries will be served. Tickets are available online, and run $30 in advance and $40 at the door.
- There are several Kentucky Derby themed events that pay tribute to the 140th running of the horse race. Several look to be going the extra mile for the big day. A bourbon barrel party at Jordan's Big Ten Pub begins at 11 a.m., and features Founders KBS. A party at the Great Dane-Fitchburg likewise starts at 11 a.m., and includes Kentucky-style Hot Brown sandwiches on its menu. The Talk Derby To Me! party at Gray's Tied House in Verona offers the second annual "Fancy Hat Contest," and gets underway at 1 p.m.
- Door County Brewing release party: Beers from Door County Brewing, based in Bailey's Harbor, have been turning up in Madison since last fall. Merchant is hosting a party that will feature two new Door County beers. Starting at 3 p.m., the event will offer the first local tasting of a Belgian-style saison named Pastora and a rye saison called Biere de Siengel.
Sunday, May 4
- UW-Madison Brewing and Beer Styles Short Course: The UW's Department of Food Science is offering a short course on beers. Running 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., the program will cover information about how brewers select ingredients and adjust their brewing techniques. Wisconsin Brewing Company brewmaster Kirby Nelson and MillerCoors quality manager Suzanne Thompson will lead a sensory analysis of beers and beer styles. Tickets are $50 per person and are available online.
- Minnesconsin: Karben4 and Summit Brewing of St. Paul, Minnesota, have teamed up to make what is likely to be one of the most interesting hoppy beers of Madison Craft Beer Week. MACCC Daddy, a red IPA, will be released in a launch party at Merchant, starting at 9 p.m. The beer gets its name from the hops that go into it, which are Mosaic, Amarillo, Citra, Centennial and Chinook. Karben4 brewmaster Ryan Koga traveled to Minnesota to work up the recipe, and Summit brewer Mike Lundell came to Madison in early April to make the beer in the Karben4 brewhouse. This is a limited 15-barrel batch, and will be available in the days and weeks ahead at just a handful of local tap houses around Madison that pre-purchased kegs.
Monday, May 5
- Milwaukee Brewing Company Mini Taps Take-Over: At this party, which starts at 6 p.m., Milwaukee Brewing Company is serving of its rarest brews that are hardly ever found outside its home turf. Its imperial Schwartzbeer named Dark Matter and the barrel-aged version called Anti Matter will be among the offerings at Brickhouse BBQ. These beers have only been on tap so far, but the brewery is planning to introduce them in 750 mL bottles later this year.
- Hydro Street at Eddie's: Take a little detour away from the standard Madison beer bars and visit Eddie's Alehouse in Sun Prairie at 7:30 p.m. Hydro Street Brewing brewmaster Aaron Adams will be on hand with a special batch of his Seven Sisters Scotch Ale that's been aged in apple brandy barrels.
Tuesday, May 6
- Barrel-Aged Beers: Starting at 4 p.m., One Barrel Brewing will roll out five different barrel-aged beers over the course of the evening. They are: an Old Sugar Distillery whisky barrel stout, the brewery's #2 Strong Ale aged in a Burgundy barrel, a fruited porter, a Lambic-style beer, and a barley wine.
- "Firkin Frenemies" Real Ale Throw Down: Two brewpubs, Green Bay's Titletown Brewing and Madison's Vintage Brewing, stand toe-to-toe (or rather pint-to-pint) for a battle of real ales. Brewmasters Dave Oldenburg of Titletown and Scott Manning of Vintage will be on hand to discuss their special offerings of cask ales in a competition they call "Firkin Frenemies." The showdown starts at 5 p.m. at Vintage Brewing.
- Sour Hour: Fans of sour beer might want to put the Mason Lounge on their must-stop list. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., at least six sours will be tapped. Then at 9 p.m. the weekly jazz jam begins.
- Wisconsin Craft Brewers Forum: Get the real story about life as a brewmaster! The Sett will host a panel discussion that features Tanner Brethorst of Port Huron Brewing, Page Buchanan of House of Brews, Anello Mollica of Central Waters Brewing, and Tom Porter of Lake Louie Brewing. The forum starts at 6 p.m., and admission is $10. The Sett will also have up to 24 beers on tap.
Wednesday, May 7
- Tyranena Tap Takeover and Food Fusion: Food and beer specials will be on the menu all day at Jordan's Big Ten Pub, with Tyranena Brewing beers served on a half-dozen taps. Among them will be a limited release Black IPA created by assistant brewer Andrea McHenry.
- Dance at Natt Spil: A collaboration brew between Next Door Brewing and Karben4 will be unveiled at Natt Spil beginning at 7 p.m.. A session pale ale, the beer will be a hophead's dreamsicle because it's drenched in orangey Mandarina hops.
- Furthermore Tap Takeover: Viking Afternoon is the newest beer from Furthermore Beer, and will be served at Chico's Villa Tap starting at 7 p.m. It's a light-bodied IPA that's made with Simcoe hops and cherrywood smoked malts. The beer is hoppy, and dry with a hint of smokiness in the finish.
Thursday, May 8
- All Tanked Up: See one of the newest production breweries in the state as Wisconsin Brewing Company christens its new fermentation tanks. Starting at 4 p.m., the Verona brewery will offer tours and serve pints of its newest beer, Big Sweet Life.
- Barrigón Barril Café Beer Release Party: One in a series of six collaborative beers made for Tex Tubb's, Barrigón Barril Café is an imperial brown coffee ale made by One Barrel Brewing. The beer will be released at 6 p.m. at One Barrel, and the first 100 customers to purchase it will receive a free collectible pint glass. From 7-9 p.m., the brewery will host a four-course beer dinner; tickets are $50.
Friday, May 9
- Friday with O'so and Central Waters: Central Wisconsin breweries O'so Brewing of Plover and Central Waters Brewing of Amherst are in town to participate in several events during Madison Craft Beer Week. Among the largest of those is an all-day affair as the two team up to take over the taps at Dexter's Pub.
- Sweet Mullets Tap Takeover: The Oconomowoc-based Sweet Mullets Brewing will take over the taps at One Barrel Brewing, starting at 3:30 p.m. Brewmaster Mark Duchow will serve a range of his beers, including Rye Bob and Jorge Jalapeño.
- Capital Tap Haus will serve a pear-infused Kölsch-style beer created by Capital Brewery brewmaster Brian Destree. The special tapping begins at 4 p.m., and will be followed shortly thereafter by the restaurant's Brewmaster for a Day contest.
- Dave's BrewFarm Tap Takeover: David Anderson, brewmaster at Dave's BrewFarm, always blows into town with creative beers from his wind-powered brewery that's located in Wilson, Wisconsin. Starting at 5:30 p.m., Barriques-Monroe Street will host a tasting with Anderson that will feature eight beers, including several that are usually only on offer for those visiting the brewery. Among these limited releases are Mocha Diablo, which is a big 9.1% ABV stout made with ancho, cayenne and paprika peppers, and Breakfast Lager, which is made with Grape Nuts cereal in the mash and finishes at 8% ABV. Other BrewFarm beers to look forward to include Sweet Tart, Black Sour, BrewFarm Funk #4, Azacca Single Hop Lager, and Sassy Saison.
- Busting Out: Mike Wilson of Lucette Brewing will be on hand at the Malt House for an evening of tasting, beginning at 6 p.m. The menu will include Hips Don't Lie (Bavarian Weissbier), The Farmer's Daughter (spiced blonde ale), Ride Again (American pale ale), Slow Hand (American tout), Shining Dawn (Belgian golden), and Double Dawn (Belgian imperial golden).
Saturday, May 10
- Learn How to Grow Your Own Hops: Rich Joseph, owner of The Hop Garden in Belleville, recently started making his own line of beers in collaboration with the House of Brews in Madison. He will host two workshops about growing hops, one at 10:30 a.m. and another at 12:30 p.m.
- Sour Saturday: It will be sour all-day-long at the Malt House as its menu focuses on complex and tart beers, including Flemish reds and the Berliner Weisse.
- Big Barrel Tararrel: It wouldn't be the final Saturday of Madison Craft Beer Week if Scott Manning didn't hold his annual barrel-themed festival at Vintage Brewing Company. The celebration offers an assortment of barrel-aged and sour beers. Tasting begins at 1 p.m., and special sample charges will apply.
- Grumpy Troll Challenge: This annual homebrew competition returns to the Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb. Two winners will get to make their creations at the brewpub and have them served on tap.
Sunday, May 11
- What better way to finish Madison Craft Beer Week than going out to brunch on Mother's Day? A number of local breweries and beer bars will make it easy to say thanks to mom with food and good beer. New Glarus Brewing takes over taps and hosts brunch at the Come Back In. At all locations of the Great Dane, mom can enjoy brunch and a free pint (or Mimosa). Gray's Tied House in Verona will likewise serve moms free beer with their brunch. Crispin and Ace ciders will be featured with the brunch at jacs. Just a few blocks away, Brocach-Monroe Street will serve five Crispin cider varieties and accompanying cocktails with its brunch. The meal is being called pop-up drunch at One Barrel, which is serving a Tex-Mex menu provided by its neighbors at Tex Tubb's. Finally, pairing will be the focus of the beer brunch hosted by Next Door Brewing.
The complete schedule for Madison Craft Beer Week 2014 is available in an event guide, which provides additional details about these and many more events over ten days of toasts.