Seems not that long ago that Ale Asylum was heating up its brew kettle for the first time. Now the east-side brewery is about to mark its third anniversary, and it has exceeded expectations on many brewing fronts.
The beers from brewmaster Dean Coffey and head brewer Chris Riphenburg have quickly become cornerstones of Madison's reputation as a refuge for craft beer drinkers. The assertive American pale ale called Hopalicious has captured the fancy of local bitter beer enthusiasts. Now Coffey and Riphenburg are introducing a new beer with even more of an edgy bite: Ballistic, an American version of the India Pale Ale.
Ballistic is the brewery's second new beer in the past four months. Ale Asylum also offers four beers in bottles year-round: Madtown Nut Brown, Contorter Porter, Ambergeddon Amber Ale and Hopalicious. In the brewery's taproom, you'll find another half-dozen beers. Ballistic joins the brewery's limited seasonal releases: Mercy, a Belgian Grand Cru (November); Tripel Nova, a Belgian-style Tripel (summer); Sticky McDoogle, a Scotch Ale (late summer); and Diablo, a Belgian-style dubbel (fall).
Ale Asylum opened in May 2006 after Riphenburg, Coffey and Otto Dilba split from the now-defunct Angelic Brewing Company. The three partnered with several local home-brewers as investors to start Ale Asylum. "We met third-year business plan expectations by the end of our first year," says Dilba, the brewery's marketing manager. During Ale Asylum's first year, it made about 800 barrels of beer (a barrel of beer is approximately 31.5 gallons); it made 3,800 barrels in 2008. Ale Asylum currently employs about a dozen staff, including five full-time brewers.
A third wave of significant equipment expansion is now under way, with two new 40-barrel fermentation tanks to arrive in April. If trends continue, Ale Asylum could produce nearly 5,500 barrels of beer this year.
New Glarus and Capital Breweries have also expanded significantly in the past 18 months, with New Glarus opening a new $21 million brewery in its namesake village.
Expanded capacity will allow Ale Asylum to keep its regular beers on store shelves and also premium seasonals like last fall's Mercy. Ballistic just appeared in the brewery's taproom and on local store shelves last week. Coffey has made about 600 cases and hopes it'll stay around for a couple of months. It sells for about $10 per six-pack.
Ballistic is made with U.S.-grown Amarillo hops that provide lots of floral and citrus qualities to its flavor profile. "I wanted an India Pale Ale that showcased hops, but with a complex malty balance," says Coffey.
Timing may have something to do with Ale Asylum's success. No, it's not that people are drowning their sorrows in a glass of beer. Recent changes in state law now require a beer-maker to declare if it is a brewery or brewpub from its conception. Coffey feels that had the law been on the books when they started in 2006, it would have stopped Ale Asylum from the beginning. "Being able to have our taproom to generate the financial means allowed us to expand as quickly as we have," says Dilba. Other possible changes in federal and state beer taxes make them both nervous.
But in looking ahead to the next three years, the Ale Asylum owners are optimistic. "We want to stay on the east side, even if we grow out of this space," says Dilba. If that happens, Dilba and Coffey hope to own their own land and building.
Vincere Vel Mori is Ale Asylum's motto, which Dilba translates roughly as "To Victory or To Death." To victory, then.