As 2012 looms, I have three wishes to begin the year. First, I wish success for new local breweries, which will undoubtedly offer unique and flavorful beers. Second, I wish for more big bottles; 22-ounce bombers are just the right size for sharing with a friend or two over a meal. For my third wish, because I enjoy finding and sampling one-offs, I hope there will be even more opportunities at our local breweries, brewpubs and taphouses to sample those special limited batches that change on every visit.
Here are a few of the brews and events to watch for in 2012.
Ale Asylum broke ground in early December for its new location on the north side of Madison. The brewery hopes to have its 45,000-square-foot brewery open by summer. This new facility will allow Ale Asylum to distribute some of its mainstays like Madtown Nutbrown and Hopalicious to more areas of the state. It will also allow brewmaster Dean Coffey to introduce new beers into the seasonal rotation. He's been planning some small specialty brews that are sure to appeal to beer scavenger hunters who seek out the limited one-time releases. When the brewery opens its new taproom, look for an Imperial Stout. Among the guaranteed seasonals in 2012, Ballistic IPA just started turning up in stores, Sticky McDoogle is planned for a February release, and Bedlam will be back in April.
Not only this Madison brewery expanding in 2012, but you will be seeing, hearing about and tasting the products of at least two new breweries in southern Wisconsin. Sweet Mullets Brewery, based in Oconomowoc, is hoping for a February opening. Brewmaster Mark Duchow is no stranger to our area. He's the former brewmaster at the Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb. He and his partner, Barbara Jones, have an ambitious goal to make nearly two dozen beers a year. To help them get off to a good start, their first couple of beers will be produced in collaboration with Scott Manning, brewmaster at Vintage in Madison.
In the Wisconsin Dells, Port Huron Brewing should be on track for a great year in 2012. Tanner Brethorst learned brewing first-hand while working part-time at Tyranena, Lake Louie and Capital breweries over the past few years. He spent much of 2011 building his own brewery in a warehouse on the city's north side. In November, he was firing up his brew kettle with test batches. While Port Huron's main market will be the Dells, I hope his beers will find their way to special tap houses in Madison.
House of Brews in Madison has ambitious plans for its first full year of brewing. After opening last September, the east-side brewery introduced a half-dozen beers through well-known venues like the Malt House and the Old Fashioned. A partial beer schedule for 2012 includes a barley wine, saison, dark farmhouse ale and an imperial pumpkin ale. Owner Page Buchanan just purchased fermenters that had been used by O'so Brewing in Plover, and he's signed with a distributor to help him keep up with demand. Buchanan is still planning to launch the community-supported brewery (CSB) side of his business, in which shareholders get a monthly supply of beer. It's hoped that CSB members will be getting beer by March.
Lake Louie Brewing added additional fermenters in its brewhouse this past year. The extra capacity will allow the brewery to extend its distribution statewide in the new year. You might say that Lake Louie beers are on the fast track; to promote his beers brewmaster and owner Tom Porter recently purchased two rail dragsters and had them painted with his brewery's logo.
Capital Brewery in Middleton gave us the first batch of Eternal Flame in 2011. This year Brewmster Kirby Nelson is thinking about how he might top that brew. He's talking about adding a special bottler that will allow him to offer 22-ounce bottled beers. One beer he is considering is a special hopped version of his fall classic, Autumnal Fire.
Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst celebrates another year in business in January. Around the brewhouse, the beer to mark the occasion is called "Fourteen-point-two," a beer aged for 14 months for the brewery's 14th anniversary. While we may not see much of it in Madison, it's a good reason to attend the brewery's birthday party on Saturday, January 28, when it'll be available in the taproom.
At the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, look for a Belgian dark ale in the weeks ahead. Collectively, the Great Dane brewers are developing a caramel weizenbock for release in 2012. You may also remember that in 2009 the downtown Great Dane and Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson teamed up to make a high-alcohol beer using only malted grains. They fell short by a few percentage points of their 17 % ABV goal. Look for another attempt at this big beer recipe in 2012. It could be 2013 before we know if Rob LoBreglio and the Great Dane team have succeeded, because it takes a long time to ferment to reach such a high level of alcohol.
The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb will expand its seasonal lineup in 2012 to include a lager. In the spring, Mark Knoebl plans to make the brewpub's first bock beer. He's also looking to go more local, increasing the use of Wisconsin-grown hops and barley.
Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee just started a new series of beers called "My Turn," that are designed by longtime brewery employees and will carry their names. The beers will be released approximately on a quarterly basis. First up in 2012 will be Brad's Scotch Ale, named for Brad Spring, the brewery's packaging supervisor. My Turn beers are available in 22-ounce bomber bottles.
Lithia Beer, a brew with ties back to 1848, was reintroduced in southern Wisconsin this past year. By next winter, the brewery hopes to bring back a holiday tradition with its Christmas Beer, a dark brew based on a historic recipe that included additions of brown sugar and molasses.
New Glarus Brewing has two of at least four Thumbprint Beers scheduled so far for 2012. This winter's Barley Wine should be on shelves now. Dan Carey chose the hop fields from where the Styrian Golding, Willamette and Columbia hops were harvested for this brew. In March, Carey will release a cherry stout in his special signature series of beers.
This will be the breakout year for O'so Brewing in Plover, which recently relocated to a new building just off Interstate 39. The facility will double production to over 5,000 barrels in 2012. Brewmaster Marc Buttera says that his India Pale Ale called Hop Whoopin' will be offered for the first time in bottles by late February. He's also planning a new summer beer called Third Wheel, as well as a fall brew called Memory Lane (part of the proceeds will be donated to Alzheimer's research). The brewery's additional capacity will allow Buttera to focus on a new monthly series of one-batch beers that will be released on draught only. He intends to make an oak-aged Belgian pale ale with rose hips and a full-bodied wee heavy.
The Potosi Brewing Company will make its Czech Style Pilsner -- which took top honors as my favorite beer of the year -- available on a year-round. It first appeared in bottles as a spring seasonal in 2011, but it'll be joining Potosi's standard offerings in 2012. Fans of Potosi might also want to watch for some special draught-only releases from Potosi, like a java stout and a Belgium abbey ale. By late next year, the brewery hopes to release a pumpkin ale in 22-ounce bottles. Potosi is also beginning a barrel-aging program that takes advantage of the caves that the original Potosi Brewery used in the 1800s.
The beers of Stevens Point Brewery are likely to be more plentiful in 2012. The brewery has hired a new brewmaster, Gabe Hopkins, a native Oklahoman, to join John Zappa in the brewhouse. It's poised for 25% growth in capacity, which will push its annual production to over 100,000 barrels.
In Lake Mills, Tyranena Brewing is planning special releases in its Brewers Gone Wild series, including the imperial rye porter named Dirty Old Man in late winter, and its HopWhore imperial IPA in late summer. Tyranena is also planning a number of special tasting room events; the one I'm really looking forward to surviving is the Armageddon Party on 12/21/12, when according to the Mayan calendar, the world will end.
Vintage Brewing Company will be offering another opportunity in 2012 to try its summer treat, Hibiscus Saison. And its 2011 silver medal-winning Wee Heavy returns this March. The west-side brewpub is planning a modest expansion; a new fermenter and bright tank will allow Scott Manning to increase production by as much as 75% in 2012. His off-recipe approach to making beer occasionally puts him in the "extreme" brewing category, well out of the mainstream. In 2012, he'll be working on a gruit, a historical version of beer that predates the use of hops. Manning jokes that he's calling it "Wisconsin Roadside Gruit" because he intends to take advantage of the flavors and aromas of local flora and fauna for its spices.