This last year saw a series of openings and expansions among Wisconsin breweries, from the smallest brewpubs to the largest, 100,000 barrel-plus operations. While more growth will continue in 2013, the beer year ahead will be more about breweries staking out shelf space in an increasingly competitive market. More specifically, one growing trend might make 2013 the "year of the bomber."
A growing number of breweries around Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin are planning to introduce or expand their offerings in the form of single 22-ounce bottles. These "bomber bottles" are great for sharing with a few friends, similar to wine, and offer a good way to try new styles of brews, because in many cases they're less expensive than a six-pack. These bottles are also a useful way for brewers to introduce new products, letting them see if there is interest in a brand before investing in major packaging.
This development is a welcome sign of both growth and willingness to take risks, as the state's brewing culture continues to involve.
Here is a look at some upcoming beer releases and brewing developments to watch for in 2013, with a focus on breweries in Madison and around the surrounding region.
Ale Asylum of Madison
One of the biggest Wisconsin brewing developments of 2012 was the move and massive expansion of Ale Asylum into a new facility on Madison's north side. By December, the brewery had settled into this new location and already achieved its goal of statewide distribution for select brands. Don't expect changes in the core Ale Asylum brews, though. Beers like Mercy and Hatha-Weizen, which were temporarily shelved in 2012 because of the move, will return in 2013. Even the brewery's lighter-bodied blonde ale, Gold Digger, is being reconsidered for bottles. With this expanded space, co-owner Otto Dilba says the brewery will look at how it holds special release parties for its seasonal products. The releases of beers like Bedlam and Ballistic may become popular beer events like Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, and Darkness Day at Surly Brewing in the Twin Cities.
The best news of all for Ale Asylum fans is that 2013 will see more special releases, and some may find their way into 22-ounce bottles. Co-owner Dean Coffey is encouraging his brewers to take some of their best homebrew recipes, ramp them up in 15-barrel batches, and make them available in the taproom. He's working on a recipe for a Russian Imperial Stout that will likely age for more than a year before being released.
Capital Brewery of Middleton
Capital Brewery will likely scale back the number of beers in its Capital Square four-pack releases to just Blonde Doppelbock and Autumnal Fire, and change its presentation of limited releases to focus on 22-ounce bombers. You can expect a half-dozen big bottle beers, with a new release appearing roughly every other month. Jacked Maibock will appear in bombers in in January. Brian Destree, who heads the brewery operations, said he would like to "make a beer that puts the hops forward." Could that mean a hop bomb in a bomber?
The Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb
Brewmaster Mark Knoebl plans to bottle his Hopa Loppa IPA, Sunflower (saison), and Troll Fest (amber lager) in 22-ounce bombers in 2013. Meanwhile, he is creating some buzz among Grumpy Troll fans with talk of a new pale ale named Thunderbolt, which he is making to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the rock band AC/DC. Grumpy Troll will also continue working with local homebrew winners of the Grumpy Troll Challenge to release their creations on tap. The 2013 competition is scheduled for Saturday, May 11.
House of Brews of Madison
Page Buchanan's small east-side brewery keeps growing. As owner and brewmaster of House of Brews, his goal in the year ahead is to set up a six-vessel system he purchased from a former brew-your-own shop, which will allow him to make a half-dozen batches during a single brew session. That means more small, limited-release beers in the taproom, along with custom brews for select bars and restaurants. He's also planning to release a few beers in 22-ounce bombers. One of my wishes for 2013 is that Buchanan will find a way to make more Snug. This bourbon-barrel-aged oatmeal stout is wonderfully smooth, with maltiness and sweet bourbon and oak flavors. It's only been sporadically available in the taproom and to the brewery's Community Supported Brewery subscribers.
Great Dane Pub and Brewing of Madison
The Great Dane debuted its Un-Leashed series of bomber bottles last summer with its Imperial Red Ale, and plans to release six to eight more brews in 2013. Jolly Old Scratch, a black barley wine, just started appearing on local shelves. Next up will be a Belgian dubbel called Double Double. A tap version has been available throughout December at the Great Dane-Hilldale. Owner and brewmaster Rob LoBreglio is developing a recipe for what he calls a "super saison." He's planning a limited release first to see how well it turns out, after which it's likely to appear in bombers, probably by summer. LoBreglio hints that he and Kirby Nelson, who left the brewmaster job at Capital Brewery in September to start up Wisconsin Brewing in Verona, may collaborate on a few beers in the months ahead.
Karben4 Brewing of Madison
After getting ready for its soft opening the last weekend in December, Madison's newest brewery, Karben4 is set for a grand opening in January. The brewery takes over the north side space previously occupied by Ale Asylum. Several of the beers slated for release include an amber ale, an American Pale ale made with rye malt, an Irish red, and rotating IPAs. In addition to appearing in the brewery's taproom, Karben4 beers will turn up in local tap houses. Bottling isn't likely to start until late 2013.
Lake Louie Brewing of Arena
Lake Louie owner and brewmaster Tom Porter says he's taking a close look at all of his recipes to see where he can use more locally grown and processed ingredients. One recipe tweak he is considering is for Tommy's Porter, with the plan to make it richer, darker and slightly higher in alcohol content. Porter also says he intends to offer two new beers in 2013. He won't provide details, but hints that apricot will be an ingredient in one of them. Lake Louie is also installing additional fermenters to allow for a nearly 30% expansion in its capacity.
New Glarus Brewing of New Glarus
2013 marks the 20th anniversary year for New Glarus, and so the brewery's fans can expect lots of great things from owners Dan and Deb Carey. Dan is planning a special beer to mark the occasion. He's still working on the recipe, and describes it in general terms as being similar to a Belgian strong ale, and as a beer that can be aged. And up next in the Thumb Print series will be a bottled-conditioned Winter Warmer in the tradition of a strong barley wine.
Expansion continues at both the Hilltop and Riverside brewing facilities. Visitors to the newer Hilltop will notice changes to the gift shop and tasting room courtyard. Not quite as visible to the public, New Glarus is well into building a new cellar and storage space that will support a doubling in its production capacity.
There will also be changes at the older Riverside location, big news for fans of New Glarus fruit beers, as this is where Wisconsin Belgian Red, Raspberry Tart, and Serendipity are made. Carey's daughter Katherine, who works for Potter Lawson of Madison, is directly involved in the design process for the facility's new fruit beer cellar. Construction isn't expected to be complete until next fall. However, just before this Christmas, Dan ordered 11 large wooden oak tanks from a winery in France, which will be shipped to New Glarus and installed in this new cellar. It all means more and new fruit beers from New Glarus by 2014.
Carey says he's also making recipe changes for several of his beers to use more local ingredients. The brewery's number-one seller, Spotted Cow, is now made with a minimum of 5% Wisconsin-grown hops and barley. And 2013 will be the first year in which Carey will grow his own hops. He's using a pole-and-trellis system, and has plans to use the brewery's treated waste water for irrigation.
One Barrel Brewing of Madison
One Barrel owner and brewmaster Peter Gentry learned a lot about supply and demand as he worked to keep up with the thirst of his patrons. After opening last July, he quickly discovered that one barrel of beer doesn't go very far when the bar is full. For 2013, Gentry says he has figured out how to keep at least six house brews on tap most of the time, and he is looking into more fermentation capacity. Over the year ahead, he plans to make an imperial coffee stout while the weather is cool, and then a cream ale come spring.
Vintage Brewing of Madison
In early 2013, brewmaster Scott Manning will be releasing an English dark mild and his annual edition of "Snowflake," no two versions of which are the same. That's because he takes advantage of leftover malts and hops from the previous year of brewing. This year, Snowflake is likely to be a rye bock.
Manning also wants to offer more barrel-aged and sour beers in the year ahead. One of his goals will be to host "Big Barrel Tarrerel," a mini beer fest during Madison Craft Beer Week, which is likely sometime in May. He is known for his unique beers, some of which are re-creations of historical and obscure brews. He is in the process of thinking through a recipe for a nettle beer in time for summer. Popular in Europe a century ago ,nettle beers are light, mildly alcoholic, and usually spiced.
Wisconsin Brewing of Verona
A brand new major local brewery is getting ready to make its debut in 2013. Carl Nolen, former president of Capital Brewery, has teamed up with well-known brewmaster Kirby Nelson to form this new venture, simply named the Wisconsin Brewing Company. Nelson reports that a new 80-barrel brewhaus has been ordered and is expected for delivery in late summer, which means Wisconsin Brewing beers probably won't be out until fall. In the meantime, between placing equipment orders and brewery construction, Nelson is homebrewing and trying out recipes.