It was possibly the most hotly anticipated event during the opening weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, and for my part, I expected the Angelic Brewing reunion party to be a good night of drinking. If expectations were set at that level, I don't see how anyone could have left disappointed -- even if brewer presence felt minimal.
The Free House Pub in Middleton was where we laid our scene, and the crowd was bustling by 9 p.m., when the event was scheduled to begin.
Background: the former Angelic Brewing Company on Johnson Street did business until closing in 2008, but had stopped brewing its own beer some years prior. In 2006, with nothing much to do at Angelic, three fellows -- Dean Coffey, Otto Dilba, and Chris Riphenburg -- broke off to form Ale Asylum. Shane Welch, another former Angelic employee, had already decamped for Brooklyn, New York, and formed Sixpoint Brewery in 2004.
Friday's event was billed as a night of getting the band back together, but before it even started, Welch had ducked out due to unavoidable obligations elsewhere. Representing Sixpoint at the festivities was Jake Hay, celebrating his last day on the job as Wisconsin beer representative for the brewery.
My first beer from Sixpoint was the 3Beans imperial porter. It was a great choice. Chocolate and coffee are strong but legitimate flavors here; they don't taste like forced additions. The third bean, a Romano bean used in ancient beer recipes, gives the beer a full body. All the sweet, dark flavors were beautifully amplified on tap. All beers tend to improve on tap, but considering how good 3Beans is in cans, I didn't expect such a significant leap in the experience.
Where 3Beans is a 10% ABV beer and doesn't taste like it at all, the Sixpoint winter seasonal Diesel is only 6.3% but felt like every drop of it and more. Hay described this American stout as a hybrid stout/black IPA, and he's right; there's a roasted flavor and a lot of hops going on. Between the two, though, I'd take 3Beans every time.
And as it turned out, this was the last keg of 3Beans in the state, so it gave the pour a little bit of exclusivity.
But otherwise, the tap list was fairly straightforward. There were no truly surprising beers, and all but Harbinger (a canned variety that hasn't made it to Wisconsin yet) and Ale Asylum's Happy Ending (a brewery-only beer) are available elsewhere.
I found out that Sixpoint had hoped to do more during Craft Beer Week, but plans were scotched at all passes. One venue backed out of a discussed beer dinner, while another turned out to be impossible to book due to music conflicts. And a scheduled "hop school" event using Sixpoint's Spice of Life series of beers was abandoned after Hurricane Sandy forced a dramatic temporary shift in their production schedule.
As for Ale Asylum, I spotted only Otto Dilba in the crowd, though I admit the Free House has plenty of nooks and crannies. Suffice it to say, I didn't see the three Ale Asylum representatives moving about the crowd to the same extent that Jake Hay was. The Bedlam! Belgian IPA was excellent, juicy with citrus and lightly funky with Belgian yeasts.
Maybe I was just spoiled by other Madison Craft Beer Week events so far, in particular by the excellent brewer/rep turnout at the Cask Ale Festival at the East Side Club on Saturday. Page Buchanan (House of Brews), James Owen (3 Sheeps), and Andrew Hood (Tallgrass), as well as conversational delegates from Summit, Tyranena and Potosi, made the vibe there as beer-geeky as I hoped the Angelic reunion would have been.
A reunion party, though, is a great idea, and reinforces the depth -- both chronologically and in terms of talent -- of the Madison craft beer scene. The Free House get-together reminded me of Angelic's demise, and the importance of brewers maintaining control over their operation. It can hardly be doubted that Sixpoint and Ale Asylum have succeeded to the great degrees they have due to the experience at Angelic that they all share.