For visitors to Madison, whether they're parents of UW students or in town on business, the Memorial Union Terrace is an essential stop: Lake Mendota, boats, ice cream, brats and beer, with perhaps some live music and a beautiful sunset to boot. It's not hard to understand why the place is so iconic -- a summer evening at the Terrace seems to sum up Madison's vital essence.
The first phase of the Memorial Union Reinvestment project, which launched two years ago and was completed this summer, focused on an updated Wisconsin Union Theater, a new Hoofers space, and other improvements to the west wing of the building. Among these changes are renovations to Der Stiftskeller and Terrace intended to deepen the Union's long-famed reputation as a setting (complete with historic murals) for students, staff and guests alike to toast their good fortune over beer.
Der Stifskeller offers two dozen beers on tap, of which more than half are usually from Wisconsin. Staples like Spotted Cow and Hopalicious are typically available, as are other selections from the likes of Central Waters, Karben4, Lakefront, Lake Louie and Potosi. Neighboring states' brews like Bell's and Goose Island are also usually on the menu, and popular imports (Stella, Franziskaner and Spaten Optimator) supplement the craft offerings.
"We're pretty proud of the beer list we're putting together," says Jim Long, restaurant director at the Wisconsin Union. The expanded selection is a reflection of the blossoming interest craft beer. "Really, it's what the customers want," Long explains. "We've been seeing a change in the last five or ten years where the majority of beer drinkers, who used to be light beer and macro drinkers, started to want a better selection of beers. There's been an explosion of local breweries -- we felt we needed to start to represent that."
The sales pattern at the campus venue was consistent with broader beer trends. "We saw the light beer category go down as the craft selection went up," explains Long, with New Glarus and Ale Asylum leading the way alongside regional standouts like Great Lakes Brewing. And the renovation project for Memorial Union presented an opportunity to develop a more serious beer program to meet that demand. "With the remodels, we realized we needed to build the capacity to be able to do more craft beer," he says.
Long is encouraged by the response to the Union's growing focus on craft brews. "We've felt that we're starting to get the attention of beer geeks," he declares.
Most exciting for that crowd is this summer's addition of the caddy -- a mobile tap-peddling trailer with eight taps that focuses primarily on serving Wisconsin breweries, providing a craft-centric point of sale away from the brat and burger lines.
"That caddy has more of the uncommon selections -- breweries we don't necessarily have in normal rotation," says Long. Its taps are rotated every three to four weeks, which means nearly 50 different beers can be served over the summer.
The Union is serving more craft beer styles and limited releases on draught indoors, as well, both at Der Stiftskeller and the Sett over at Union South.
"We're such a good spot to come down and have a great time, and the craft beer fits really well into that atmosphere," says Long. "Wisconsin Brewing and Karben4, for example, are both going very strong, and we're happy to be on the forefront of serving these new breweries."
Long is confident in the Union's increased commitment to serving craft beer, and doesn't think that there's a bubble threatening to burst anytime soon. "We're not even at the peak yet industry-wise," he says. "Every time I think we have such a trademark for craft beer, another great brewery opens up."