The past year offered many flavorful memories from brewers around southern Wisconsin. It was a year of imaginative new beers, such as Bedlam from Ale Asylum, Abt from New Glarus, Hopperbollic from Furthermore, and Down 'N and Dirty from Tyranena. New breweries also blew into town, including the wind-powered operation from Wilson known as Dave's BrewFarm, or old friends that reappeared on local shelves, like Hinterland Brewery of Green Bay. It was also a great year for new places to enjoy brewpubs -- Vintage Brewing brought beer back to Whitney Way, while the Great Dane Pub and Brewery opened its fifth outlet on the east side!
Here are few of best brews of 2010.
Most surprising and memorable find of the year
Named after the legendary north wind in Spain that's so strong it's famed for killing goats, Matacabras is an assertive amber ale made with Belgian yeast, rye malt, brown sugar and three different hops. Dave's BrewFarm was established in 2009, but really wasn't seen in the Madison area until 2010.
Biggest beer with flavor, not just high alcohol
Capital Brewery hadn't made this beer since 2002, but it turned up in early summer, and can still be found in limited amounts. The beer has the disposition of a crisp summer hefeweizen, yet also has the laid-back malty nature of a late winter doppelbock with its 8% ABV.
This new brew made with locally grown hops was introduced by the Spring Green-based beer company this fall. An India Pale Ale, it has a distinctive dry bitterness with a citrusy, hoppy aroma. It deserves a little extra attention for its 100% Wisconsin hops.
Well worth the drive
A very flavorful red ale with a hoppy bite, this goes really well with a brat during a Brewers Game at Miller Park. Fixed Gear is sold in 22-ounce bomber bottles at the park's first base side's concessionaires.
Devil's Delight from the Grumpy Troll
A Belgian Golden Strong Ale, this delight served in summer 2010 was based on the 2009 homebrew recipe of Tony Jacques. The Mount Horeb brewpub holds an annual homebrew competition in collaboration with the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Three winners are selected, each of whom get to brew a large-scale batch that goes on tap at the Grumpy Troll for tap-to-tap competition. In mid-January 2011, the winning brews of the 2010 competition will go on tap; they include a breakfast brown ale with coffee, a saison made with rye malt, and an American brown ale.
Best of the seasonal brews
This robust porter is made with juniper berries that give it a piney evergreen character. Winterland was a special treat in 2010, because it hadn't appeared in Madison for over seven years.
Spring: Weiss-Blau from Vintage Brewing Company
This Bavarian-style wheat beer is unfiltered, light golden and effervescent, with great fruity and a spicy aroma with hints of banana and clove. Actually, it's a beer that can be found on tap just about any time at the west side brewpub.
A beer with a crisp fruity edge and a distinctive dry finish, this saison appeared in six-packs in May and June. Brewmaster Marc Buttera made Picnic Ants with the same strain of yeast used by the Dupont Brasserie in Belgium in the popular import Saison Dupont.
Brewmaster Dan Carey last made this beer in 2008, but he brought it back as a special release just in time for the fall season. It's made with apples from the 2010 fall harvest at Kickapoo Orchard of Gays Mills. A brown ale with a firm malty base and a strong cider flavor from the apples, this brew is a special treat for hard cider fans and beer enthusiasts alike.
Best beer for a nightcap
Brewmaster Rob Larson made this double stout with lots of chocolate malt along with additions of cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. It was released in four-packs in October, but it had aged for eight months in bourbon barrels and finished at 7.5% ABV. It's best enjoyed in a snifter in front of fire. This beer is based on the brewery's slightly lighter version that comes out in late winter with the similar name -- Down 'N Dirty.
Reliable old friend
This is just a great beer to look forward to every year. Capital Oktoberfest has won more than 10 awards and medals, the most recent a "gold" from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2009. When forced to pick a favorite, this is always high on the list of those to anticipate each year.
Best new beer venue of 2010
This was a difficult call with several great beer spots opening in the past year, including a new Great Dane on the far east side, the Capital Tap Haus on State Street, and an expansion at the Old Fashioned. But the nod goes to Vintage Brewing, which took over the space formerly occupied by JT Whitney's. Vintage opened in January, and brewmaster Scott Manning made his first brews in February. Since then, Vintage has become a haven for west side beer fans, who will find about a dozen beers brewed on-side, including several rotating cask conditioned brews. Vintage goes above and beyond by offering many other taps dedicated to Wisconsin craft beers.
Best beer of 2010: Honorable mention
One of the most anticipated new beers of the year, this strong Belgian Dubbel lived up to expectations when it hit store shelves in August. Abt offered a smooth, spicy character, alcoholic warmth and a finish of mild sweet cherry. Its name reflects what Flemish monks made as a tribute to their monastery abbot or head monk.
Best beer of 2010
Ale Asylum created a little bedlam on the local beer scene back in April when it released its beer bearing that name. At its heart, it's a Trappist-style beer layered with the hoppiness of an India pale ale. The vivid orange color, malty underpinnings and hoppy dryness create a complexity to the flavor and certain swagger (the beer's original name) to its overall personality.