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Friday, July 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Overcast
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FOOD AND DRINK

Brews Brothers pairs an ample tap list with big burgers
Beer-geek heaven

The loaded Kentucky Bourbon Classic comes with contrasting textures: Raw onions, crisp fried onions and smoky bacon.
The loaded Kentucky Bourbon Classic comes with contrasting textures: Raw onions, crisp fried onions and smoky bacon.
Credit:Ryan Wisniewski
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The corner bar doesn't have to look like Cheers. Heck, it doesn't even have to be on a corner. What it has to have is a welcoming vibe, staff who make an effort and at least a decent tap list. Brews Brothers has all of these things, and the big menu of burgers doesn't hurt, either.

The most obvious clientele for Brews Brothers is the office crowd, though there's plenty of residential neighborhood a block back on Old Sauk. All the big office buildings on Junction Road are bursting at the seams with people who just want to get out, have a burger for lunch, maybe grab a beer for happy hour.

Brews Brothers started in Weston -- just south of Wausau -- and opened its "Middleton" location (it may seem like Middleton, but it's technically in Madison) in December. It has a good bit of sports bar in its blood, but it's not TGI Fridays. Almost all seating is made up of high-top bar tables, not exactly ideal for those with young ones in tow. Plenty of TVs were showing NCAA basketball games during my visits.

As for that tap list, it's big, upwards of 45 taps. The list is available on the website (like the food menu, it's not updated as often as it should be, but few restaurant websites are), and during my review was relatively Wisconsin-light and hops-heavy. Bell's Hopslam, Three Floyds Alpha King, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA -- beers like this make the $3.50 happy-hour pricing awfully persuasive. Of the 16 or so local taps, I enjoyed the bite of my Karben4 Fantasy Factory as it cut through the richness of my cheeseburger.

If you aren't in the mood for a burger, you may find Brews Brothers lacking. Yes, there's a veggie patty available and, sure, a pulled pork sandwich, but the latter isn't quite good enough to stand on its own. The April special Porky's Revenge burger, topped with the pork and smoked bacon, is probably the ideal deployment.

The flaw with Brews Brothers' burgers, if anything, is that they can be bland and underseasoned at times. A Sun's Up burger came out with a decent crust of caramelization but little flavor. Even the egg was bland, though for a bar kitchen getting slammed by Badger basketball traffic, the slightly runny yolk was no small success. The lack of bacon seems like an obvious miss on a breakfasty burger; it would have added needed flavor.

Bacon is a smart addition, even when the burgers are coming out juicy and seasoned. The Kentucky Bourbon Classic was the best of the bunch, with contrasting textures of crisp fried onions and smoky bacon, smooth bourbon-infused mayo,and a blanket of melting cheddar cheese. There wasn't a lot of bourbon flavor in the mayo, but it was enough to justify the name.

A California burger comes with the usual toppings -- avocado sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion -- plus a jazzy red pepper sauce that adds some zing to balance the rich avocado. Of all the Brews Brothers' burgers, the Mushroom and Swiss is one of the few to which I could imagine adding the optional brat patty. The gravy has nicely developed flavor, and the mushrooms are cut thick and browned, but a little extra salt wouldn't hurt.

That brat patty might work on the Ragin' Cajun, too, in a sausage-and-peppers kind of way. There isn't nearly as much spice on the Cajun as you'd expect from the pepper jack cheese, but it's there, hiding under the lightly toasted bun. The lime sauce brings a welcome acidic element.

I liked the Double "B" LT, which doesn't come with extra bacon (though you could order it that way) but adds blue cheese crumbles to the mix -- another classic burger combination that Brews Brothers does right.

The fries, though amply portioned, are skippable. Shoestring fries are straight off the truck, and the thicker fresh-cut fries are brown but barely crisped. Optional seasonings add grit and little else. Go for the fresh-cut chips or, better yet, the slightly ridiculous Pub Grub -- a big basket of chips topped with bacon, green onions and a good portion of creamy beer cheese sauce. It's easily enough for four.

Brews Brothers staff, though very green, were attentive throughout and started to recognize me after several visits. They're all chatty and happy to recommend beers for those who go glassy-eyed at the big menu. Brews Brothers has a low barrier of entry for a bar that offers a lot of beer-geek pours. It's the kind of place anyone could walk into, and after a while, they might even know your name.

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