Friday, July 13, 2012

Madison, Wisconsin - trip #2

Picture found at

Last weekend, my fiance and I had the good fortune of being able to meet up with my folks for a long weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. Prior to our rendezvous, we had decided that we wanted to spend a day visiting some of the breweries around Madison, another day riding bicycles around town and lake Monona, and we would improvise our activities on Sunday (the day we were scheduled to return to Chicago). 

Our Madison weekend began on a blisteringly hot Friday that, we all agreed, was too hot to spend outside. After reaching that consensus, we opted to make our Friday our ‘beer-day’ of the vacation.

We began our beer journey by stopping at Vintage Brewing Company. After sitting in a car whose AC kicked a few minutes into the ride, it was nice to be in Vintage and its merciful AC. We took a seat in a booth, away from the bar, and decided to get two flights of their beer. The flights consisted of the following:
  • Hibiscus Saison
  • Weiss-Blau
  • Palindrome
  • Sister Golden Ale
  • Daytripper
  • Wee Heavy (silver medal winner at 2011 GABF)
  • Attaboy Amber
  • Loose Thread
  • Butternut Road
  • Rhine Heights (2012 World Beer Cup silver medal in the German-style brown ale category)
  • McLovin (2012 World Beer Cup Bronze medal winner in the Irish red ale category)
  • A cask of Jinja Ninja with tea (the type of tea escapes me at this moment)
  • I think Hop, Skip and a Jump was also included
Our group enjoyed them all, but the most popular one was the Hibiscus Saison. It had a great, red wine color that was transparent but bold. It also had an enjoyable aroma that had me thinking of bubble gum, hay, and a flower garden (probably due to the hibiscus). 

My favorite of the bunch was the Weiss-Blau. Lately I have been on a wheat beer kick and the clove and banana aromatics, and dry, sweet, and full taste of this beer really caught my attention.

On our way out I struck up a conversation with Vintage brewer Scott Manning. We talked about his brewing experience and what is going on at Vintage. I am in the process of interviewing him (via email), and I hope to make that interview a future post.
Teaser – Vintage is expanding their brewing space and they are adding a patio to allow visitors to enjoy their time at Vintage outdoors. 

After departing Vintage, we made our way to the Capital Brewing Company. While we do get their beer in Chicago, I have never visited them. This is despite having read a little bit about the brewery, their brewmaster (Kirby Nelson), and their annual bock festival. Suffice it to say, I was excited to make this trip.

The first thing that is immediately apparent when you drive into their parking lot is that Capital enjoys the combination of beer + music. I say this because they have a large bier garten that would be a great place to enjoy a beer and a concert on any given night. The bier garten has a long bar (at the back of the bier garten) that has plenty of Capital beer taps. There are also plenty of seats and a few tables to sit at, enjoy a beer, and talk with other people or enjoy whatever is happening on the garten stage. We did not see a concert on this trip, but I am envious of the people that do have the time and means to do so. 

After snapping out of my bier garten stupor, we continued into the Capital Brewing to escape the heat and to get a beer. What I was not prepared for when we entered Capital, was the hall way that was covered with awards that Capital has won of the years. I kid you not - the walls were covered with medals, plaques, pictures, certificates, and newspaper articles for and about Capital Brewing Company. It made me think I had stumbled into the room of a proud over achiever. In case you are curious, a list of the awards that Capital has won over the years can be found here

After passing through the Hallway of Awesomeness (so it shall be known to me from this moment on), we entered the Capital bier stube. Which is a lovely, 'gated' room that has a few Capital taps and a large window that allows you to look out at their copper kettle and lauter tun. 

We took a seat in the bier stube, and enjoyed samples of the following Capital beers.
  • Hop Cream
  • Weizen
  • Island Wheat
  • Maibock
  • Dark
  • Pilsner
  • Wisconsin Amber
My favorites of the lot were the pilsner and weizen. The pilsner was crisp, light, with a great, fresh hop aroma. The weizen tasted dry like the Vintage take on the style, but it also came across as a lighter version of the style than Vintage's take on the style. 

After we had a chance to try their beer, my family, fiance and I went on a tour of their facility. Our tour was filmed and will find it's way to the Capital website (or so we were told - I will share a link to the video as soon as I come across it). During the tour we learned that the Capital Brewery inhabits a building that use to be an egg processing plant, and that a few of their lagering tanks are repurposed milk vessels. My favorite part of the tour was getting to see their mash and lauter tun up close - besides being made of copper, I was excited by the opportunity to see such craftsmanship upclose.Also, copper kettles are not something I have seen often.  Now that I think about it, the only other place I have seen copper kettles is at the Summit Brewing Company

Friday evening, we made our way to Ale Asylum.  Ale Asylum resides in an industrial park near the Madison airport. It was really easy to get to, and by the time we arrived the heat was on the way out of town. 

When we entered their tap room, I immediately thought that we were in for a treat - the beer list had plenty of options to choose from, and it looked and felt like a comfy, friendly place. 

We did not arrive in time to get a spot on the 6p tour, but that's fine. By this time, we were still running low on energy due to the day's heat, but we thought some Ale Asylum beer would help with that. 

We ordered a flight of the beers they had available at that time. If memory serves, we tried the following:
  • Ambergeddon
  • Bedlam
  • Big Slick Stout
  • Gold Digger Blonde Ale
  • Hatha-Weizen
  • Hopalicious
  • Mad Town Nut Brown
  • The eighth beer was either their Ballistic IPA or the Sticky McDoogle
Of the beers we tried, the ones that had the strongest flavors were the hoppiest beers (Bedlam and Hopalicious), otherwise, the beers were watered down to the point that they were all bland. There is not much more I can say about them. 

At the time of our visit, were learned that Ale Asylum is the process of moving/expanding to a different location that is closer to the airport. I am not sure how much larger their new space is, but they will have space for 50 people per tour instead of the current 15 per people maximum. Regardless of what my family and I thought of the beer we tried when we visited, they must be doing something right. For all I know, we caught them on a bad night.

Anyway, we left Ale Asylum and chose to make a stop at a bar called The Malt House. We were quite glad we did. They have a great outdoor seating area and their indoor seating is quite comfortable. The Malt House is billed as the oldest bar in Madison (according to their website), and it did look old (but cared for) but it had a great tap list (and an extensive bottle list). My parents, fiance and I enjoyed a Tyranena Scurvy IPA, Titletown Dark Helmet, Central Waters bourbon barrel stout, and one more that escapes me at this moment. All were enjoyable and we agreed that stopping at the Malt House was a great idea. 

All things considered, we had a really great (beer) day in Madison. The next time we are in town, hopefully we can visit some of the breweries that lie outside of Madison such as New Glarus, Tyranena and the Grumpy Troll.  Eventually, I would like to also visit Central Waters and O'so. Hell, taking a few weeks to tour WIsconsin's breweries sounds like a great idea.

What are your favorite Wisconsin breweries? What are your favorite Wisconsin beer festivals?

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