We embarked upon our Summer Brewery Tour of Wisconsin by starting out from our home town of State College (Pennsylvania) and stopping overnight in Cleveland (Ohio), a mere 4 hour drive away, before making the 8 hour journey to our first brewery destination city of Madison.
With it being the day of the World Cup 2014 Final between Germany and Argentina we opted to call at Applebee’s (Elgin) just north of Chicago (Illinois) for a late lunch and to catch the game.
Although the game was not a goal fest it was good to watch and we enjoyed the accompanying $1.99 23oz glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon and the Won Ton Tachos before continuing the last 2 hours up to our hotel for the next two nights in West Madison. Sure PBR is not Craft Beer but there are far worse Macro beers out there and this was a bargain price per tall glass.
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company – Hilldale
After arriving in Madison late next morning we jumped into a taxi cab to take us the 5 miles to our first brewery in the nearby Hilldale area. Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company have five locations within this part of Wisconsin and our plan was to get dropped off at their Hilldale location and walk back via our other two brewery stops to the hotel… weather permitting as the 85 deg F and sunshine of Central PA had turned to gloomy skies and 60 degrees after our long drive.
We opted for the following sampler flight to start our tasting experience of WI beers (top left to bottom right in the photo). Tasting notes are included below as well as our marks out of five for the rating of each beer:
- Landmark Lite Lager (American Light Lager): light in color with a good flavor for such a light lager – 4.0*
- Verrückte Stadt German Pils: smooth and crisp – 3.5
- Peck’s Pilsner (Bohemian/Czech Pilsener): some bitterness compared to the German Pils – 3.5
- Crop Circle Wheat (Weissbier): cloudy yellow due to being unfiltered, a citrus aroma and flavor with some banana – 4.0*
- Old Glory American Pale Ale (APA): light orange in color with a citrussy aroma and flavor – 3.5
- Emerald Isle Stout (Dry Irish Stout): creamy due to being on Nitro, some coffee aroma and bitterness in the flavor – 3.5
- Imperial IPA (DIPA): floral and malty with some bitterness on the tongue – 3.0
- Saison (specialty brew): cloudy appearance and low zing with some spiciness, tasted more like a Belgian Blond than a Saison – 2.5
* denotes our favorites from the above sampler.
Note: unfortunately the alcohol content (ABV) of each beer was not available on the beer list.
Whilst at Great Dane we ordered a fantastic Sausage Platter and loved the dog-bone shaped sampler tray. We had hoped to try the Stone of Scone Scotch Ale but alas they were out of this popular beer… perhaps this was due to it being used in their beer jerky?
Vintage Brewing Company
Next up was Vintage Brewing after about half an hour’s walk, here they brew some 60 different beers each year. The toughest part by far was choosing which beers to try but after some perseverance we managed to select the following extensive flight between the three of us:
- Weiss-Blau (Weissbier – 5.3% ABV, 14 IBU’s): cloves dominated flavor – 3.0
- Scaredy Cat (Oatmeal Stout – 6.0%, 30 IBU’s): roasty and coffee with a bitter aftertaste – 3.0
- Dedication (Belgian Dubbel – 9.2% ABV, 18 IBU’s): high alcohol flavor for this style – 2.5
- Sarsaparilla Killa (Belgian Black Strong Ale – 9.8% ABV, 27 IBU’s): liquorice aroma and flavor with some maltiness at the end – 2.5
- Whippoorwill Wit (Witbier – 4.7% ABV, 11 IBU’s): the orange peel makes this beer taste more like a German Weissbier than a Belgian Witbier – 3.0
- Velouria (Peachy Belgian Wheat – 5.8% ABV, 19 IBU’s): dominant peach aroma and flavor from the fruit extract used in the brew – 3.5
- Derby Girl ESB (Extra Special Bitter – 5.8% ABV, 37 IBU’s): malty and fruity esters, a honey aroma with bitterness from the UK hops – 3.0
- Jinja Ninja (Ginger-Laced Double Amber Witbier – 7.3% ABV, 10 IBU’s): crisp, clean and refreshing with plenty of root ginger in the aroma and flavor – 4.0
- The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari (Abbey Strong Ale aged in French Cabernet wine cask – ~10% ABV): port-like aroma and flavor that is smooth and silky on the tongue – 4.5*
- Butternut Road (American Brown Ale – 6.4% ABV, 23 IBU’s): hop dominated with low maltiness – 3.0
- Summer Weiss (Weissbier on cask and dry-hopped with German Hull Melon hops): smooth and biscuity though no hop flavor detected initially but once the beer warmed up some melon flavors started to come through – 4.0
- McLovin (Irish Red Ale – 5.2% ABV, 21 IBU’s): smooth and a bit malty – 3.0
* denotes our favorite in the above flight.
In addition to their own brews Vintage Brewing also carry some guest taps which we sampled:
- Standing Stones by House of Brews (Scottish-style Ale): subtle smokiness and caramel – 3.5
- Ned Flanders Brown by Titletown Brewing Co. (Oud Brown): sweet and tart – 3.5
With a huge choice of beers and knowledgeable serving staff this is definitely a go to location for Craft Beer enthusiasts visiting Madison.
Granite City Food & Brewery – Madison
Next we moved on to Granite City Brewery which is situated at the front of a shopping mall a 30-40 minute walk away but by this time the clouds were starting to look ominous and once we got within about 200 yards of the brewery the heavens started to open so we had to make a run for it to avoid a thorough soaking!
Granite City is in 17 different states within the USA with close to 30 locations. The beers on tap comprised of some standard year-round offerings and some seasonal specials. We opted for the following to accompany a meal as it was now dinner time (top-left to bottom-right in photo):
- The Northern (American Lager – 4.5% ABV): smooth and crisp – 3.0
- The Bennie (German Bock – 5.5% ABV): roasty and a bit thin with no detectable caramel – 2.5
- The Duke (American Pale Ale – 5.2% ABV, 59 IBU’s): grapefruit aroma and flavor with some bitterness – 3.0
- Batch 1000 (English IPA – 8.0% ABV, 76 IBU’s): malty with balanced hop bitterness – 3.5*
- The Two Pull (a blend of The Northern and The Bennie – 4.5% ABV): refreshing, crisp but low flavor – 3.0
- Belgian Golden Strong: flavor dominated by honey – 2.0
- Kolsch: malty and caramel flavors – 3.5*
- Broad Axe Stout (Oatmeal Stout – 5.0% ABV): roasty and coffee aroma and flavor – 3.0
* denotes our favorites in the above sampler.
Once finished at Granite City we headed back to the hotel and called in at R.P. Adler’s Pub & Grill which is a Craft Beer bar and finished off the night with a Warped Speed Scotch Ale by Lake Louie Brewing (Strong Scotch Ale – 7.2% ABV, 19 IBU’s) and an Esser’s Best Beer which is a Munich Helles German Lager.
We hope you enjoyed our account of touring breweries in Madison, if you have any comments or questions about this article then please let us know below. Our next article will cover our visit to New Glarus Brewing…