Checking Out the Local Food and Drink Scene
Jan 9, 2013
12:44 PM
The Chow Down

New Brew at Karben4

New Brew at Karben4

Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t, but there’s a new brewery in town.

Karben4, led by hometown pals Ryan Koga, Zak Koga, Alex Evans and Tom Kowalke, took over Ale Asylum’s old space on Kinsman Boulevard in fall of 2012, and, after extensive renovations to the taproom space and almost three months of hundred-hour workweeks, the brewery is now open. December 28 marked the first of a series of weekend release parties, all leading up to its grand opening next Saturday, January 19.

Karben4 has already seen success in the dozen or so days it’s been open. The first release party in December was packed—filled with friends and family but also community members who were genuinely excited to see what this new crew was all about.

And for the social media buffs out there, know that Karben4 had more than 1,000 “likes” on its Facebook page before it even opened. This is from a business that doesn’t really advertise much yet, whose brewmaster, Ryan, the older of the Koga brothers, had no former Madison following (he was at a brewery out in Montana) and is situated outside of the mecca of food and drink—the isthmus—straddling the north and east sides of town.

Still, Karben4 has managed to grow its support base, and with unique and delicious beers, an excellent and expanding food menu from Underground Food Collective and an urban avant-garde aesthetic, the brewery is poised to win over even more fans.

The Karben4 quartet, who met growing up in Appleton, is genuinely interested in serving the community and making the taproom a destination for good beer.

Brewmaster Koga says he understands that people have a lot of choices for where they go to have a drink, and he takes it very seriously that patrons choose Karben4. They have an obligation, he says, to make every customer’s trip to the brewery worthwhile, but also provide a fun and interesting atmosphere.

“I take the beer very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously,” he says.

Evans, who, with Zak Koga, heads up the business side of Karben4, agrees. “We don’t take it lightly … the choice for people to come in here and have a beer.”

With their humble attitude and ambitious plans for 2013 (1,000 barrels by year’s end), these guys are breathing new life into Madison’s craft beer scene. They aren’t trying to rehash what’s been done. They’re creating something new, something they hope will fill a hole in the local beer market that people might not have even known existed, according to Koga.

So what’s different about them? To start, the beer. It’s malt-centric (“I’m a malt-bomb specialist,” jokes Koga), as opposed to the heavily hopped brews you’ll find elsewhere. Of their five flagship beers, an IPA isn’t one of them, although the rotating seasonal brew will always be a variation of the IPA. You will, however, find a delicious smoked porter, an APA, a session ale (which they’ll use to “convert” non craft-drinkers, says Koga), an Irish red and an amber ale.

But all these varietals have some twist or unique ingredient that is meant to provide something new, even to the most experienced of beer enthusiasts. The APA, for example, is rye-based, which Koga says isn’t as common as a rye-based IPA.

Beyond the beer, Karben4 is doing something different with the overall look and feel of the place. From the original artwork in the taproom to represent each of its beers (painted by Kowalke, the brewery’s own creative director) to the signature color scheme of grays and neon green, these guys have a clear vision for who they are.

“We’re looking to provide as much of an experience outside the bottle as inside the bottle,” Evans says.

To check out Karben4 for yourself, head to the brewery this Friday, January 11, for the release party for its session ale, UnderCover. Don’t forget your mustache.

Karben4 Brewery
3698 Kinsman Blvd.

Photo courtesy of Karben4.

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