Madison's Beer Scene is Brewing
Craft beer is big business in and around the city
I like wine—and a fizzy, limey gin and tonic on a late, lazy summer afternoon is like nectar from the goddesses. But beer? I heart beer. Beer with a squeeze of orange or lime, or infused with a hint of fruit in the summer. Bolder lagers and pale ales in the colder months. A medium-bodied pilsner quenches my thirst pretty much anytime.
It was no surprise to my family and friends when I fell in love with and married a bartender … who now runs a brewpub. In our early days of courtship, we drank a lot of Berghoff. Pitchers were cheap and our bedtime was much, much later. Later on we discovered Lake Louie brewed in nearby Arena. A pint or two of brewmaster Tommy Porter’s Arena Premium, an American Pale Ale with barley malted in Wisconsin, is a tingly, satisfying compliment to food, friends and fun. I’ll admit, I was slow to adopt Spotted Cow, the New Glarus Brewery phenomenon sold in nearly every grocery story and tavern in Wisconsin. And only in Wisconsin.
Like with the iPhone, Netflix and six-dollar organic milk, my Spotted Cow allegiance was late in the making. I’m not sure when or why we switched to the ubiquitous Cow, but the smooth, refreshing, distinctively micro taste is our current favorite (along with the hubby’s brewpub pilsner chilling in growlers in the fridge). Perhaps we love Cow for the same reasons we love local, artisan cheese and the Green Bay Packers. It’s a pride thing, and they’re all really, really good. Plus it turns out Spotted Cow is good for you, too! Seriously. Because the yeast is unfiltered, which gives it that cloudy look, the beer is full of Vitamin B and potassium.
There’s just something about craft beer that makes Madison more … Madison. It’s exciting to see a heritage industry thriving again after all these years. Local and sustainable, Wisconsin’s brewing sector is a feather in our cultural and economic cap. On Father’s Day, we ventured out to the stunning new Hilltop Brewery at New Glarus. We certainly weren’t alone on that sunny, sticky Sunday afternoon. The place was overflowing with dads, granddads and their families wandering through the brewhouse and the tasting room and spilling out onto the garden patio and lawn, where the view of the rolling hills and farmland stretching out before you is nothing short of exquisite.
According to the Green County Development Corporation, the New Glarus Brewery has a direct and indirect economic impact of some $40 million a year. In a village with a population of only 2,000 residents, that’s significant. Add that to Minhas Craft Brewery’s impact on nearby Monroe (it’s the tenth largest brewery in the U.S.), the thriving cheesemaking industry (Green County has the most cheese factories in the country), and you’re looking at a healthy outlook for economic development and tourism into the future.
Here in Madison, the Homebrewers and Tasters Guild celebrate barley and hops the second Saturday of this month with the Great Taste of the Midwest at Olin-Turville Park. This isn’t a plug for the beer enthusiasts’ bacchanalia because people who go stood in line for or mail-ordered tickets back in May. They sell out all six thousand in a day. The Guild claims it’s the second-longest running craft beer festival in North America. Either way, it’s big, with more than a hundred breweries and brewpubs sampling five hundred of their beers.
While I love beer, I’m nowhere near an aficionado (or snob, depending on your point of view). I’ve never attended the Great Taste, though I’ve heard it’s terrific and it’s on my Madison bucket list. So is another Olin-Turville Park fete—the Clean Lakes Festival, which I’ll be attending for the first time on Saturday, August 27. Madison Magazine is excited to partner with the Madison Children’s Museum and the UW Oral History Program on a storytelling project featuring your memories of and connections to the city’s lakes. It’s all part of an effort to save our lakes and their companion tourism and recreation industry from further environmental and economic damage. The festival celebrates life on the lakes with dozens of activities like log rolling, barefoot waterskiing, boating, kayaking and more. See you there.
Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.
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