Madison Food and Drink Tours An Innovative Way to Explore City Cuisine
Indulge your palate with good ol’ Wisconsin eats and craft brews—in the city and a bit beyond
Feel like you’ve been there, tasted that? Bust out of your rut with two innovative tours that promise tasty treats, cool beers and, yes, even a brat and cheese fix.
Madison Food Explorers
Andrea Hughes leads this three-hour “lake to lake” walking tour through downtown that highlights the delicious nuggets that we residents take for granted: Wisconsin artisan cheeses, brats, Capital Brewery Supper Club beer and Ian’s Pizza. But seriously, tour-takers will enjoy spirited, casual banter with Hughes, who was formerly a CUNA Mutual conference planner and had the idea to do food tours after a particularly poignant one in Chicago. Hughes, who took her planning expertise and combined it with a love of Madison cuisine, hosts anywhere from one to fifteen people Tuesdays through Saturdays. The tour includes historical and cultural information—tidbits about Frank Lloyd Wright, the city flag, historic architecture, effigy mounds and more—so even Madisonians can appreciate the city through a tourist’s eyes.
Where you go: Start at Monona Terrace’s gift shop and from there stop by eateries like Merchant, Ian’s Pizza, Chautara and more (Hughes likes to keep it a surprise). You walk about 1.8 miles, so wear comfy shoes.
What you taste: Pork jowl and Cubano sandwiches at Merchant; mac and cheese pizza at Ian’s; a mango lassi at Chautara; and other ethnic, dairy and artisan delights.
Fun fact: We bumped into Mayor Paul Soglin along the way, and at Ian’s Pizza owner Ian Gurfeld sat in on our visit.
Hop Head Beer Tours
“Wisconsin is quickly being considered the Napa Valley for microbreweries— I don’t know if you knew that,” Pepper Stebbins tells me. No, I didn’t know that, and the guys at Hop Head are here to show everyone why: because we make damn good beer. Stebbins, along with Justin Schmitz and Filipe Moreira, are the owners of Hop Head and all are beer guys and bartenders themselves. They launched their venture last December and host one every six to eight weeks. Tour-goers hop a coach bus where a “guest host” (typically a brewer) talks beer while guests sample en route. Tours change every month; past destinations have included Milwaukee, Chicago and Wausau. Expect to visit three breweries and enjoy at least one meal, included in the price. Outings last all day. Also note: the tour is for people passionate about craft brewing or who enjoy beer and want to learn more. “It’s safe, fun and educational,” says Moreira, who makes it abundantly clear it’s not for those who want to, er, overindulge in drunken
When: Year-round (check the website for schedule)
Where you go: Past tours have included Milwaukee (Great Lakes Distillery, Milwaukee Brewing Company, Lakefront Brewery); Wausau (O’so Brewery in Plover, Central Waters Brewery in Amherst and Red Eye Brewing Co. in Wausau) and other locales. Look for the September 24 “Heritage Ale Trail” tour to Minhas Craft Brewery (the second-oldest continually operating brewery in the U.S.) and the Haydock Beer Memorabilia Museum in Monroe, and the Potosi Brewery and the National Brewery Museum in Potosi.
What you taste: Tour-goers taste 4–5 craft beers on the bus with the host and taste brews at each brewery. Snacks and water are also provided on the bus and at least one meal at a brewpub is included in each tour.
Fun fact: Lake Louie in Arena, Wisconsin, hasn’t given a tour in ten years—except for Hop Head. “The brewers are really beginning to respect us,” says Stebbins.