We’ve started, but it still doesn’t feel like we’ve started. Crashing with family and friends isn’t exactly roughing it – especially when they entertain you as well as Chris and Sarah entertained us this past weekend in Madison, WI. We’ve been to Madison quite a few times, so this time Sarah wanted to find a few places that were a little off the beaten path.
Our first stop was Ale Asylum (tagline: “fermented in sanity”), a microbrewery in East Madison. The place was absolutely packed – I think there was a birthday party, a bachelorette party, and an Army event happening all at the same time in the same small room. Since it was insanity inside, we decided to brave the chill and sit on the patio. Paul and Sarah split the sampler – nine, six-ounce pours of every beer on tap. I went straight for the Madtown Nutbrown, which is delicious and tastes like liquid bubbly tootsie rolls. They’ve got a few IPAs – one that is hopped 11 times – and Paul enjoyed them all immensely. The proximity of fresh hop vines on the patio enabled him to personally fresh hop the IPA a 12th time. Everything is big here except the space – the names, the flavors, and the garlic cheese bread are all in your face.
For dinner, we headed downtown to Full of Bull. It’s a scraggly looking, counter-service only place – a random assortment of outdoor furniture, western style booths, and wine bar stools. They do a roast beef sandwich that is heavenly. If you imagine that Arby’s was once a little family owned roast beef stand serving up delicious, real roast beef sandwiches, then this is what their sandwiches must have been like before they became mass produced piles of soy-meat, cheese food, and badly named sauces.
Stuffed, we walked down the street through the charming warehouse and power plant district to a new microdistillery, Old Sugar Distillery. Old Sugar distills, ages, bottles, serves, and sells their spirits from the same, deliciously oak and booze scented room. Their regular roster includes a honey liquor, a rum, and an ouzo, but they also release limited editions like a sorghum whiskey (more from Paul on that later). There’s a small cocktail list with a few carefully composed cocktails, served up by a couple of bartenders (one in overalls, both bearded). Sitting there, amongst a random assortment of chairs and barrels and soft candle light, sipping a Fall Special (Reed’s spiced apple soda, housemade rum, and cinnamon), a soft glow of hipness descends over you. Or maybe it’s drunkenness – the drinks are boozy.
To close out the weekend, we took a Sunday drive to New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus, WI (also known as Little Switzerland). New Glarus is legendary in the midwest. When we lived in Chicago, people would drive across the border just to bootleg some beer back to the city (New Glarus was distributed in Chicago until 2002…something that longtime city dwelling beer fans have not forgotten). After getting burned by an Illinois distributor, the brewery decided to only sell beer in Wisconsin, thus eliminating state to state liquor laws and distribution complexities.
This intentional supply limitation has not hurt the business – a few years ago they completed a multimillion dollar state of the art brewing facility that enables them to produce something like 100,000 barrels a year. It was fascinating to see this place – it is without a doubt the cleanest, most modern and complex brewing and bottling facility I’ve ever seen.
The only downfall is the tour, or lack thereof. You’re free to wander throughout the building, but there’s no guided tour, and there aren’t even signs explaining what you’re ogling. I’ve been on many brewery tours and we’re amateur home brewers, but I still didn’t know the purpose of even a fraction of the multitude of pipes, tubes, and tanks. Paul and I split a sampler as we had overindulged a bit the night before. But when it’s warm, you can have a pint and sit in the outside beer garden, which overlooks the town of New Glarus and the surrounding farmland. You can also eat cheese curds and play sack toss. Sounds like a pretty nice summer afternoon.
Other things that we learned this weekend: frisbee golf is fun and may become our new hobby, and I can’t blog from a moving vehicle.
I’ll be thinking about this weekend as we head into the wild for a week in Northern Wisconsin – just in time for an early snow shower.