Whipping up lots of suds in Madison with craft beer

wis-brewing2Nowhere in Wisconsin does the craft of contemporary brewing seem more contagious than Madison and Dane County.

The area is filling growlers and opening new breweries at an appreciable rate. It’s not any one place’s level of production that raises eyebrows, but the proliferation of like-minded businesses, neighborhood brewpubs to production plants with ambitious goals.

All are craft brewers because they are independently owned and produce beer in small batches (less than 6 million barrels per year is the official definition, from the American Craft Brewers Association).

Although craft sales are only 6.5 percent the beer market, growth outpaces their competition.

One of the Madison’s suds stars is Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company, which in 2012 was deemed best brewpub in the U.S. (during Denver’s Great American Beer Festival). The Great Dane has four locations in and near Madison (123 E. Doty St., 2980 Cahill Main, 876 Jupiter Dr. and 357 Price Place – Hilldale Shopping Center), plus Wausau (at 2035 Sherman St., the former Hereford and Hops). greatdanepub.com

The city also is passionate enough to keep in business two home brewing supply stores (Brew and Grow, 1525 Williamson St., and Wine and Hop Shop, 1931 Monroe St.)

Tickets to the summer Great Taste of the Midwest beer fest, billed as the continent’s second longest-running festival of small-batch beer, sell out months ahead of time.

A newer function, Madison Craft Beer Week, in 2013 had a 33-page guide to events that involved chefs, retailers, educators, tour operators, bars and breweries.

This all positions the area as a significant force in the craft beer movement. No wonder legislative heat is on to establish the Wisconsin Beer Commission, to promote these types of homegrown products.

The newest player is Wisconsin Brewing Company, 1079 American Way, Verona, which opened in October 2013 and starts at 20,000 barrels per year. The goal is 250,000 barrels annually.

A bright and roomy taproom serves pints for $4.50 and a four-pack sampler for $6. Tours available. wisconsinbrewingcompany.com, 608-848-1079

Brewmaster Kirby Nelson and CEO Carl Nolen used to work for Capital Brewery, 7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton, which opened in 1984 in a revamped egg-processing plant. Now an expansion to Sauk City might aims to increase production from 33,000 barrels per year to 250,000.

Capital Brewery’s outdoor beer garden in Middleton is especially popular on early Friday nights during summer, when local bands perform as drinkers indulge. Tours are available, and the indoor Bier Stube is open all year. capital-brewery.com, 608-608-836-7100

Also big enough to tour is Ale Asylum, which in 2012 quintupled its space by opening a brewery and tasting room at 2002 Pankratz St., near Dane County Regional Airport. That means 45,000 square feet to play and work at producing 50,000 barrels of Hopalicious and more.

On the menu: pizza from Falbo Brothers, fish tacos, sandwiches and more. You won’t see one television on the premises. aleasylum.com, 608-663-3926

Smaller-batch brewing in and near Madison includes:

Granite City Food & Brewing, a national chain whose presence in 13 states includes West Towne Mall. gcfb.net, 608-829-0700

Gray’s Tied House, 950 Kimball Lane, Verona, which is affiliated with Gray Brewing Company, Janesville, but also brews beer on the premises and serves food. graystiedhouse.com, 608-845-2337

Grumpy Troll Brew Pub, 105 S. Second St., Mt. Horeb, 20 miles southwest of Madison. Twelve proprietary beers on tap. Also known for pizza. thegrumpytroll.com, 608-437-2739

House of Brews, 4539 Helgesen Dr., whose customers pay in advance for a six-month or one-year share of the brew. The concept is like the CSA (community supported agriculture), in which a farmer is paid in advance for a share of the year’s harvest. The little taproom is not open every day. houseofbrewsmadison.com

Karen4 Brewing, 3698 Kinsman Blvd., devoted to “malt-centric ales” and “English-style malt bombs.” karben4.com, 608-241-4812

Next Door Brewing Co., 2439 Atwood Ave., whose head brewer has worked as a high school math teacher and beer contest judge. The food menu includes unusual snacks: sauerkraut sausage balls, poutine, picked veggies and eggs. nextdoorbrewing.com, 608-729-3683

One Barrel Brewing Company, 2001 Atwood Ave., where beer is made in one-barrel batches. That makes it a nanobrewery, and selections change daily. onebarrelbrewing.com, 608-630-9286

Vintage Brewing Company, 674 S. Whitney Way, which also brews soda (root beer, vanilla cream) made with natural beet sugar. Snacks to dinner entrees served, too. vintagebrewingcompany.com, 608-204-2739

Madison saturates itself with small-batch and specialty beer events during Madison Craft Beer Week, May 2-11. Some of the city’s best chefs cook with beer, match meal courses with beer and invite brewers to talk about their products.

Limited-edition brews are introduced and tapped at taverns. Some venues pair blues music with brews. There are fun to academic classes about beer and brewing. Beer tours are arranged by bicycle. Free shuttles loop around major player venues.

Event reservations are advised. Check the guide at madbeerweek.com for options and contact info. What you see online today will keep growing as the event nears.

It is five months until the 28th annual Great Taste of the Midwest beer fest, but tickets go on sale in early May and sell out fast. At least 100 craft brewers participate at the outdoor event at Olin Park, which overlooks the State Capitol in Madison.

Musicians play without amplification because, as the event site explains, “this is a beer tasting festival with music, not a music festival with beer.” To snag a ticket, go to greattaste.org and read the instructions carefully.

Last: A quick nod to five spring beer festivals elsewhere in Wisconsin:

Bull Falls Brewery Bock Fest, Wausau, March 22. A 5-kilometer run at noon precedes the tapping of Bull Falls’ dark bock beer at this outdoor event. bullfallsbrewery.com, 715-842-0024

Heidel House Brew Fest, Green Lake, 3:30-7:30 p.m. March 22. Wisconsin microbrewers share 100-plus types of beer. heidelhouse.com, 920-294-3344

Gitchee Gumee Brew Fest, Wesmann Arena, Superior, 4-8 p.m. April 5. About three dozen craft brewers from Minnesota and Wisconsin bring product samples for a crowd of 1,200. ggbrewfest.com, 715-392-2773

Dairy State Cheese and Beer Festival, The Brat Stop, Kenosha, 1-5 p.m. April 12. Proceeds fund programs for the Boys and Girls Club of Kenosha, and at least 40 brewers participate. kenoshabeerfest.com

Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival, southside Oktoberfest grounds, La Crosse, 2-6 p.m. April 26. Expect live music while sampling beer from three dozen breweries, plus many cheeses and wines. betweenthebluffsbeerfest.com, 608-782-2220