Madison Craft Beer Week will feature over 350 events this year, doubling in size from last year. Spanning ten days from May 3-12, this third annual celebration of brewing will feature tastings, special tappings, pairing dinners, and educational programs at over 100 different venues. The good news is that there are so many interesting listed in the week's event guide over those ten days. But that's also the bad news, as those who really like beer may be overwhelmed by all of the great choices.
Madison Craft Beer Week founder Robyn Klinge says this year's event features more educational events, beer dinners, and now even beer breakfasts. "Those who participated last year saw how successful it was, so many of those are having even more of their own events this year," she says.
Moreover, an increasing number of brewers from out of state are joining the festivities here in Madison. Breweries such as Tallgrass (Kansas), Bridgeport (Oregon), Sixpoint (New York) and Summit (Minnesota) are just a few out-of-towners to offer special tappings of their brews. "There are also a lot of people coming to enjoy from Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri," says Klinge, and online interest is picking up from both coasts. She suggests that attention from outside Wisconsin may have been spurred by a recent USA Today story that picked Madison Craft Beer Week as one of 15 spring beer events around the nation.
With so many options over May 3-12, and so many brews to choose from, it shouldn't be hard to find something you like. To maximize what Madison Craft Beer Week offers and to avoid some angst in making too many tough decisions, I'm focusing on my own must-find list of brews from around Wisconsin. I'm particularly excited about special releases, limited one-off batches, and beers that take a step beyond standard favorites or those that seem to be always be around in local stores.
Here are my picks for getting through the 10 days of difficult (but enjoyable) choices.
1. Lake House, a new summer seasonal from Capital Brewery will be tapped during various events. It's a light amber beer, finishing around 4.6% ABV with a clean malty flavor and light bitterness (about 18 IBUs) from Liberty hops. This is new seasonal, just out in stores. It is similar and based on the brewery's older recipe for Capital's Bavarian Lager. Also, brewmaster Brian Destree will be at the Capital Tap Haus on May 10 where those attending will get a chance to win prizes, including being brewmaster for a day alongside Destree in his Middleton brew house.
2. Central Waters of Amherst will be tapping a new year-round beer at several events during Craft Beer Week. Hop Rise, is described by brewery co-owner Anello Mollica as a light, hoppy, session beer at 4.5% ABV. It's expected to be poured at Side Door Grill and Tap on May 3, Alchemy on May 7 and The Old Fashioned on May 8.
3. The newest beer from Furthermore is a double IPA named Full Thicket. Owner Aran Madden has been hosting a number of limited tastings over the past month. During Craft Beer Week, watch for this beer either at tastings or in bottles at your favorite liquor store. A few of Furthermore's events include Maduro on May 8, and Natt Spil on May 9.
4. Death Star Agave Ale, brewed with Galaxy Hops, is a beer made for Star Wars Day on May 4 (remember it as "May the Force be with you"). It will be released at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace during a House of Brews tap takeover. Brewmaster Page Buchanan will also be offering Kremlin Russian Imperial Stout. This stout offers lots of malty sweetness and light roastedness, along with a warm finish at 8.7% ABV. It should be available at Tex Tubb's on May 4 or at the House of Brews tasting room throughout Craft Beer Week; check the brewery's Facebook page for upcoming hours.
5. Hydro Street Brewing of Columbus is making the short trip south to Madison for a special tap takeover at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace on May 9. Owner and brewmaster Aaron Adams will offer samplings of a half-dozen of his brews. Expected favorites will include: a Cascadian dunkel named Dirty Dunkel that is dark in color, wheaty and hoppy; the Triple Chocolate Stout, made with two types of chocolate malt and two pounds of Dutch cocoa; Cinnamon Brown, with a graham-cracker maltiness and subtle cinnamon finish; and Crawfish River Brown IPA. For those looking to venture north to Columbus to the brewpub itself, Adams will release his Maple American Pale Ale on May 7. This unique beer is made using about 75% local maple sap instead of water during the mashing and sparging stages of the brewing process.
6. Expect a new seasonal IPA from Karben4 Brewing on May 10 at the brewery. Brewmaster Ryan Koga is secretive about this hop monster, saying only that it will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with similar brews from the likes of Lagunitas Brewing, Dogfish Head, and Three Floyds.
7. Apricot Goddess from Lake Louie Brewing is a new creation by brewmaster Tom Porter. Lake Louie isn't known for producing assertive fruit beers, but this amber-colored ale has the flavor and aroma of fresh-picked apricots. Look for this beer in a special release party, on May 3 at the Library Cafe & Bar. Tom Porter will also be playing his guitar with Screamin' Gene and the Lake Louie Growlers at Quaker Stake & Lube on May 4.
8. Milwaukee Brewing has several tastings and tap takeovers planned throughout Madison Craft Beer Week. Watch for the amber ale and brewery's flagship Louie's Demise, along with special versions of Louie. Those include the bourbon-barrel-aged Louie's Resurrection, and Weekend at Louie's, made with a blend of Rishi Organic Blueberry Rooibos and Hibiscus teas. A few places where you'll find Milwaukee Brewing on tap include the Tipsy Cow on May 3, the Buck & Badger Northwood Lodge on May 4, the Malt House on May 8, and the Side Door Grill and Tap on May 11.
9. One Barrel Brewing Company is presenting many events throughout the week. One unique happening will be a tap takeover at Karben4 on May 11. Among the One Barrel beers on tap will be a barleywine, a beer that brewmaster Peter Gentry made in collaboration with Karben4. One Barrel's Jimbo, a whiskey-barrel-aged stout, goes on tap on May 7 along with other special barrel-aged beers. And four different versions of Proletariat Farmhouse Ale, each featuring different levels of hoppiness, get tapped simultaneously for comparison on May 9 in collaboration with the Wisconsin Hop Exchange.
10. O'so Brewing of Plover has big plans. At the Blue Moon on May 9, brewmaster Marc Buttera will offer special versions of his Rusty Red and Dank Imperial Red that have been aged with Brettanomyces (yeast). Both beers are expected to be served on nitrogen tap lines, so they'll feature unique sourness (from the yeast) and a smooth body (from nitrogen). Then at Dexter's Pub on May 10, O'so takes over up to 12 beer taps with several special treats and many well-known brewery favorites.
11. For those who enjoy assertive to aggressive citrus tones in their India Pale Ales, the Tangerine IPA offered by Potosi Brewing gets featured as a "beermosa" at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace on May 5. Potosi Brewing is also taking over a dozen taps at Dexter's on May 7.
12. Red Eye Brewing kicks off its Craft Beer Week at the Malt House on May 3. Brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger will bring a half-dozen brews down to Madison from his Wausau brewpub. Tragically Hopped Imperial IPA is the one that hopheads shouldn't pass up. This past March, it was among the top four beers in the Brewing News National Imperial IPA Championships. Fans of Red Eye and its darker side of brews will want to try Good Morning Veruca, a coffee-infused milk stout made with El Salvador coffee from New Roots Coffee Company.
13. Vintage Brewing is almost in a class by itself when it comes to organizing its own events for Madison Craft Beer Week. Among the beers to watch for will be: Hibiscus Saison, one of the brewpub's most popular summer seasonals; Brolly Roger, an Extra Pale Ale, on tap over the ten days; and, Maximilian Stout, a bold and flavorful Russian Imperial Stout, which is destined to make an appearance at some point. And what has become a favorite event for many beer week celebrants is the Big Barrel Tarrarel, set for May 11. That Saturday is a Vintage beer fest in its own right, as about a dozen of the brewpub's barrel-aged beers will be tapped. Revelers might even learn the lyrics to the "Beer Barrel Polka" -- or at least feel the meaning of "Zing boom tararrel, ring out a song of good cheer!"
14. And, of course, there's the 2013 edition of Common Thread, created specifically for Madison Craft Beer Week through the collaborative efforts of ten Wisconsin breweries. This year's brew is a Bière de Garde, whereas the 2012 Common Thread was a California Common (Steam) beer. It will debut via a kick-off party at Capital Brewery on May 1, and will then make its official Craft Beer Week appearances with tapping parties at Vintage and the Great Dane (all four Dane County locations) on May 3. More tappings will follow through the week.
The complete schedule for Madison Craft Beer Week 2013 is also available as a printable Field Guide, which provides additional details about these and hundreds more events over these ten days of cheers.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Lake Louie Brewing event at the Library Cafe & Bar is now being held on Friday, May 3, and is corrected to note that House of Brew's Kremlin is an imperial stout at 8.7% ABV.]