After just a couple of months making beer, Vintage Brewing Company on Madison's west side is attracting a lot of attention from local beer enthusiasts. The brewpub, which took over the space formerly occupied by JT Whitney's, opened in January. Vintage co-owner and brewmaster Scott Manning started serving his own brews in late February. His strategy is to introduce a variety of styles in order to see what his growing clientele like most. Those that get the biggest response will become part of the pub's standard beer selection.
So far, early offerings have included a hefeweizen, an oatmeal stout, and a couple of Belgian abbey-style beers. Local hop-heads have had to wait for Manning to show them a little love, but now they have something to satistfy their taste buds with a brew called Better Off Red.
What is it? Better Off Red Red Ale from Vintage Brewing Company.
Style: This beer starts as a red ale, but Manning pushes the limits on the common style definition with healthy additions of hops. The red or amber ale, as the name suggests, has a copper- to light-brown color. The American version is characterized by U.S.-grown hops and offers medium to high bitterness and hoppy aroma with firm maltiness. Red ales range in alcohol from 4.5% to 6% ABV.
Background: Better Off Red just made it to the taps at the end of March. Manning makes this beer with six different hops, but the Amarillo, Centennial and Columbus varieties tend to dominate the flavors and aroma. This ale is part of a second round of beers that just emerged from Manning's hands as he establishes his presence in Madison's competitive beer market.
It appears Manning has found a brew that hoppy beer drinkers, saying that "it's been evaporating out of the kegs." This is making him think seriously about adding it to the brewpub's list of standard beers. Better Off Red sells for $4.50/pint or $10/growler (plus deposit) and finishes about 7% ABV.
Scott Manning isn't all that new to the local beer scene. His family calls Sauk County home, and he's a UW-Madison graduate who developed a taste for beer while spending his junior year in Germany. After graduating, he went on to hold brewing jobs in several western American cities, including Tucson, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Reno. Manning even served as a regional brewmaster for the BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse chain in Southern California.
Late last year, when his cousins Trent and Brittany Kramer, along with his uncle, Mark Kramer, wanted to expand their popular downtown Vintage Spirits & Grill by purchasing the former JT Whitney's site, they invited him back to Madison to be a partner and run the brewery. After months of remodeling, cleaning and fixing things in a brew house that had sat unused for over a half-year, Manning brought the tanks back to life and made his first batches of beer in February.
- Aroma: Light, but firm hoppiness.
- Appearance: Clear reddish copper with a medium, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied and bubbly.
- Taste: The hoppiness is a resiny, somewhat piney dominance with a strong malt underpinning.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The hoppiness builds and becomes somewhat dry.
Glassware: There are enough hoppy nose for this beer to stand up in a basic bar pint. If you take a growler home, it is a beautiful beer for a clear tankard with a wide mouth.
Pairs well with: Better Off Red deserves an assertive companion. Try Vintage's Buffalo Chicken soup. The resiny and piney hoppiness blends very well with the soup's spicy heat and creamy broth.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Better Off Red is a flavorful red-amber beer with firm hoppiness and a dry finish that builds over a full pint. It is a solid introduction for Manning, and one that will make a nice addition to his emerging line-up of brews. For the serious hop head it's probably a little reserved, but I think it still deserves some attention for its malty and hop complexity that ends with a long lingering dryness. Manning will likely continue to tweak this recipe as he continues to learn his brewing system and Madison's love of hoppy beers. But go ahead and try it now -- it alone is worth a visit to Vintage -- and while you're there, check out what else Manning has on tap.