Tag: beer travels

Beer Travels: Ale Asylum, Madison, WI

If you want to see what a destination brewery might look like, head down I-94 a few hours and see for yourself one brewery’s take on the concept.

What could be considered – by volume only, let’s make no qualitative comparisons – a Surly proxy in Wisconsin, Ale Asylum in Madison is now settling into their brand new brewery and tasting room.  Occupying 45,000 square feet on a once-vacant corner near the west entrance/exit of the Dane County Regional Airport, their new facility sits like a welcome sign to weary travelers and a statement of regional identity.  They opened their tasting room in late September but haven’t fully started production in the new brewhouse.  Regardless, the beer is flowing and people are pouring in.

For anyone familiar with Ale Asylum’s previous location, you won’t notice a change in the beer offerings, and they do still serve food.  The new place is simply much, much bigger – five times, in fact – and thoroughly impressive.  It was two thirty on a rainy, miserable day when I visited and the place was full. Patrons enter the airy bar where they can immediately catch the current tap list and decide where to sit, which turns out to be no small task: there’s the bar, the seated dining room or the patio, and the latter two have two levels each.

The facility is huge and could easily handle large crowds.  However, when it comes to serving beer and food they are careful to state in principle that the new facility will happily remain a tasting room, albeit a large one.  Ale Asylum beers are served across Madison and the folks at the brewery are wisely leaving the restaurant work to the restaurants.  The food menu at the tasting room is one page front and back consisting of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pizzas.  The choices are limited but familiar and local suppliers keep it from feeling run-of-the-mill.

At the time, the staff was obviously still growing into the new facility. Not all regular beers were available on draft and were substituted by bottles; flights were not available because they’re getting new flight trays and glassware.  Expect their four year-round offerings –  Hopalicious (their flagship), Madtown Nutbrown, Ambergeddon and Contorter Porter – to be available in the tasting room on tap or in a bottle.  Seasonal brews are available on a schedule and a select few will be exclusive to  the tasting room; bring a growler and take your pick.  Yes, they’ll fill anyone’s growlers so long as it’s clean, sealable and had has the Surgeon General’s statement on it.  Isn’t that convenient?

If you are at the brewery and do not prefer beer you’re in luck because wine and liquor are served; I don’t think they’ll fill a growler with booze though.  Then again, it is Wisconsin. . .

Drive time from Twin Cities: 4.5 hours, approximately 250 miles.

Food: Try the beet salad, Chad in the kitchen is proud of that one.

Also see: The Green Owl Cafe has pretty good food.  It just so happens that their good food is also vegetarian.  If you’re downtown, stop into Amy’s Cafe & Bar just off State Street for an unapologetic, welcoming ambiance.  If it’s Sunday night, try karaoke at the Come Back In.  If nothing else, bring your bike and cruise around the many bike paths around the lakes.

Beer Travels: Toppling Goliath Brewing Co., Decorah, IA

[Though we champion Minnesota beer first and foremost, we also know that our dear readers like to travel a bit from time to time in search of tasty beers. Below you’ll find David’s account from a visit to our neighbors to the south. -Ryan]

Northeast Iowa doesn’t look like “Iowa”.  It’s rolling and quite scenic so the typical hog & corn jokes aren’t going to stick nearly as well as they would elsewhere.  Perhaps that’s why the folks at  the Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah so proudly boast that their region should be a destination for beer lovers.  Toppling Goliath’s (TG’s) taproom is perched on a small hill, halfway between the Luther College campus and downtown Decorah. I showed up on a Sunday if for no other reason than to take advantage of Sunday sales.

The Beers:

Dorothy’s New World Lager has evolved to be TG’s bridge to the craft beer world for the uninitiated. In it, they took California Common and dialed-back the hop bitterness just slightly.  You can’t argue with the results, it is their top selling beer.

TG’s calling card, though, has got to be their wizardry with Pale Ales.  While you’d think there would be limited things you could do with the style, TG creates a number of beers that are able to stand apart from one another.  Of their regular offerings, the Golden Nugget IPA is the house favorite for hop-heads, followed closely by pseudoSue Pale Ale – named for “Sue” the largest T-Rex fossil ever found.  Without knowing why they chose to name it after the famous dinosaur, I’ll assume it was a move intended to ensnare paleo-nerds like me.  It worked; I left with a growler of it.

For the more adventurous, the Hop Patrol series of limited-release, well-hopped IPAs showcases what just one hop variety or a creative blend can do.  On tap were 1492 (Columbus hops) and ZeeLander (Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand) and both were impressive in depth and complexity, especially given their single-hop origins. In the spirit of Halloween there is new addition to the series featuring Riwaka hops: the Riwakan Dead (hah, get it?).  Mercifully, this one doesn’t taste like candy corn, pumpkin or brains; purely hops.


Construction is underway on a new 10,000 square-foot brewhouse complete with a 30 barrel brew system and bottling line.  It is scheduled for completion in early 2013.  The taproom serves virtually all their beers and will remain at its current location with regular hours. Their brews can also be found at other Iowa and Wisconsin locations.  If you’re in Iowa City or La Crosse you might get lucky.  Check their website for an up-to-date list of locations serving their beer.  There are no accounts in Minnesota…yet.

Drive time from Twin Cities: approx. 150 miles from the Twin Cities, 2.5 to 3 hours.

Food: No full menu at the taproom.  Pretzels, though.

Also see: Dunning’s Spring, around the corner from the brewery, boasts some spectacular scenery and for mountain bikers, Decorah Human Powered Trails maintains 20 miles of singletrack in the Decorah Park system.