A Beer Stop in Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, is the capital city of Wisconsin and home to one of the biggest party schools in the country. This college town also has a growing number of craft breweries that are definitely worth your time. Madison is the backdrop for day 2 of my Midwest beercation with Aaron and Jeff Zierdt. Aaron and Jeff have become great friends of mine over the years and they invited me to join them on their father/son beercation that they do every year. If you want to see how our trip started, check out the first piece of this series that chronicles our adventures in Decorah, Iowa.

A Unique Madison Experience

I have been to Madison, Wisonsin, more times than I can count. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that I visited there with the explicit intent on drinking craft beer. Way back when, before many of you were even born, I lived in Madison for a summer. I was living in sin with my then girlfriend who would later become (read this in Borat’s voice) my wife. Back then, I didn’t really have a palate for craft beer. I was staunchly in the Killian’s Irish Red camp. However, I remember seeing Capital Brewing’s amber ale on tap all over town. This was back in 2000.

My time there that summer consisted of routine walks around lake Monona and Mendota, consuming copious amounts of Woodchuck Hard Cider on the terrace, and pulling off, quite possibly, the most egregious insurance fraud in the tri-state area in that decade.

Madison is Better with Craft Beer

Since first visiting Madison in 2013 for craft beer, the town has changed. In 2013, I visited Capital Brewing Company, Karben Four Brewing, and Ale Asylum. In fall of 2019, I added Funk Factory, Giant Jones Brewing, Delta Brew Labs, Vintage Brewing, Alt Brew, and Octopi Brewing to the list. These brewery stops really illustrated the growth of craft beer in Madison. I think that for a college town to boast so many wonderful craft breweries is amazing. There is a stereotype that college kids will only drink cheap beer to get drunk. Well, I’ve got news for you, they also like the fancy stuff to get drunk.

Since Aaron, Jeff, and I only have one night in Madison, we opt to visit places where they have brewery contacts so we can have a few quality visits. This is all good in my book. I am excited that the first place we are stopping is Working Draft Brewing. In 2019, I did not make it here despite the fact that was literally a half mile from my Airbnb. I will blame the 7 stops prior to that one as the reason I opted to call it a night.

Working Draft Beer Company

After a little under three hours of driving, we pull into the parking lot at Working Draft Beer Company. While the drive is picturesque and relaxing, we are all ready to get into some beers. I am really excited to finally visit Working Draft. Of course, Aaron and Jeff have a great relationship with Clint (Co-Owner & Head Brewer) and Ryan (Assistant Brewer) since they have done a few collaborations over the years.

Working Draft Beer Company is boisterous and quite full on this Saturday afternoon in Madison. We make our way to the brewhouse where we can have a little more space to chat and drink. The tap list is a collection of variety from easy drinking, crisp lagers to big, and malty beers like a Doppelbock. They have a West Coast IPA and a couple New England IPAs. This is definitely a place where I could spend a lot of time.

Working Hard Or Hardly Working

There is a lot of great beer conversation happening here. Aaron and Clint are reminiscing about collaborations of the past and looking forward to collaborations of the future. Clint and Ryan are both diving into the beers the Lupulin beers that Jeff & Aaron brought in. Ryan is exceptionally giddy about the fact that Blissful Ignorance is now in a 16-ounce can!

Clint graciously offers to grab us beers while we chat. I opt for the Czech Pilsner, To Those Who Wait. This pristine beer is served in a dimpled mug and is a great way to start off my beer drinking. It is fun to observe and enjoy the beer conversation. The conversation ebbs and flows from can art to the upcoming collaboration happening before CBC at Lupulin in a few weeks.

Doppel, Doppel Your Enjoyment!

After the Czech Pilsner is just a happy memory, I move onto the Doppelbock. There is a fun discussion about that beer because a few years ago, Lupulin Brewing won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their Doppelbock. So there is a lot of technical dialogue about the style and maybe a few secrets in process exchanged. One thing is for sure, the Working Draft version of this style is well above average. The malt complexity is quite satisfying and the mouthfeel is perfect for the style.

At one point, there is talk of sampling Working Draft’s Maibock from the tank. I grew up being taught that it is rude to refuse a genuinely kind act of hospitality, so I oblige. This is an experience that is fun and geeky to someone like me who is passionate about beer. Getting to try a beer before it has fully come to full carbonation and finish in the tank is a unique experience. I think that you can really get the full essence of malt and hops in the beer when you do this. The beer tastes wonderful, and I immediately wonder about how I can go about getting my hands on some of the finished product.

I step out from behind the brewhouse to snap some pictures of the taproom and the fun mural they have on the wall. It is crazy how fast time flies when you are talking beer with fun people, but before long, we realize it is time to move on. As Jeff & Aaron predicted, Clint and Ryan load us up with a case of case to enjoy. It is now time to move onto another brewery to see a friendly face. Our time at Working Draft Beer Company is tremendous. I wholeheartedly recommend putting Working Draft Beer Company on your list of place to go when you happen to be in Madison, Wisconsin, for beer.

Delta Beer Lab

Our GPS brings us across the beltline to Delta Beer Lab to visit a former Minnesota brewer, Tim Piotrowski. However, everyone just knows him as “Pio”. Pio has a wealth of brewing experience and born and raised in Wisconsin. I have been to Delta Beer Lab before and thoroughly enjoyed my time and the beer. We walk into Delta Beer Lab and are met with a cacophony of joyous taproom energy. People laughing and drinking in a space is music to my ears. We order up some beers and look for Pio.

I choose the bock because it is not a common thing to find on tap during the current craft beer haze era. We do eventually say hello to Pio. Aaron, Jeff, and Pio have been friends for years. In fact, they warned me that Pio would be feeding us beers so I needed to steel my liver. Among the noteworthy things at Delta Beer Lab is the collection of shoes that Pio wore during his amazing walk of the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. Delta is bright and colorful. The beers flights are served in tiny little beakers to go along with the “Beer Lab” motif.

As it is quite raucous in the taproom, Pio guides us into the brewhouse so that we can have a more intimate chat. Pio is quite proud to show us around his brewhouse. There is a birthday party happening back here, too so we stay in the area by the brew deck and fermenters. Aaron, Jeff, and Pio talk shop while I listen and learn. I continue to enjoy the beers. Like clockwork, when Pio sees an empty glass, he whisks away our empties and magically return with full ones.

If You Can Can, Then You Should Can

Pio is keen to show off his canning line. A brewer showing off their canning line will prove to be a constant theme of the trip. I am intrigued by places like Delta Beer Lab jumping into the canning fray. For a brewery, sending beer out the door takes a lot of financial commitment and logistical foresight. I think that the pandemic really moved a lot of breweries into a headspace to figure out how to make sure their beer can get into the hands of consumers if their taproom has to unexpectedly close down for a spell.

As the beers continue to go down, it becomes obvious that food needs to be in our future. Jeff is thankfully doing the yeoman work of staying sober while Aaron and I have happily taken the governors off of our fervent thirst for sweet, delicious beer. We are all a lot more giggly than we were when we first arrived, and we decide that it is time to get closer to our Airbnb. We say goodbye to Pio and the colorful, crowded Delta Beer Lab taproom and head for our Airbnb.

Aaron Really Fell For Madison

I am not sure if it is just the intoxicating effects of beercation wanderlust or the beer that we thoroughly enjoyed at Delta Beer Lab, but we are quite giggly. We arrive at The Marquette Hotel, our Airbnb for the night and proceed to grab out luggage. I mentioned that we had tippled quite a bit at our 2 stops already today. Aaron has stayed at The Marquette Hotel before and so I thought he was familiar with how we get into our room.

Well, with barley soup coursing though his veins, he ascends the staircase to what we are pretty sure is the door to our room. He jiggles the handle of the door a few times and attempts to put in the code. Nothing was happening. All the while, he has on his backpack, and is holding his suitcase. Aaron takes one step back and his foot misses the edge of the stair. Aaron begins to topple down the set of stairs, and I go over to try to catch him before he shatters a femur. The accompanying noise of a sherpa falling down the stairs is almost too much for me to handle. Luckily, he is no worse for the wear and now we are all laughing hysterically.

We give the door another try and the door unlocks. I am not sure what Aaron did, but I am glad that he fell down the stairs because I needed a good laugh. We set our stuff on the beds and Aaron beelines it for the hammock. Surely, gravity can’t slide tackle him in a hammock. Other than Aaron needing to hold onto the railing, it becomes apparent that we need to go get food. With a quick google search, we see that Ha Long Bay, a Vietnamese place with great reviews is just a few blocks down Williamson Street. Aaron seems to be on a quest to have Jeff try every cuisine under the sun on this trip, so we make our way down to see about how long of a wait it is.

Gibs Bar

After a short walk, we arrive and walk into a packed restaurant. It smells amazing, and there is quite the line. We inquire about the wait and they say about 45 minutes. That is perfect because it gives us just enough time to pop over to the Gibs Bar for a cocktail. I go with an old fashioned because it is Wisconsin and I feel like I have to. I also really like a well-made old fashioned because it comes off as quite balanced to me.

We secure seating and are all still laughing quite hard about Aaron’s pirouette down the stairs from earlier. The drinks are fantastic and we are chatting about what we hope to accomplish when we get to Chicago. Time flies when you are imbibing fancy drinks with friends. We finish our drinks and figure we should probably head back over because it has been about 35 minutes.

Just a Few More Minutes. . .

We walk in and it is still as crowded as before with a line. I inquire about our table and the guy says, “Be ready in a few minutes.” Well, thanks to a Seinfeld episode and life experience I know that, “Be ready in a few minutes” could mean anything. It could actually be a few minutes, or, in our case, it means another 25.

At this point, we are famished and would probably eat cardboard if it came with a good dipping sauce. After what seems like an eternity, we are called to sit down. The menu looks fantastic. We order up an array of appetizers, and I opt for a comforting bowl of Pho. We are seated at the end of a series of tables with a bench seat running all along the wall of one side. Aaron is seated on the end and just to his immediate right is the exit.

What becomes amusing to Jeff and I, in short order, is that when people leave out that door, if they don’t close it, it just stays open. Aaron is not sharing in our amusement and becomes increasingly rage-filled. If you know Aaron, he has one of the best perturbed eye rolls of anyone. After the first few times, we get that look. To make matters worse, Aaron is also in the throes of hanger.

Our food arrives and we are like escaped convicts who come upon an unattended five-course meal in a corn field. We descent on our food with reckless abandon. Everything is tasting wonderful. Yet, that pesky door keeps flying oping and Aaron keeps getting up to shut it. At one point, the door opens from the outside and in bursts Pio from Delta Beer Lab, like Kramer entering Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld. Aaron’s first reaction was to throat-punch whomever came through that door because of the previous half-hour of him having to get up and shut it. However, when it registered that it was Pio, he was all smiles. Pio drops off some beers and is headed over to the Barleywine Festival at Giant Jones a few blocks away.

We finish up our meals and then walk back to The Marquette Hotel. As we settle in for one last beer, I am figuring out that Jeff likes to finish the night with a double IPA. I opt for one of the lagers from Working Draft. We are coming up with a game plan for the next day’s trek to Chicago. It was a big day and we are quite tired. We hit the lights and I silently laugh myself to sleep thinking about Aaron falling down the stairs. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  He mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .