There are a few weeks on Madison’s social calendar that demand attention. Restaurant Week shows up a couple times a year; it’s okay. The Wisconsin Film Festival is worthy of its fanfare. Even the generally excellent neighborhood festival La Fete de Marquette eats up the majority of a week. But for my money, there’s just no better time than Madison Craft Beer Week.
MCBW kicks off this Friday, May 2, and runs for the now-customary ten days, until Sunday, May 11. It covers the entire metro area, and the common thread uniting the whole thing is, well, Common Thread – the collaborative beer created just for Craft Beer Week. This year’s version, a Bohemian pilsner, will be pouring all over the place, so definitely set aside some time to tip one back. As for the rest of the very full slate of events, here’s how I’d recommend you spend your week.
Friday, May 2
One thing you’ll notice about this year’s schedule is that it is very front-loaded, with some difficult decisions to make regarding overlaps. Much has been written about the series of beers created for Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace this year, and they’re releasing throughout the week, starting with Next Door’s Rey Rye on opening day. Potosi’s Templeton Slugger rye barrel-aged oatmeal stout will pack the Brickhouse, I’m sure. Central Waters kicks things off at the Malt House, and my fingers are crossed for Plums Were on Sale. But as big as those events are, nothing beats Surly’s dual-attack on the Madison market. There’s a small-plates event at Next Door, and a full-on tap takeover at Tipsy Cow. Scuttlebutt is that Surly’s eyeing Wisconsin distribution sooner rather than later, so get your brand awareness on before this Minnesota brewer is bowling everyone over.
Saturday, May 3
Heritage Tavern, inarguably 2013’s highest-profile new restaurant, is doing a we-don’t-normally-do-brunch brunch service with Goose Island, which is a big draw. Next Door is, I think, doing its Kick-a-Keg, Pick-a-Keg event throughout the week, but it’s on Saturday’s schedule specifically, and since I didn’t get to the Egg Nog Nitro Stout when it was on in December, it’s going to be hard for me to not find a way to get a pour from the reserve stash (because it would just be cruel if Keith Symonds didn’t set some of that one aside). One place I will assuredly be, however, is the Cask Ale Festival at the East Side Club. This is a ticketed event, and I try to highlight the events that don’t have a door charge, but this was such a good time last year, I can’t help it. It’ll be great, rain or shine.
Sunday, May 4
The last day of this grueling opening weekend starts early for me, and many others, thanks to Great Taste ticket sale lines queuing up pretty much any time after midnight (or sooner, if you’re really crazy). This makes for tough sledding the rest of this Sunday, because sleep. But there’s a Tyranena beer breakfast going on at Stalzy’s until 2PM, and the brewing and beer styles short course at UW that I mentioned a few months back, both of which could serve as physical and mental rechargers. If you don’t get up again until deep into the afternoon, check out the Toppling Goliath tap/firkin event at the Coopers Tavern. Biggest deal of the day, though? The Karben4/Summit collaboration release at Merchant Sunday night. Major.
Monday, May 5
Who’s ready for a full day at the office on Monday?? Nobody, that’s who. For those who survive the weekend, you could do the $25 Potosi dinner at Grampa’s, or hit Alchemy for more Central Waters and Toppling Goliath beers if you need more. I’m most likely to attend the Sweety Tooth Beer and Dessert Night at Next Door, at which Jason Borgmann’s Calliope Ice Cream (from right here in Madison, Wisconsin) will be paired with – and occasionally made with – Next Door beers.
Tuesday, May 6
Here’s where Kyle starts talking about sour beers again, everyone roll your eyes. Head to the Mason for Sour Hour – which I trust will be more than an hour – and get your lips on Mobcraft’s Two Moon sour witbier. It’s awesome, and they’re not bottling it. If you want a preview of the next Nimble Lips, Noble Tongue release from Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps, the obliquely-referenced “new sour ale” at Brasserie V is probably one and the same. For sheer rarity, though, One Barrel’s list of barrel-aged releases is truly tempting. Old Sugar whiskey barrel-aged stout? And a lambic? Yes please.
Wednesday, May 7
Flip a coin tonight. The new Star Bar, which is a fun little joint, has an Evil Twin tap takeover going on. Justin Blabaer is a nice summery Berliner weisse, and Imperial Doughnut Break is a Star Bar beer if ever there was one. (The place does a waffle brunch on the weekends, and you can get ‘em with sprinkles. SPRINKLES.) Or, you can wade into what will be a massive beer dork crowd at Alchemy, where a bourbon barrel-aged beer event will drop Bourbon County Stout, Backwoods Bastard, KBS, and Peruvian Morning (not the soured one) into eagerly awaiting goblets.
Thursday, May 8
And on the seventh day, even the committed beer drinker has to rest. I didn’t really pick out anything of great note on 5/8 except for the Tex Tubb’s release of the day: One Barrel’s Barrigon Barril Café, a very complicated imperial brown ale that incorporates Just Coffee beans, two different varieties of cacao nibs, and aging on either oak or maple -- that's right, two different versions served two doors down from each other. (Okay, maybe the New Belgium Lips of Faith tap takeover at Natt Spil, but it depends on what’s on offer. If you see the Coconut Hefeweizen, just say no.)
Friday, May 9
OKAY BREAK’S OVER. Wanna start by buying some beer to-go? Get your Toppling Goliath bottle fix at Trixie’s. Want another shot at KBS on tap? Founders takes over the taps at the Coopers Tavern. Grab some Sweet Mullets (out of the only city in the state where every other letter in its name is O) at One Barrel; definitely prioritize the Jorge Jalapeno. If you’ve got a ticket, Isthmus A La Carts is a grand old time, and while the beer isn’t cutting edge, it’s paired with some excellent food cart fare. The Dave’s BrewFarm funky tap takeover at the Monroe location of Barriques is definitely something to look into, but it’s Friday, and if you feel like doing fish AND drinking exceptional beer, there’s only one name you need to know: Dexter. Dexter’s craft beer pedigree means that when there’s the hint of something rare from O’so and Central Waters on tap, you’re wise to take heed.
Saturday, May 10
Two big events today, and one little big event. Toppling Goliath will deliver the hop payload at Brickhouse, with Golden Nugget, pseudoSue, and the rare King Sue, plus some dry-hopped pseudoSue variants. Vintage’s annual wood event, the Big Barrel Tararrel, happens today, and you can find deep, dark, rich beers alongside funky, tart, wild beers. Or just get puckered with a day full of sours at the Malt House; I know I will.
Sunday, May 11
There’s really only one way to end a 10-day celebration of great beer: the Crap Tap Takeover at Dexter’s. Sidle up to a bologna sandwich or a plate of mac and cheese with hot dog slices, and a cold $1 pour of Hamm’s or Schlitz or something else shitty in what I really hope will be an obnoxiously frosty glass.
Got a question about a beer, brewery, site, or event? Ask in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer. Read more preview pieces from Chris Drosner, Jessie Opoien, and Robin Shepard. Travel safe during the week; don’t drive drunk. And feel free to say hi if you run into me out there in the world. Even if you’re socially awkward, chances are by the end of all that drinking, I probably won’t remember anyway. Cheers!