Maybe it's the improved website, which really enables cross-referencing and event-tagging better than ever before, but it sure feels like this year's Madison Craft Beer Week has gotten awfully smart. Tap releases, bottle releases, crossovers, brewing science, food pairings, lectures -- all of these things have been part of MCBWs Past, but I don't know. Sure looks like a hell of a fest this year. The event runs from a preview of the new Common Thread beer on Thursday, April 30, to a send-off pizza party at the Grumpy Troll on Monday, May 11. There's a lot to go over, so let's get to previewing some of the events I think have the most promise.
Friday, May 1
Heavy-hitters abound on the first full day of the event, with Central Waters at the Malt House, Surly at Tipsy Cow (previewing its planned 2015 distribution expansion in Wisconsin, no doubt), and Karben4 releasing Boom! Taco Central, a session IPA named as weirdly as you'd expect Karben4 to do it. O'so has a new sour debuting at Blue Moon, and even Old Chicago has a cute event with the Aaron Rodgers beer biography tap takeover featuring Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA) and Titletown (Green Bay, WI). I may grab some beer bread at Batch; I mean, sourdough stout rye? YUP.
My pick: Uppers & Downers, the Good Beer Hunting coffee beer demo/lecture/sampling thing at Johnson Public House, featuring Intelligentsia, Like Minds, and Solemn Oath.
Saturday, May 2
Kick off the weekend with an early(-ish) brew day at One Barrel, or hit the Cask Ale Festival at the East Side Club; that one's always a great scene if you want to chit-chat with brewers. Door County Brewing's braintrust will be at Trixie's, and young hotshot Oliphant is taking over Next Door. There's a very Wisconsin barleywine -- beet sugar and gingseng, out of an Old Sugar whiskey barrel -- being released by House of Brews at collaborating restaurant Tex Tubb's.
Sunday, May 3
A tough day for dedicated Great Taste of the Midwest fans; tickets go on sale at noon, and the lines will be hopping well before the sun rises. Post-line brunching might be a squeeze, but you could do worse than Red Eye at the Old Fashioned or Tipsy Cow and Lombardino's popping up at One Barrel (followed loyally by a fundraiser for Underdog Pet Rescue). Aspiring brewers and Cicerones might choose to attend the afternoon-long flavor and style lecture at Babcock Hall, while filmmakers and aspiring Area Beer Drinkers will probably want to check out the Brewland documentary crew in action at High Noon. Dexter's is blowing out the lines with Founders (CBS!), Perennial (Abraxas!), and Evil Twin (smug self-satisfaction!) all day.
Monday, May 4
I'd write something snarky like [insert Star Wars pun here] here except Tipsy Cow's Left Hand tap takeover even only potentially being in honor of pop culture's most famous lefty makes me legit LOL. There's also a barrel-aged pumpkin porter from House of Brews coming out at Tex Tubb's, and a Potosi/Plazaburger special at the Plaza that sounds like a pretty good low-brow time. DESTIHL sours at Maduro are tempting if the brewery brings some rare stuff, and nerds are assured a good time with a brewing history pub crawl.
My pick: I'd do a number on the Funk Factory dinner at Forequarter just to have some of that Cassis.
Tuesday, May 5
It's a deep breath kind of day. Vintage's Scaredy Cat gets a south-of-the-border treatment for Cinco de Meow. MobCraft gets in on the Tex Tubb's collaboration party with a typically-absurd imperial light Mexican lager (yeah, think Corona) brewed with lime and agave, aged in mezcal barrels.
My pick: I don't know what the seat count is going to be, or how many might be left, but Merchant's Midwest Hi-Five beer dinner featuring Central Waters, Perennial, Three Floyds, Surly, and Founders is a Flyover Friday kind of dream.
Wednesday, May 6
All that rest you got on Tuesday? You'll need it for Wednesday. High-test beers are a-flowin' at Glass Nickel - Atwood with some rare Founders taps, and trust me when I say from past experience that they're probably not fuckin' around with this event. You can get your sour on at the Malt House with Upland taps, and hopefully they're bringing some high heat and not just Dantalion, or at Tipsy Cow's preview of New Glarus Wild Bitter -- the R&D beer that'll be bottle-released at the brewery Thursday through Saturday. (EDIT: And I guess that's kind of a presumption, since the MCBW site still plays coy with the beer's identity.) Karben4 kicks off Graze's backyard games series in the afternoon, then launches a Next Door collaboration ginger saison at Natt Spil that night.
Thursday, May 7
Another day of relaxation, at least on my calendar. Potosi's tossin' the old pill at Graze's three-day backyard party, or you could take in a screening of Wisconsin Women: Brewers and Growers at UW Union South, and then discuss it afterward with prominent women in the brewing industry.
My pick: If I'm not at the movie -- and there's no reason I couldn't do both -- I'd be a fool to not hit Toppling Goliath's only tap event of the week. It's a duel with Central Waters, hosted by Blue Moon, and if SR-71 isn't there, I'll be both sorely disappointed and fairly surprised.
Friday, May 8
If you've missed opportunities to try some of O'so's exceptional new beers (Black is the New Orange, Wheat You Talkin' 'Bout Willis, Goldilocks' Revenge), you can grab some of those -- plus very desirable Central Waters taps like Space Ghost, 2011 Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, and more of that tap-only 2015 Peruvian Morning -- at Dexter's. Graze closes out the backyard party series with the dudes from Furthermore, and Team Forequarter closes out the day with a special late-night menu and taps from Goose Island.
My pick: Randy Mosher of 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in Chicago -- though perhaps more well-known for his seminal beer bible, Tasting Beer -- will be discussing his new book on seasonal beer at the Madison Public Library. One of the few you-just-can't-miss-this events of the week.
Saturday, May 9
It's a very specific-beer-specific kind of MCBW day. The brand-new Parched Eagle Brewpub will release its Harpy strong ale. Karben4 hosts a beer brunch that is notable for a secret souped-up firkin of Deep Winter coffee stout. Tex Tubb's taps Hydro Street out of Columbus for an imperial chocolate cherry Scotch ale. You could also take a shot at Surly and Founders taps at the Coopers Tavern, if you can get through the doorway. (It'll be busy.) There are barrel-aged beers from Central Waters and Minnesota's Summit available at the Up North Bar, and even more barrel-aged beers at Vintage's annual Big Barrel Tararrel. Steenbock's on Orchard will cook up a Science of Beer dinner with Karben4, which was a quick sellout last year, apparently.
My pick: New Glarus' Wild Bitter bottle release event down at the Hilltop brewery. Unless you took Thursday or Friday off, this is probably your last shot at a bottle.
Sunday, May 10
My pick: Take a damn nap.
I'll link to my beer writing compatriots' preview posts as they publish right down here. And hey look, Chris Drosner already has one up at madison.com. Laurel White has an interview with MCBW co-founder Jeff Glazer. Robin Shepard previews the 2015 Common Thread collaborative beer, a Belgian tripel, for Isthmus. The Capital Times has an only slightly annoying slideshow preview. Kristian Knutsen and Scott Gordon lay down Tone Madison's MCBW preview, and Kristian discusses the event with Glazer and Robyn Klinge for WORT-FM.