Ten Reasons to Attend Madison Craft Beer Week

Ten Reasons to Attend Madison Craft Beer Week
The Old Fashioned is one of more than 80 venues hosting events for Madison Craft Beer Week. Photo by Zane Williams.

Ready or not, Madison Craft Beer Week is coming, and it’s bigger (and better) than ever. The ten-day event, which begins this Friday, May 3, and runs through May 13, celebrates craft beer from around the country with more than 350 events at more than 80 venues throughout the greater Madison area (dizzying, right?).

“It’s a long week, so pace yourself,” says Jeff Glazer, one of the founders of Madison Craft Beer Week. Sounds like some solid advice.

Glazer, who writes for the Madison Beer Review and teaches law at UW by day, started Madison Craft Beer Week in 2011 with friends Robyn Klinge, who runs the group FEMs (Females Enjoying Microbrews) and holds the title of beer connoisseur at Vintage Brewing Co., and Bill Rogers, who owns the Malt House and is a past chair of Great Taste of the Midwest.

Now that MCBW is an established event, the three organizers are blown away by the rapid growth and success. Last year, there were 180 events held at 55 venues throughout the week. This year, the numbers doubled, “which is crazy,” Klinge says. 

And others in the beer community have noticed. Scott Manning, brewmaster for Vintage Brewing Co., applauds the trio for their efforts. “The founders and coordinators deserve a lot of credit for having managed its exponential growth, working diligently and patiently with lots of disorganization and procrastination (and that’s just me!), and for having earned national attention for a well-run behemoth of a show.”

If the growth and rising popularity aren’t enough to sway you, here are ten reasons to check out the ten days of Madison Craft Beer Week:

Seriously, with more than 350 events, and more still being added, chances are you can find an event that matches your preferences, or ones that challenge them—tastings at liquor stores, tap takeovers, special pairing dinners, you name it. More of a wine than a beer person? Head to the Beer vs. Wine night at Barriques in Middleton (May 8), or the Certified Cicerone vs. Sommelier Smackdown at Square Wine Co. (May 9).

Glazer, Klinge and Rogers say they encouraged both the obvious participants (think craft beer enthusiasts like Dexter’s, Coopers Tavern and Brasserie V) and the not-so-obvious in order to curate a diverse range of participants. “The founders can be credited for fostering a very inclusive and flexible tone when working with venues and brewers, etc. They give full reign to define and promote our own events,” says Manning. 

If your end-of-week plans normally involve fish, chances are you could be attending a MCBW event and not even know it. Restaurants that offer Friday fish fries can register their rendition of Wisconsin’s favorite weekly special as a beer week event as long as they remove one macro beer from their tap and replace it with a microbrew. 

“I always like people to learn something, whether you’re a beer novice or a beer connoisseur,” says Klinge. Throughout the ten days, you can find educational events from Home Brewers 101 at Vintage Spirits and Grill (May 8) to Wisconsin Craft Brewers Panel at The Sett at UW’s Union South (May 7). Or, if you think you really know your stuff, test your luck (er, sorry, knowledge) at one of the many beer trivia nights at places like Dexter’s Pub (May 4, 7 and 8), Tipsy Cow (May 6), the Great Dane (May 7) and Capital Tap Haus (May 9), among others.

They say not to drink on an empty stomach, and with so many beer and food pairing events just about every day of MCBW, there’s no reason not to heed this advice. Some highlights:

Common Thread, the beer made especially for Madison Craft Beer Week, is a collaborative project among ten craft brewers from southern Wisconsin. The style this year is a Biere de Garde, and will go on tap at more than thirty pubs, restaurants and tap rooms beginning Friday, May 3. Get it while it’s cold!

The camaraderie that Common Thread represents isn’t limited to this collaboration brew. The beer scene in Madison is decidedly neighborly, which Peter Gentry of the east side’s nanobrewery One Barrel Brewing thinks might set it apart from other cities. “We’re all on the same page about bringing craft beer to market,” he says.

Manning, of Vintage Brewing, agrees: “Our Beer Week and our beer scene make Madison the envy of much bigger cities. There’s a lot of support for craft beer here, evident by percentage of craft versus total beer sales, which is quite a bit higher than some other regions.” 

Yes, it’s a beer-focused, ten-day festival, which traditionally would appeal to a man between the ages of 25 and 60, but this is Madison. We pride ourselves on (or at least strive to) stretching past the norm for these kinds of events. MCBW will be one of those stereotype-busting events, Glazer says. “You can encounter anyone from grandparents to college students at these events. Even little kids—hey, it’s Wisconsin.” 

Two breweries that opened in 2012, Karben4 and One Barrel Brewing, both have strong MCBW lineups.

“The coolest thing we’re doing is in our place all twelve taps will be our own beers for the first time ever,” says One Barrel’s Gentry. If you haven’t had the chance to try beer from One Barrel, or your exposure has been limited, that event, 1BBL Tap Takeover (May 3), has your name all over it.

Since opening in late 2012, Karben4 has been steadily raising its profile in Madison. You can catch Karben4 both in their tap room and across town throughout the ten days, but don’t miss their IPA Release Party (May 10) when they unveil their new hoppy seasonal, and their aforementioned Sausage Party with artisan meats from Underground Food Collective (May 9). Both will be held at their Kinsman Boulevard tap room. 

But wait, it gets better. In the spirit of collaboration (see #5) these two rising stars co-brewed a Barelywine (“No, that’s not a typo,” says Karben4 brewmaster Ryan Koga) called 1BK4. And it will be ready just in time for Madison Craft Beer Week.

While there is a focus on local breweries like Ale Asylum, Great Dane, Vintage et al., crafts brews from Madison, or the state even, aren’t the sole focus of Madison Craft Beer Week. “Breweries participating are from all over the country,” says Glazer. MCBW affords the opportunity for your favorite watering hole to stock up on some lesser known, out-of-state microbrews that you might not normally find on tap. 

As the sheer thought of 400 beer-related events in one city is a little intimidating (OK, very intimidating), Glazer suggests to “look for places in town or in parts of town that you want to explore.”

Or, get outta Dane and venture to CamRock Café & Sport in Cambridge. To celebrate one year in business, the café is hosting Bike and Beer Fest (May 4) with live music, $2 Ale Asylum pours, Alterra coffee, free yoga classes and group bike rides throughout the day. The leisurely twenty minute drive (or better, bike) is definitely worth it.  

Jeff Glazer sums it up best. Cheers to that. 

Find a complete listing of events online at madbeerweek.com or pick up a free Field Guide at any of the participating venues.