When it comes to Wisconsin breweries, Milwaukee, known as “Brew City,” tends to get most of the attention. But less than 80 miles down the Interstate lies the state capital of Madison, which is home to some great breweries.
I recently took a biking tour of Madison Breweries, and this list consists of my top five favorites. Check out our Ultimate Madison Brewery Guide for the complete list of Madison Breweries and an interactive map.
If you like what I’ve chosen or want to chat about the beer you’ve tried, feel free to follow me on Unttapd at CraigMKE.
Young Blood Beer Company
Young Blood Beer Company is a relative newcomer to the First Settlement District, about a block from the State Capital. Its location is somewhat unassuming and lies in the shadows of the local juggernaut, The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company.
But what Young Blood lacks in size and prestige, they more than make up for with the best beers in Madison. They just do everything really, really well. Fruited sour? Pucker up. Double IPA? So juicy. Saison? Refreshing.
They have 12 rotating taps, which are heavy on IPAs and sours. There seem to be no real flagships here, which isn’t necessarily bad since all the beer is exquisite. The beer names are all pretty funny and bizarre.
Young Blood strikes the perfect balance between creating solid traditional-style beers and being at the forefront of some of the freshest beer trends. No matter what styles of beer you’re into, there’s going to be something on the menu for everyone to enjoy.
Black Rose Blending Co
Just off of Park Street between the Beltline and UW-Madison Campus lies the unpretentious home of Black Rose Blending Company. Outside, the beer garden is about 10 times larger than the brewery, which isn’t bad.
Black Rose Blending Company is perhaps the most polarizing selection on this list. Even if you’re a fan of sour beers, like Berliner-Weiss, gose, or kettle sours, these wild-fermented barrel-aged beers are on a whole other level.
Formerly Funk Factory Guezeria, which focused entirely on traditional lambics, Black Rose Blending Company has simply added some funky ciders, minimal intervention wines, and an occasional mead to their repertoire. While it’s fun to explore the varying fermentables, the wild-fermented lambic beers are still the main attraction.
Layers upon layers of flavors hit your taste buds with every sip. Some of which include fruit, yeast, and yes, funk. But that’s a testament to the beauty and artistry of creating traditional lambic without cutting corners.
You’ll find a few beers, ciders, and wines on tap, including local guest taps. Enjoy your beverage in the cozy taproom or in the expansive outdoor beer garden. The ciders, wines, and meads (when available) are great gluten-free options for those who still want to experience the funk.
More Wisconsin Brewery Content:
Best Breweries in Milwaukee
Wisconsin Brewery Map – Digital Map for On-the-go Access
Madison Brewery Map
Working Draft Beer Company
Nestled amongst what seems to be the Madison mile of breweries lies a little standout called Working Draft Beer Company. The little parking lot patio and larger indoor modern brewery space make for a comfortable situation to hunker down and sample away.
Between the 12 taps, there is a range of styles, making it an ideal place to hunker down and take down a flight or two. There are some very traditional styles, gluten-free options, and interesting experimental beers.
During my visit, there were a few traditional American hazy IPAs on tap, which were clean and tasty. But I was more drawn to some IPAs that utilized a grassy, earthy hop variety from New Zealand and another from Africa with wild berries notes.
I didn’t realize that Working Draft has roots in traditional European styles despite the hop-heavy tap rotation. The flagship pilsner was as crisp, clean, and refreshing as I’ve ever encountered.
They offer small taster sizes to try out as many of the beers as you’d like before settling on a pint. While the brewery only has a few snacks for sale, they encourage patrons to bring in or have food delivered and stay a while.
With its humble beginnings as a small startup in 2012, Karben4 Brewing has grown into a statewide success story in under a decade. With packaging as fun as the beers themselves, what’s not to love?
While it’s off the beaten path from the large cluster of Madison breweries, it’s worth a trip to Karben4. Their large indoor and outdoor spaces are comfortable and allow carry-in food.
The 15 taps are as eclectic as a pistol-toting feline riding a cosmic unicorn. Big barrel-aged stouts and barleywines coexist with session IPAs and pilsners. And you seemingly can’t go wrong, as one is just as quaffable as the next.
5 oz pours are available, so you can mix and match all the different styles more easily. While they gained notoriety with their flagship Fantasy Factory, their stouts are rich, smooth, and worth trying.
With so many different beers available on tap and canned, along with many gluten-free options, this is an ideal place for larger groups. Picky and adventurous beer lovers will also feel right at home.
Vintage Brewing Company
With a few locations around Madison, Vintage Brewing Company has found a nice balance in its brewing ventures. They create many very approachable styles and some experimental, seasonal, and barrel-aged varieties.
The elevated American-Style comfort food may be the bait that attracts casual beer drinkers to try an Irish red or Weissbier. But for those more adventurous, you might be lucky to find a firkin full of something completely unexpected at any of their three locations.
The number of taps and options will vary from location to location. But for your money, I recommend the bigger beers when you can find them. The limited edition barrel-aged releases, along with most of their stouts not named Scaredy Cat, are worth checking out.
The Belgian styles are also highly favored and pack a punch. Their fruited beers and sours hit the spot if you’re looking for something refreshing but not overly complex.
Any VBC locations are great options to grab a bite and a beer. The campus area on East Washington is the liveliest and seems to have more beer options for those seeking something more interesting.