With roots almost two centuries deep entangled amongst art and architecture, Madison is a tree from which many have found a branch to trust and a fruit to savor. Restaurants, galleries, the state capital, and a top university to boot, there isnt much missing if you know where to look. Thats why it shouldnt be too surprising to learn that the Madison area has over 20 breweries putting out some of the greatest beers Wisconsin has to offer. Who in their right mind would think to put their dog in this fight?
Sara and Phil Hoechst, thats who. But why? My husband, Phil, and I are both from this area. I was born in Madison and raised in Verona, and he was actually born in Germany, but raised in Fitchburg. I could only nod to Saras words, as the all-too-common urge to stay put sung in the air. He and I met at the UW [Madison] Ah, of course. and then we decided that we wanted to move out to Colorado for a while.
Wait, Colorado? Where the microbrew industry has been a guiding light for states that cast their eyes to its ridges afore the setting sun? It turns out that in the fall of 2010, Phil was bit by the brew bug in Denver, Colorado. The bug mustve traveled some distance to inspire Hop Haus brewmaster to make his first beer ever a Belgian. We moved to Denver, and I would say at that time Denver was kinda where the Madison area is now with craft-beer stuff and how its just everywhere.
The two had a five-year plan to stay in Colorado before moving back to Madison, but the plan was soon halved. That isnt to say they were eager to leave. We love Denver, Sara says. The weathers amazing, theres so much to do, but then we had our first son, and my family is in and around Madison. Phils family, all of them that are heretheres some back in Germanyis pretty much in Fitchburg.
To beer drinkers in the area, I think there is reason to celebrate their return. Hop Haus Brewing Co. brings something familiar to resident indulgers while putting itself in a position to do things a little bit different. The Colorado influence is present in Sara and Phils leanings toward the hoppier beers, and the bug that bit Phil leaves intrigue toward Belgian styles.
So what makes this brewery stand out? Phil and Sara are able to do more experimental batches than some of their larger competition, even though they only brew on a three-barrel system. As Im writing this article, a Barley Wine and Imperial Stout are licking up the flavors in their temporary bourbon barrel homes. Pants Off, Dance Off and Pocket Rocket, respectively, will be available in time for the holidays.
Such practices were often left to homebrewers to create and their friends to enjoy, but the times they are a changing. Its an exciting time with all the beers and breweries. Its an exciting time to be in it, says Sara. This is evidenced in their winter seasonal lineup. Speaking of lineup, lets start with their Milk Stout, Fat Eddie, named after a lumbering version of the running back who changed the Packers offensive game two seasons ago, but I imagine hes back to his old self by now, plowing through linemen and knocking over linebackers. Then theres an Old English Ale, Old Teabagger; a Red IPA, Hoppy Hour Hero; and a Robust Porter, BrickHAUS.
Its unfortunate I couldnt taste these beers before this article, but the year-round beers are more than enough to put Hop Haus on my radar. First we have their Scotch Ale, Plaid Panther. The maltiness is there, no question, but its made a little less sweet with a hint of smokiness. Then theres Peace Train, a Pale Ale that Cat Stevens can drink while thinking about the good things to come. Light in color, subtle hops, and no real bitterness to leave you scratching your tongue. Compare that to their flagship IPA, Super Big Time. Here we get a bit more of that hoppy flavor behind an orange-colored veil. Double down on that, and taste Magic Dragon, the Double IPA. Some brewers favor the malts in their doubles, but Hop Haus lays on the citrus in their aromatics. A more intriguing choice for a year-round beer is the Spandex Bandit, a Belgian Grand Cru. Orange peel and coriander offer a faint spice thats just sweet enough. If youre new to the Belgian style, start here. Last, but not least, we have Sweet Sunglasses, a Blonde Ale. Not to be confused with Cheap Sunglasses, this ale is designed for someone looking for something easy to drink. Its crisp, refreshing, and great on a hot summer daythough that doesnt stop people from drinking it in the winter.
If the beer doesnt get you to Verona, which is often perceived as far awayits notmaybe what they stand for will. Sara acknowledges everything the city has done for her and Phils business. Weve had an amazing response from Verona. Its really nice that they support us. And the brewery gives back, often working with local businesses. Just this past July, Hop Haus joined forces with Frabonis to somehow combine beer, pizza, and music in an effort to bring awareness to MS, raising $3,300 for research in the process.
They dont always need a great cause to throw a party. Keep an eye out for the Ugly Sweater Party in December, where you might not have the heart of Fred Rogers, but you can dress like him and sing Its a beautiful day in the brewery. While there, pick up a gift basket featuring affairs from local restaurants. Expect to see bombers of Pocket Rocket and Pants off, Dance off, and dont forget to grab a hat, shirt, and growler for that special someone.
Theres never a bad reason to check out a new brewery, and Sara and Phil are always doing something new. So come on down and have a pint, you deserve it.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials and writer living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.