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Beer Travels: Ale Asylum, Madison, WI

If you want to see what a destination brewery might look like, head down I-94 a few hours and see for yourself one brewery’s take on the concept.

What could be considered – by volume only, let’s make no qualitative comparisons – a Surly proxy in Wisconsin, Ale Asylum in Madison is now settling into their brand new brewery and tasting room.  Occupying 45,000 square feet on a once-vacant corner near the west entrance/exit of the Dane County Regional Airport, their new facility sits like a welcome sign to weary travelers and a statement of regional identity.  They opened their tasting room in late September but haven’t fully started production in the new brewhouse.  Regardless, the beer is flowing and people are pouring in.

For anyone familiar with Ale Asylum’s previous location, you won’t notice a change in the beer offerings, and they do still serve food.  The new place is simply much, much bigger – five times, in fact – and thoroughly impressive.  It was two thirty on a rainy, miserable day when I visited and the place was full. Patrons enter the airy bar where they can immediately catch the current tap list and decide where to sit, which turns out to be no small task: there’s the bar, the seated dining room or the patio, and the latter two have two levels each.

The facility is huge and could easily handle large crowds.  However, when it comes to serving beer and food they are careful to state in principle that the new facility will happily remain a tasting room, albeit a large one.  Ale Asylum beers are served across Madison and the folks at the brewery are wisely leaving the restaurant work to the restaurants.  The food menu at the tasting room is one page front and back consisting of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pizzas.  The choices are limited but familiar and local suppliers keep it from feeling run-of-the-mill.

At the time, the staff was obviously still growing into the new facility. Not all regular beers were available on draft and were substituted by bottles; flights were not available because they’re getting new flight trays and glassware.  Expect their four year-round offerings –  Hopalicious (their flagship), Madtown Nutbrown, Ambergeddon and Contorter Porter – to be available in the tasting room on tap or in a bottle.  Seasonal brews are available on a schedule and a select few will be exclusive to  the tasting room; bring a growler and take your pick.  Yes, they’ll fill anyone’s growlers so long as it’s clean, sealable and had has the Surgeon General’s statement on it.  Isn’t that convenient?

If you are at the brewery and do not prefer beer you’re in luck because wine and liquor are served; I don’t think they’ll fill a growler with booze though.  Then again, it is Wisconsin. . .

Drive time from Twin Cities: 4.5 hours, approximately 250 miles.

Food: Try the beet salad, Chad in the kitchen is proud of that one.

Also see: The Green Owl Cafe has pretty good food.  It just so happens that their good food is also vegetarian.  If you’re downtown, stop into Amy’s Cafe & Bar just off State Street for an unapologetic, welcoming ambiance.  If it’s Sunday night, try karaoke at the Come Back In.  If nothing else, bring your bike and cruise around the many bike paths around the lakes.