Madison is a great city for the craft beer enthusiast–great brewpubs, well-known regional craft breweries, and many bars and taverns dedicated to all things hops and malt. There have been a few articles written up with various restaurants and bars to visit while in Madison, but I’ll offer my picks for great craft beer. This list is not intended to be a complete listing of all places downtown that you should check out, just the places I would suggest to a friend looking for a good cask IPA or a fall welcoming Oktoberfest.
Walking distance from Monona Terrace/Capitol Hotels:
The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company
123 E. Doty Street
Probably the most famous Madison-area brewpub. While they have multiple locations in the Madison area, the downtown location is my favorite. Yes it has the best atmosphere, from Capitol suits to college students and everything in between, but that’s not why it’s my favorite. The downtown location offers the most expansive beer list. Typically they offer 10 or so regular taps; something like 6-8 seasonal/brewer’s choice taps and 2 cask ales. The food menu is quite expansive and very good.
Favorites: Brewman Bob’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese (pony up the $2.25 to add the bacon) and Texas Speedbump IPA.
The Old Fashioned
23 N. Pinckney St.
This Capitol Square tavern and restaurant goes after classic Wisconsin fare. They offer 50 tap handles; largely Wisconsin-made craft beer as well as some of the most famous macro brews from yesteryear–like Schlitz and Blatz. In addition to beer it wouldn’t be proper to mention The Old Fashioned and not mention the namesake is after a famous cocktail enjoyed across Wisconsin. Never had an Old Fashioned? Try one, you’ll like it. The menu offers a lot of supper club type entrees and delicious sandwiches.
Favorites: Deep fried cheese curds, No. 38 sandwich, and Satin Solstice Imperial Stout.
The Essen Haus (Come Back Inn and Up North Saloon)
514 E. Wilson St.
Madison’s German-themed restaurant offers about 16 imported German biers on tap, covering a range of German styles from Pilsner to Dunkelweiss to Schwarzbier. The place to take a group of friends, enjoy a boot of German beer, and some live Polka music. What’s a boot of beer? A glass two liter boot–don’t let the boot hit the table and don’t have an early morning presentation! The menu offers American and German entrees–the portion sizes are quite large, so save room for some German biers!
Favorites: Wiener Schnitzel, Spaten Oktoberfest and Köstritzer Schwarzbier.
The Come Back Inn and Up North Saloon are adjacent to The Essen Haus and offer expansive craft and German beer lists.
The Coopers Tavern
20 W. Mifflin St.
A small place on the Capitol Square with a big beer list. Nearly 30 tap handles of a variety of great American craft beer and select imports. The taps rotate frequently, so there is always something new and seasonal. The menu is small yet offers a variety and everything they do is hand-made and oh so tasty!
Favorites: Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild (if it is still on tap) and Steak Frites is a great meal with a Belgian flare.
800 Langdon St.
Der Rathskeller located inside the Memorial Union (student union) is modeled after old German beer halls, bustling with students and faculty, this is a great place to grab one of 25 tap beers offered, domestics, craft brews, and a few imports. The Terrace along Lake Mendota adjacent to Der Rathskeller is a great place to enjoy the lake shore and live music on a summer night, but alas summer has passed us by, so grab a pitcher and some friends and enjoy Der Rathskeller.
Favorite: Ale Asylum Hopalicious