Hop Haus Brewing Company

Madison-area brewpubs proliferate

Experienced growers know hops, once planted, tend to proliferate almost without limit. So, too, it seems, with the brewpubs that use the herbaceous perennial’s cones to create their beer.

Milwaukee is in the midst of a groundswell of craft breweries opening this year. The trend has overtaken Madison as well. In the Capital City and surrounding communities, new brewpubs are joining the ranks faster than you can say, “Humulus lupulus.”

Here’s a look at some recent Madison-area arrivals, the entrepreneurs behind them and what is currently pouring from their taps.

MADISON

There are two things, apparently, that one can do with a college geology degree: become a “rock-hound” who studies and teaches about the Earth’s hard surface — or go into a completely different line of work. Nate Warnke, who holds a geology degree from UW-Madison, chose the latter.

But Warnke drew on his undergraduate education when he named his fledgling enterprise Rockhound Brewing Co. The brewpub, which opened April 5, occupies the former Lane’s Bakery on South Park Street and is tucked in to the bustling UnityPoint Health-Meriter health care system neighborhood.

Warnke, who started as a homebrewer a decade ago, installed a five-barrel system at Rockhound, which he believes is a nice fit for the space and his brewing plans.

The 4,000-square-foot brewpub, decorated in a geology motif, is also a restaurant. The early output from its kitchen and its kegs has generated good comments among local critics.

Warnke’s beer menu features descriptions of his brews that include the alcohol by volume and the international bittering units to help customers make the right choice when they belly up to the 45-foot copper-covered U-shaped bar.

Look for Mosquito Bite IPA (6.5 percent ABV, 65 IBUs), a full-bodied beer with a bitter finish and complex hop character. The Grinder Coffee Porter (5 percent ABV, 26 IBUs) uses four malt varieties and freshly pressed coffee to create a mellow, roast-y flavor with a dry finish. Sandstone Blonde Ale (4.5 percent ABV, 24 IBUs) taps a variety of European hops and Belgian yeast to create its own bright, slightly fruity flavor profile.

Rockhound won’t be alone. Plans for other brewpubs abound, including the rumored opening this summer of the nearby Lucky’s 1313 Brewpub. The brewpub, located at 1313 Regent St., would be a sister facility to Lucky’s Bar & Grille, the popular campus-area bar located at 1421 Regent St. just a few blocks from the UW’s Camp Randall Stadium.

Rockhound Brewing Company is at 444 S. Park St., Madison; telephone 608-285-9023. The brewpub is open 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

VERONA

The craft brewing scene in Verona, a city of 10,660 that wraps Madison’s southwest side, took a quantum leap three years ago, when the newly constructed Wisconsin Brewing Company started producing its first batches.

Founded by Carl Nolan and Kirby Nelson, the former president and brewmaster, respectively, of Middleton-based Capital Brewing Company, WBC enhanced the hamlet’s beer scene, which already was being served by Gray’s Tied House, a retail outlet for Janesville’s Gray’s Brewing Company. Then, in mid-2015, a quieter brewpub grew up in the shadow of the two giants.

Hop Haus Brewing Company, located on Verona’s Main Street across from Miller’s Market and adjacent to the Military Ridge Bike Trail, pulled its first taps just a little over a year ago. The barn-wood-decorated brewpub is the brainchild of local couple Phil and Sara Hoechst, who caught the brewing bug when they lived and worked in Denver.

Brewmaster Phil’s three-barrel system, modest but effective for the demands of the 2,600-square-foot facility, is the same size as the one used at Next Door Brewing Company on Madison’s east side. Business is bustling, but the brewpub seems an unlikely enterprise given the couple’s educational backgrounds.

Phil, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, met Sara, who was studying dietetics and criminal justice, when the pair attended UW-Madison. After two years in the Rocky Mountains, the couple returned to Wisconsin in 2012 to raise a family and follow their brewing dreams.

Hop Haus does not have a full kitchen. Instead, it offers a modest bar food selection and encourages customers to bring food in from other area restaurants. For Phil and Sara Hoechst, the beer’s the thing.

Prepare your palate for Magic Dragon IPA (8.2 percent ABV, 90 IBUs), produced with 3 pounds of hops per barrel and delivering a one-two punch of grapefruit and mango to the palate. The Plaid Panther Scotch Ale (8 percent ABV, 21 IBUs) takes a stealthier approach with strong malt overtones masking the equally strong alcohol content. Or opt for the Spandex Bandit (7.2 percent, 22 IBUs), a Belgian grand cru with hints of orange peel and hand-ground coriander rounding out its vibrant flavors.

The Spandex Bandit pays homage to those traversing the nearby bike trail. It is well-suited refreshment for riders whose trail has come to an end, at least for the day.

The Hop Haus Brewing Company is located at 231 S. Main St., Verona; telephone 608-497-3165. The brewpub is open Sunday noon–8 p.m., Monday through Thursday 4–10 p.m., Friday 3–11 p.m. and Saturday noon–11 p.m.

WAUNAKEE

If Avary Abercrombie accomplishes nothing more in her life, the 8-year-old daughter of Kevin and Kerry Abercrombie can be content in knowing her existence inspired the name of one of Wisconsin’s newest brewpubs.

The Lone Girl Brewing Company is an 11,000-square-foot brewpub anchoring a block of new downtown development in the 12,000-resident village of Waunakee, north of Madison. It opened in June. Avary is the “lone girl” among the children of the Abercrombies and of Chicago architect Paul Kozlowski and his wife Tammi, the brewpub’s co-owners.

The $2 million Lone Girl’s large footprint, which also includes a rooftop beer garden and 10-barrel brewing system, marks an aggressive and confident start for a new brewpub. But that’s not surprising given that Kevin Abercombie also founded and still manages Matilda, a bar and restaurant located in Chicago’s Wrigleyville and one of the Windy City’s few self-declared Green Bay Packers bars.

Lone Girl’s beers are brewed by local home brewer John Russell, who won Best of Show for his sweet stout in the 2015 Grumpy Troll Challenge, a competition named for the Mount Horeb brewpub that sponsored it. A version of that beer (5 percent ABV) is on Lone Girl’s tap list.

In addition, the list features Summer Lovin’ (5.5 percent ABV), a mango-infused wheat ale, Off the Rails IPA (6.5 percent ABV), a balance of Citra hops and a little malt sweetness, and Barnwood Brown (6 percent ABV), a semisweet brown ale with a malty start and clean hop finish.

Earlier, in October 2015, Octopi Brewing Company opened its doors in Waunakee. Run by Chicago expats Adam Vavrick and Isaac Showaki, Octopi’s 17,000-square-foot brewery boasts a 50-barrel operation, five times that of Lone Girl. It’s a contract brewer that also produces its own 3rd Sign line of craft beers.

Despite the previously established, rather hefty local competition, Lone Girl is already making its mark among area beer lovers. Someday that’s bound to make Avary Abercrombie proud.

The Lone Girl Brewing Company is at 114 E. Main St., No. 101, Waunakee; telephone 608-850-7175. The brewpub is open Sunday and Wednesday 11 a.m.–midnight, Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m.–2 a.m., and is closed Monday and Tuesday.

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