Madison Craft Beer Week was launched in 2011 by a trio of individuals who, taking note of craft beer celebrations springing up around the country, decided to get the Madison’s version off the ground “before somebody else screws it up,” said MCBW co-founder Jeff Glazer.
This year, Madison Craft Beer Week, running from this Friday to May 10, will celebrate its fifth year with 350 events held at 80 different venues. Many larger cities, including Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle, hold craft beer weeks with a fraction of that number of events.
“Most of them are holding like 70 events,” said Glazer. “For a city the size of Madison, the scale of our craft beer week is pretty staggering.”
Glazer, who launched the week with Robyn Klinge of Females Enjoying Microbrews and Bill Rogers of The Malt House, said that Craft Beer Week’s goal to grow the Madison craft beer community has most certainly been achieved. He sat down to talk with us about how he got into beer, what’s changed in the Madison craft beer scene in recent years and what it’s been like to watch Madison Craft Beer Week grow.
How did you get into craft beer to begin with?
My brother, who is six years younger than me, actually got me into craft beer. I had bought him his first beer back when he was 16 and then it was, gosh, probably another six years after that that he repaid the favor by buying me beer.
What he ended up settling on was a bottle of a beer from a brewery called Dogfish Head, out of Delaware. They make some pretty bold, pretty different kinds of beer. So, my brother bought bottles of Dogfish Head 120 Minute (IPA). It’s 18 percent ABV. It is a very big beer. But when he got that for me and he poured it, he didn’t pour it into a pint glass – he poured it into a champagne flute. And he split the bottle between three people. Now, I’d never seen somebody take that much time to buy beer, let alone to split one twelve ounce bottle between three people, and pour it in a champagne flute at that. So, already, it was far outside what I had typically thought of as “drinking beer.”
And then, (120 Minute) doesn’t taste like anything you’ve ever had before. It tastes like champagne, it tastes like hops and citrus, it just tastes like all of those things simultaneously. There’s a lot going on there. And it didn’t taste like any beer I’d ever had before and it just made me say, “This does not fit my definition of what I thought beer was, so clearly I’ve been doing it wrong.” It sort of made a note in my mind that, “If this is beer and what I’ve been drinking is beer, then there’s a whole universe here that I’ve been missing.” And, at that point, I just jumped into it.
How has the Madison craft beer scene changed since you got here in 2006?
It has grown immensely. There’s a lot more players in the market. It has gone from being a fairly standard beer oriented market to a very adventurous beer market. When I first got here it was Great Dane and Capital and that was about it.
(And) it was still all relatively normal beers. They had their ambers and their porters and their pale ales and their pilsners, there wasn’t anything really weird or exciting or creative particularly about it. It was all good, it wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t that interesting either.
I think that has changed significantly with the influx of nanobreweries like One Barrel, with super creative brewers like Scott Manning at Vintage or Aran Madden at Furthermore or Andrew (Gierczak) and Henry (Schwartz) over at MobCraft. You have breweries in the market now that are doing such strange and creative things with beer that simply didn’t exist in 2006 when I moved here.
Where did the idea for Madison Craft Beer Week come from?
So, it was an idea that each of us had had independently of the other. We were familiar with craft beer weeks from around the country and, at the time, there was a fairly limited slate of craft beer weeks. Philadelphia had one, San Francisco had one, New York had one, Cleveland had one … but that was really about it. There were enough to see the trend. We said, “It seems inevitable that this is going to come to Madison.” Then one day I got a call from Robyn, she said, “I was talking to Bill and we’re thinking of starting a Madison Craft Beer Week, do you want to help?” Between the three of us, we (knew) everybody in the community. We all said it makes sense for us to do this independently, rather than wait around for somebody else to do it – we have the contacts, we have the business knowledge to get this to go. (We thought), “Before somebody else screws it up, we should do it.” We all had a very specific idea of what we wanted out of craft beer week.
What was the most difficult element of getting it off the ground?
Getting people to buy into it. I think at the beginning we just felt that everybody would be like, “That’s a great idea!” We needed to convince breweries and restaurants and bars that they wanted to participate, and convince consumers that there’s something cool for them to go to.
People were actually resistant to it?
People outside the craft beer community were the hardest to get at. All three of us knew there would be some people in the community who would jump on it, no questions asked. Interestingly, we had very little traction until Jen DeBolt at Old Fashioned jumped on board and said, “We’re going to hold a whole week of events.” As soon as she said that, everybody jumped in.
What’s changed most about the event since it started?
The types of venues that are participating has changed. In the beginning, it was really the places you’d expect: the Old Fashioneds and The Malt House and Brasserie V. But today we have venues that are setting launch dates for Craft Beer Week because they want to launch during Craft Beer Week. We have venues that are new to Madison that are holding their first big events during Craft Beer Week. So the breadth of venues and restaurants and bars has been really surprising and really great. It’s been really nice to see bars and restaurants test out the concept of Craft Beer Week, buy into craft beer as a community and as something people see value in. The craft beer taps here in town have grown considerably, the knowledge around craft beer has grown considerably and I think the community around craft beer has grown considerably.
Being an organizer, do you ever get to enjoy the events?
It sounds bad, but, yeah, I have to go and enjoy events. During Craft Beer Week, Robyn and I are out every single night. And it sounds rough to say, “Oh man, honey, sorry, it’s Tuesday night but I’ve got to go to the bar,” but I have to do that. It’s one thing, we can kind of joke about that because the vision of somebody having to go to four or five bars in a night is kind of silly, but do that 10 nights in a row and I challenge you to do not see that as work. I will say that, after Craft Beer Week, we sort of have these self-imposed detox periods where none of us drink beer for like a month.
Do you have a favorite Craft Beer Week memory?
I went to an event two years ago. It was one of these cases where it was an interesting event that hadn’t been done before, that we had recommended. Occasionally bars ask us what kind of event they should hold, because they’re looking for ideas.
So, a couple years ago, we were pushing this idea of doing French press beer. What they do is they take a French press and you can take a handful of hops, put it in the French press and pour beer over it and the beer absorbs the character of the hops so it’s a way to modify the beer tableside. You can do it with coffee grounds, with flowers, with fruit.
And so we had this great idea that some bar should do it, so one of our venues was doing it with another group that was bringing the hops. So I said, “This sounds interesting and I want to see how it gets executed.” So we get there and the person who was supposed to run the event never showed up. And so I said alright I’ll (run the event). And it was a blast. It was a lot of fun.