Common Thread 2013

This year's Common Thread - a 10-brewery collaboration for Madison Craft Beer Week - is a French farmhouse ale known as biere de garde. It's shown in last year's commemorative mug at the Capital Brewery tasting room.

Last year, the amount of craft beer consumed in the United States increased about 15 percent. This year, the number of events at Madison Craft Beer Week — May 3-12 — will more than double.

Taps will be taken over by breweries from San Diego to Boston and Potosi to Green Bay. Beers rare and new will be tapped. Beers and foods of all kinds will be paired. Specific beer styles will be celebrated. Competitions between beer styles or between beer and other beverages will be ginned up.

All of that is enough to get Madison and its celebration of great beer, now in its third year, noticed.

It’s being noticed by out-of-state beer aficionados, who have been bombarding the MCBW website with inquiries into the 350-plus events.

Visitors have been particularly plentiful from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, said Robyn Klinge, a co-founder of Madison Craft Beer Week. Some of them may have been coming to Madison for the weekend anyway to secure tickets to Madison’s other big beer event, the Great Taste of the Midwest festival in August. It’s no coincidence that Madison’s beer week encompasses Great Taste ticket day, which this year is May 4.

It’s being noticed by national media like USA Today, which this month included Madison Craft Beer Week among its picks for the nation’s best beer events.

It’s being noticed by breweries from out of state, which are beefing up their presence at an event that had been dominated by brewers closer to home. “It’s a sign that Madison is a good market for them, and Madison Craft Beer Week becomes an important way to reach out,” Klinge said.

And while beer geeks are a key demographic for a lot of Beer Week events, the event is also about getting more casual beer drinkers to take notice, Klinge said.

So there are what she called “stepping stone” events: homebrewing seminars, free samplings and beer trivia nights. The two Friday nights of Beer Week belong to the fish fry, and restaurants across the city are swapping out macro tap lines for craftier draughts and offering specials on craft beer.

But if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the kinds of events I am: tap takeovers by some of the best breweries in the country, chances to meet the engaging and often fascinating people who make the beer you love, and new ways to enjoy your favorite brews.

And one nascent Madison Craft Beer Week tradition has returned for 2013: a special brew, designed and crafted by several local brewers specifically for the event. Let’s take a sneak peek at this year’s edition.

Common Thread

Style: Biere de garde, a relatively obscure ale that originated in French farmhouses of the Flanders region.

Brewed by: A true collaboration, Common Thread was again brewed at Capital Brewery by brewers from Capital, Vintage, the Great Dane, the Grumpy Troll, Lake Louie, House of Brews, Karben4, One Barrel, Potosi and Wisconsin Brewing.

What it’s like: Not being particularly well versed on this style, I can count the biere de garde I’ve had before Common Thread on one finger: Lakefront’s Rendezvous, the only widely produced Wisconsin biere de garde.

Where, when: The first official tapping of Common Thread will be Wednesday afternoon at Capital Brewery in Middleton, a full two days before Beer Week begins in earnest. Twice the amount of Common Thread was brewed this year — more than 50 barrels — so it will be more widely available than last year’s Wisconsin-style California common. In addition to all the contributing breweries, the beer will be tapped at key Beer Week venues. See the full list at go.madison.com/commonthread.

The beer: My uncarbonated pour of Common Thread, which came from the tank at Capital a day before it was to be centrifuged and kegged, was a hazy amber-gold. The aroma and flavor reflect the twin pillars of biere de garde: malt and yeast. The malt — some grown in Wisconsin, all of it malted here — is definitely forward, but without being particularly distinctive. That’s probably because the yeast and its fruity, slightly citrusy esters and sharp finish are so prominent. Brian Destree of Capital tells me the yeast character will mellow somewhat after some of it is centrifuged out. The addition of candi sugar and a touch of local honey fortify the beer with an assertive alcohol presence as well. The Gorst Valley-grown hops play third fiddle, serving only to snip off the malt sweetness. The soft, medium body of Common Thread will be highly carbonated, Destree said.

Booze factor: This Common Thread clocks in at 6.5 to 7 percent, significantly beefier than last year’s version.

The buzz: Even though it’s a style that’s not my favorite, I can see myself ordering a few pints of Common Thread during Beer Week festivities. Part of the appeal is the shared experience of appreciating a unique craft beer with the like-minded. Another is that proceeds from Common Thread go to the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, the trade group for state craft brewers.

Bottom line: ★★★ (out of four)

Got a beer you’d like the Beer Baron to pop the cap on? Contact Chris Drosner at cdrosner@madison.com or follow him on Twitter @WSJbeerbaron.

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Chris Drosner writes the Beer Baron column for the Wisconsin State Journal.