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

Common Thread
JOHN HART — State Journal archives

At the end of Madison Craft Beer Week, the beer devotees among us are pretty exhausted. The people who run it are exhausted when it begins.

It’s a colossal task, months of herding the cats that become Madison’s 10-day celebration of great beer.

So it was with little surprise that I read last September that Robyn Klinge and Jeff Glazer were stepping away from the passion project that they founded with Bill Rogers in 2011. The past two years, Klinge and Glazer had worked around their two demanding, full-time jobs to coordinate Madison Craft Beer Week.

The new steward of the event is Isthmus, the weekly newspaper that has two beer writers and a broad portfolio of community events like this one.

“When Jeff and Robyn passed Craft Beer Week to us, they chose us both for who we are, and who we are not,” the new owners said in a statement posted on the Beer Week website until it was replaced recently by live event listings and other beer content. “We are not a brewery or distributor and we do not compete in any part of the beer industry. We are a media company with a deep understanding of the craft beer industry.”

Any concerns about Isthmus maintaining the independence and quality that have marked Beer Week’s first five years should be allayed by the slate of 400-plus events that begin Friday at bars, restaurants, breweries and other venues across the metro area.

It’s more or less the same heady mix of brewer appearances, special tappings, beer dinners, bottle releases, educational and other events that can’t be categorized. And there’s a slick new smartphone app that allows users to build a personal calendar of can’t-miss events and browse what’s happening nearby.

All of these events aim to expand our access to and understanding of beer, and bring people together over it. It’s kind of a communal university-style education on beer, happening from intro-level classes to postgraduate thesis work.

And there is a lot going on, much more that’s noteworthy than this column can contain. But hey, highlights and recommendations are what I do. For details on each event, and hundreds more, check out the listings at madbeerweek.com.

Cask Ale Fest: This year the signature event of Beer Week moves from one interesting venue to another. Previously held at the East Side Club on Lake Monona, the celebration of “real ale” goes off this year to the revived Breese Stevens Field on Saturday amid the new skyscrapers on East Washington Avenue. Look for at least 25 traditional “raw” — unpasteurized and unfiltered — beers from local, state and national brewers. Tickets are $40 at isthmus.com/caskalefest.

Beer and tacos: Two of my favorite things come together again this year at Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace, which is again the nexus of a series of collaboration beers with local breweries. Festivities get started Friday with the release of this year’s winner of the ReinheitsRevolt homebrew contest: a witbier with juniper and peppercorns formulated by John Moran and Michael Chronister and brewed at Next Door Brewing. Saturday brings Shotgun Willie, a strong ale aged in whiskey barrels, then dosed with ginger and aged in tequila barrels made by (of course) MobCraft Beer. Bock In Black, brewed with Wisconsin Brewing, debuts Tuesday. Two “Star Wars”-themed beers premiere May 4: Imperial Walker strong dark ale aged with oak (House of Brews) and JedIPA (Dead Bird Brewing). Closing out Tex Tubb’s Beer Week on May 8 is the return of Bouquet pink IPA, the Vintage Brewing collaboration that raises funds for breast cancer research.

Beer 301: In perhaps the best possible stay-in-school public service announcement, students from UW-Madison’s Fermentation and Brew Lab course will give a presentation Friday detailing their development of the second beer in the lineup of Campus Craft Brewery. The partnership with Wisconsin Brewing in Verona yielded a hit with last year’s Inaugural Red, and this year’s American wheat ale, S’Wheat Caroline, will make its debut at the event. 3-5 p.m., The Sett at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.

Hello, stranger: Among other events, Next Door Brewing is continuing its excellent Beer Week tradition of hosting tap takeovers for small breweries you don’t see around these parts very often. It gets started early on Thursday with Ahnapee Brewing of Algoma in northeastern Wisconsin. Friday brings the excellent Raised Grain Brewing, founded last year in Waukesha by two homebrewing doctors. Brookfield’s Biloba Brewing is the guest on May 6. The guest taps open at 5 p.m. each day. 2439 Atwood Ave.

Heavy hitters: The flip side of Next Door’s approach to tap takeovers can be found at Dexter’s Pub, 301 North St., and The Coopers Tavern, 20 W. Mifflin St. Each is bringing in heavy hitters with deep tap lists of exclusive and adventurous beers to populate them. It’s the more the merrier at Dexter’s, which is hosting two to three breweries every night, such as O’so and Central Waters (May 6) and New Holland, Nebraska Brewing and 3 Sheeps (May 4). Coopers hosts a single brewery each date of Beer Week, including the likes of Founders, Lagunitas and Dogfish Head — and those are just the first three nights.

Hands on: Hop Haus Brewing and Madison’s Wine and Hop Shop team up for a group brew on American Homebrewers Association Big Brew Day, and you’re invited. Hop Haus will provide the water, hops and yeast, so homebrewers just need malt, equipment and a few hours of sweat equity. This year’s selected beer is an altbier; call Wine and Hop at 608-257-0099 for more information. 9 a.m. May 7, 231 S. Main St., Verona.

August awaits: The only local beer event that rivals Beer Week has a prominent position right in the middle of it. The Great Taste of the Midwest festival is Aug. 13, but the $60 tickets go on sale Sunday and will sell out in minutes because it is a straight-up awesome event. People know this, so lines will begin forming outside the eight bottle shops, breweries and bars hosting ticket sales on Saturday night. Ticket sales begin at noon but The Malt House, a veteran venue that’s opening with a Potosi Brewing tap takeover at 9 a.m. and running ticket-related specials, advises joining the line before sunrise. Details and ticket venues at greattaste.org.

Go prospecting: Nate Warnke opened Madison’s newest brewery, Rockhound Brewing, on April 5 after tribulations both personal and bureaucratic. While on-site brewing has yet to begin — the house recipes on tap so far were brewed elsewhere — Rockhound is offering a special for the duration of Beer Week: A flight of four five-ounce samples for $5. 444 S. Park St.

Trixie’s A-Go-Go: Growlers to Go-Go, the tap beer offshoot of the excellent Trixie’s Liquor, opened Tuesday, by no coincidence just in time for Beer Week. For each day of the event, proprietor Chris Welch has arranged a killer lineup of samplings in the bottle shop and exclusive tap offerings at the growler dispensary — Madison’s first — next door. Among the highlights are Tyranena and Titletown on Friday, Ballast Point on Tuesday, Central Waters on May 6 and Toppling Goliath on May 7. The free samples pour 4-6 p.m. 2929 E. Washington Ave.

Lebowski approved: One thing I love about Beer Week is that all of a sudden great beer is everywhere. It becomes a thing, inescapable, for people who don’t usually seek it out. For example, the Vintage Bowling World Championships from 6 p.m. to close Monday at Bowl-A-Vard Lanes, 2121 East Springs Drive. There’ll be eight taps from Madison’s Vintage Brewing, plus costumes, prizes and other fun and games. More hardcore Vintage fans will want to check out the dozens of bonkers big, barrel-aged and/or sour beers at Big Barrel Tararrel on May 7 at the brewpub, 674 S. Whitney Way.

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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Beer Baron Chris Drosner's guide to beer variety