Ale Asylum, the brewpub that opened in May on Madison's east side, is making some of the best beer in town. And unlike any other brewery in Madison, in a few weeks Ale Asylum will begin using its own facility to bottle beer, which should make it possible, by Thanksgiving, to bring home this incredible nectar in six-packs ' if, that is, you'd rather not drink it at the facility itself, which is a beer drinkers' refuge.
Some observations from a recent Saturday afternoon at Ale Asylum, which found me drinking some of the brewery's Tripel Nova, a Belgian-style ale, and doing some people-watching: First I saw a father and his young son belly up to the bar to have a half-gallon growler filled. Then, nearby, I watched a couple, out with Mom, as the three of them enjoyed samples before ordering some of the whimsically named brews: Mom ordered a Big Slick stout, the son went for a Gold Digger blonde ale, while his wife was just looking for, yes, a Happy Ending, another Belgian brew.
But most endearing of all was the sight of brewmaster Dean Coffey, who took time out from work to pull up a barstool beside a home brewer who wanted some advice. Coffey graciously obliged, and he admitted that he has a special place in his heart for visitors like these. By way of comparison: When is the last time the chef at your favorite restaurant left the kitchen to share his recipes?
At Ale Asylum, the talent is local and so is the financing. Coffey is a former employee of Angelic Brewing Company, along with general manager Otto Dilba and head brewer Chris Riphenburg. Seven of the brewery's eight investors, meanwhile, have roots in a local Madison home brew club. Even Dilba's mother-in-law made a contribution with a two-sided sofa that is a perfect place for friends to share conversation and a pitcher of the brewery's Madtown Nutbrown ale.
On the outside, Ale Asylum has the sterile look of a building in a low-tech business park. The inside has been transformed by local craftspeople, however, and features a wooden bar, high tables and stainless-steel-framed windows that look into the brewhouse. You might indeed call Ale Asylum a study in contrasts, with its art deco taproom and the local graffiti art on the wall of the brewery's main cooler. What these decorative themes have in common, though, is what you might call handcrafted artisanship, which fits the great pride Ale Asylum takes in making bold, unapologetic beers.
At any moment, Ale Asylum has up to 10 offerings on tap, most of which cost $4 per pint. A few tasting notes: On the lighter side, the Gold Digger has great flavor balance. As for the Ambergeddon, it is a West Coast-style, red-bodied beer, with firm, hoppy bitterness. But for hop-heads, these two are beers with training wheels ' true fans of hops should go for the Hopalicious, a zesty American pale ale with aggressive citrus aromas and sharp bitterness. These three are the first beers Ale Asylum will bottle, along with the Madtown Nutbrown; they will cost about $7 per six-pack.
Ale Asylum isn't where you go if you are looking for an expansive hot meal, but there are deli sandwiches on locally baked bread from La Brioche and Madison Sourdough. And the brewery has partnered with culinary students at nearby Madison Area Technical College to develop soups and desserts. These have only been available in small test batches so far, but there promises to be comfort in good beer paired with chili, or butternut squash soup. Also available soon: chocolate truffles filled with Ale Asylum's porter beer, and cheesecakes topped with a caramel sauce made with the brewery's Diablo product, a Belgian ale.
A word about those Belgian beers. You seldom find even one Belgian beer at brewpubs, because so few brewers do them well, and not everyone appreciates their yeasty sweetness and fruity tones. But Dean Coffey brews three Belgians, all of which come served in tulip glasses. Happy Ending, an abbey-style ale, has amazingly smooth, sweet tones that linger throughout the finish. There also is Diablo, which is brewed in the Belgian dubbel style. This beer is darker and thicker-bodied than the abbey.
But my Ale Asylum beer of choice is that Tripel Nova, a Belgian tripel with exceptionally smooth sweetness and warmth, perfect for a night by the fire on a snowy evening.
3698 Kinsman Blvd., 663-3926
11 am-2 am Mon.-Thurs., 11 am-2:30 am Fri., noon-2:30 am Sat. Pints $4, sandwiches $7.25. Parking. Wheelchair accessible. Credit cards, but no checks.