The world of craft brewing is built on the idea -- or the hope, anyway -- that the little guys can stick it to the big guys. There are little breweries, incomparably tiny next to the big macrobreweries, that are creating a kind of brand loyalty among their devotees that's just as fierce as any Miller or Bud partisan. One such brewery has taken on a name befitting this fight: Iowa's Toppling Goliath.
And let me tell you: In Madison's craft beer scene, this brewery is about as big as it gets.
It's pretty amazing, when you think about how Toppling Goliath's bottle releases send Madison's beer geeks into high gear, that the brewery (founded in 2009) has only been hauling bottles up here from Decorah since February 2013. And I mean "hauling" literally: Toppling Goliath self-distributes in Wisconsin, driving from shop to shop, carrying cases of beers like pseudoSue, Sosus, and Dorothy's New World Lager in its own Sprinter van.
"I come to Madison once a week," says Chad Opfer, a.k.a. @Beerman_Chad on Twitter, the man responsible for all Wisconsin delivery runs, and a busy fellow at that. "Another day I go up to Hudson through Eau Claire, and down to La Crosse."
"The demand is just -- it's through the roof," Opfer says. His description of production, demand, bottling quantity, the moratorium on new draft accounts in order to save room in the truck for bottles -- well, it would make most folks' eyes glaze over. But for Toppling Goliath, that complex equation equals money, roughly in the vicinity of $20,000 a week in Wisconsin account sales alone.
"We can do a lot more," Opfer assures me. "We just can't serve everybody that asks, because I've gotta get home."
Opfer held court at Alchemy on Monday night, during Toppling Goliath's tap takeover for Madison Craft Beer Week. He spent the previous night at the full-to-fire code Coopers Tavern, where a small cask of Golden Nugget India Pale Ale and a double version of pseudoSue called King Sue were among the sought-after offerings.
Toppling Goliath's draught events are some of the city's most popular, keeping pace with craft big boys like Bell's and Goose Island, and more are scheduled before Madison Craft Beer Week ends: a firkin tapping at Craftsman on Friday, May 9, and a tap takeover at Brickhouse BBQ on Saturday, May 10.
It's the steady stream of bottle releases, however, that keep fans in Madison plugged in to the brewery's social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, to say nothing of scouring the accounts of area retailers for any announcement that bottles have arrived. Alpine Liquors, Riley's, Star Liquor, Steve's (on University, Junction and McKee), and Trixie's Liquor Store are the regular Toppling Goliath accounts in Madison. Trixie's will host a bottle sale and sampling as part of craft beer week on Friday.
PseudoSue is rightfully Toppling Goliath's biggest hit; it's a Citra-hopped IPA that stands out for not only its big flavor and balance, but its extraordinarily reasonable price point: Seven bucks or so for 22 ounces of a top-flight beer is nothing to sniff at. Other beers from the brewery's lineup earn similarly high praise, whether it's Sosus, the Mosaic-hopped double IPA, or a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout named Assassin, which only comes around in its wax-dipped bottles once a year, and in very limited quantities. (Look for that beer to hit bottle shops in June this year.) Even the humble Dorothy's is about as crisp and refreshing a lager as you'll find.
Expansion has been a constant concern since Toppling Goliath opened five years ago, and the brewery is looking to increased capacity in the future. Shorter term, look for something fun at Great Taste of the Midwest on Saturday, August 9, and maybe a ticketed release party for Assassin in 2015 at the brewery. And there's always the next trip through Madison for Beerman Chad Opfer and his insurgent little Toppling Goliath delivery truck.