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Alt Brew

Madison, WI


Crusin’ Rating: D

Booze Rating: F


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Wine Beer Distillery Blogger- ALT Brewing- Interior

What is beer?

According to Wisconsin Statute - Fermented malt beverage - Any beverage made by the alcohol fermentation of an infusion in potable water of barley malt and hops, with or without unmalted grains or decorticated and degerminated grains or sugar, containing 0.5% or more of alcohol by volume [sec. 125.02(6), Wis. Stats.]. The term "fermented malt beverage" is used in place of "beer".

According to the German Purity Law - This 500-year old - the oldest enforced regulation in the world - and sometime criticized law says beer needs: “nothing other than barley, hops, and water”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines beer as - an alcoholic drink made from malt with hops added to give it taste.

Why are we talking about this? Well, because this week’s article is going to have that question right at the forefront. We are checking out ALT Brew on Madison’s northeast side. Located a short distance from Karben4 Brewing, ALT Brew is an establishment that specializes in being completely gluten free. Using things like sorghum, buckwheat, and millet, ALT Brew is serving up about as close to beer as you’re going to get if you’re gluten free. It’s an admirable thing to do, and something I recently learned was done out of necessity for the head brewer’s wife, who has Celiac Disease (Revolinksi, 2018).

However, and this may be a controversial take, but brewing beer without malt, to me, makes it, by definition, not beer at all. It would be like a cider without apples or mead without honey, spaghetti without noodles, or even pizza without sauce. While some of those examples may seem recognizable to you - maybe you’ve tried a cider that had no apples whatsoever, or maybe a hip new spot has been calling a beverage “mead” without any honey - it doesn’t change the fact, and no amount of branding or marketing should change the fact, that those items aren’t actually what they are being called. The same thing here. I do give them credit, they don’t actually refer to themselves as brew. And instead of going with the straightforward name of “Not Beer” I see the clever marketing of “ALT Brew” which, while it denotes beer, doesn’t come out and claim it is beer. However, we’ve often heard to it referred to as beer in both print and word of mouth so we feel the need to set the record straight.

At this point, you might be asking why we even bothered to review a place that isn’t serving beer, especially if we are just going to tear into it and there are a few reasons:

  1. We seek to try any sort of imbibement creator in Wisconsin and it’s not just limited to beer - we do wine, spirits, cider, mead, and everything adjacent or in between them

  2. We’ve heard others refer to this spot as a brewery that’s brewing beer, so naturally we had to try it ourselves before passing any sort of judgment

  3. It was necessary really, not only to expand our own palates and experience, but we also owe it to anyone who is out and about looking for a spot to refresh themselves with a decent beer

From the outside, ALT looks like a few other breweries, particularly, it reminds me of Karben4 Brewing and Delta Beer Lab since those are also in sort of shared-use business strips. Inside there are concrete floors, low wood tables that feature those metal chairs and stools that have become rather popular in restaurants, as of late. The space is, honestly, a little sparse. It was quiet on a Saturday night around 6:00pm with a small family in a back room that features a large couch and a few comfy chairs. One table featured a couple who swapped in between two different board games and a game of cards all within an hour. Guess they couldn’t quite decide what to play. When entering the space the bar is along the wall to your right, and the seating area to your left, with another room that looks like it can be shut off for a private space that features that game with a large ring the bull rig.

The price of a flight was steep at $16.00 for 5 samples, almost a dollar more per sample glass, in our experience. They also offer ciders by our friends at Restoration Cider, gluten free snacks, and water. We are treating this review like any other so without further ado, onto the beverages.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- ALT Brew- Beer Flight

Hiking Boots (4.7% ABV) - This alleged blonde ale had the distinct smell of some hops we recognize such as Cashmere and Citra but also features Sabro, Loral and Ahtanum hops. That it a lot of hops for a blonde, that’s for sure! This beverage used rice and millet and had some honey and rice cake on the nose. We got notes of corn for sure and it finished in a sort of generic sweet way, not quite honey, but not really sugary either. It was immediately apparent here that this blonde seemed a little empty, it didn’t have that body that the malt affords beer.

Hop Session (6.6% ABV) - This alleged IPA featured high clarity along with the use of cryo, Simco, and Cryo Columbus hops. It smelled as an IPA sometimes does, with citrus and mango juice and I even tasted the various flavors imparted by the hops including lemon and guava. The hop presence was robust enough to be noticeable and it tapered off into an aftertaste of sweetness that didn’t cling to your mouth. Hannah, by contrast picked up grapefruit and strawberry juice when tasting. Again though, a brilliantly clear IPA is something you don’t typically see. I’m not sure if that has to do with malt or not, but this one had that sort of empty feeling as well.

1808 Robust Porter (5.6% ABV) - This one we struggled to finish. Some high clarity coffee brown of a medium roast smelled of spent coffee grounds but ended up tasting like an overly watery, heavily sugared coffee, like perhaps if you had used a quarter of the suggested coffee in your filter and poured in three sugars into a 5 oz. cup.

Abbey Ale (6.6% ABV) - Hannah found this alleged Belgian Style Dubbel pretty unappealing as did I but I endeavored to finish this one as I was looking for the varying notes suggested and trying to find characteristics. This beer poured a muddy river brown and had zero clarity. I picked up old caramel, raisins and a little bit of roastiness when smelling. The taste though was something I did not plan for. This is one that I am going to have to describe as wet, earthy, muddy water from the Sugar River that was infused with some hops and then finished with raisin-sugar. There are imbibements here and there I don’t care for and others that I care so little for I would not wish to try again. I drink them to get the review done. This was the first one where I wished I had not tried it at all, it was so unpleasant.

Black Parade (5.4% ABV) - A Belgian Dark Saison, allegedly, would be something of interest to try on any day to us. This riff, though, smelled strongly of men's dress shoes and espresso. Almost like one of those viral soap scents targeted at making men more manly. It had a little tang to the taste, and I missed out on any sort of funkiness. I got slight coca cola notes in there and some hop presence but not much else.

Listen, like I said before, I get it. To go out there and make beer for a loved one is an admirable thing. There is an entire population of gluten free individuals that probably appreciate having beer options. But the fact of the matter is, this isn’t beer. Beer alternative, yes, but not beer. Don’t call it beer. Honestly, if you’re gluten free, drink anything else. Cider, Wine, Spirits, take your pick. There are tons of gluten free options and I would take any of them over what we sipped on here. By that same reasoning, I would say drink no beer over alternative beer. I can’t recommend going here, even if you’re getting done with class across the street at Madison Area Technical College. If you want a beer, check out somewhere else in Madison.

Better luck next time.

Until then, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about ALT Brew, please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @ALTBrew or on Instagram: @ALTBrew

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