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Brewpub Paradox Put to the Test

Madison, WI

As our year draws to a close, we are going to be looking back over everything we’ve tried, much like we did last year. This week, instead of our standard review, we are looking back at a theory that we’ve named the “Brewpub Paradox”. We’re firm believers that a place that serves both food and beer always loses out on one of those and cannot do a stellar job at both. During our first year of reviewing, Hannah and I started to notice this phenomenon taking place time and time again and we decided to name it. We mentioned it briefly in an article that first year, but now that we have been at this for two years, we feel like we can put a little weigh behind our theory and it appears to us that it is no longer just speculation.

We consulted with our good friends, beer nerds and cocktail aficionados, Mr. Tin Fox and his wife and Mrs. Tin Fox to get their thoughts on this and while they aren’t entirely sold on the paradox, they helped us nail down and confirm what we think are the best spots that brew their own beer and serve their own food in the Madison Area.

We are looking at nine spots around Madison, with Hannah and I having visited them multiple times and our cohorts visiting each more than once as well. Taking all of our rankings into account, we are looking at which of these brewpubs is serving up the best beer, which one is serving the best food, and which one is best all-around. Then I’ll be going a little in depth on some of our thoughts about this brewpub paradox and if it exists within the top three of our lists.

*Honorable mentions wherein we only tried the beer but they serve food:

Young Blood Beer Company serves fantastic beer, and we’ve heard good things about their food, but it seems always more snack-oriented than full meal so we left it off

The Borough has a full menu and we tried the beer, but we were just not feeling paying some hefty prices when the beer was not to our liking

The Obvious:

It should be pretty clear that if you want the best beer/food combo that you can get in Madison you’re going to want to hit One Barrel. The barbecue is always a hit with our group and they make very solid beers (other than the Kolsch, which I love). Next up, looks like you can’t go wrong with Octopi, it’s mastery of some fantastic beers coupled with a fish fry is something you can’t deny. Finally, maybe surprisingly, the Great Dane, love it or hate it, can really put out a solid menu and although it’s not all great, it is consistently a place you can count on for pretty good food whenever family members come to town, in this instance, it’s enough to be tried and true.

Lone Girl, despite a fantastic outdoor space, is somewhere you want to simply avoid if you’re looking for satisfying food or beer and we have never had a great experience at Vintage and Hop Haus isn’t leaps and bounds better.

With the exception of One Barrel, it turns out that all others seem to be victims of the brewpub paradox. Octopi makes great beer, and their food is at least decent, if not amazing. The Great Dane does food a little better than beer. Karben 4 does beer way better than while Grumpy Troll does food way better than its beer. Vintage does food better than its beer and Hop Haus does beer better than its food.

The four of us enjoyed a lively debate with some of us having wild outliers that were overwritten by the majority. I for one think Grumpy Troll has amazing pizza, but no one agreed. Mr. Tin Fox is a little lonely, really enjoying the beer at Hop Haus and loving the food at Vintage. Hannah thinks the Great Dane beats everyone for food and Mrs. Tin fox thinks Octopi does great with their dinners and even better with their beers.

In the end though, taking everything into account, I really think that if you’re looking for a spot that has a full menu and creates their own beer, you can’t go wrong with the top 3 on our list.

Happy New Year to all of our amazing readers and guest reviewers! We can't wait to see what 2023 has in store for our reviews.

We would love to hear from you: what places are a must stop in 2023? Send us an email at: or on Facebook/Instagram: @crusinforbooze

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