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Grumpy Troll Brew Pub

Mt Horeb, WI

 

Crusin’ rating: C-

Booze Rating: D+

 
Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Blogger- Grumpy Troll Brew Pub- Exterior


This week we are stopping in at the Grumpy Troll Brewbub in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin a.k.a. “Trolltown USA”. We are checking out what reason, if any, that this troll has to be so grumpy and are hoping that we don’t leave as grumpy as we often do when checking out brewpubs. As you know, a brewpub usually suffers from the Brewpub Paradox wherein either the beer or the food can be good at the expense of the other and often times, they end up both being mediocre. I’d like to temper our review of Grumpy Troll by saying that we’ve been stopping at this place from time to time for the better part of four years, and well before we started the blog. Just a twenty minute drive from the West Side of Madison, the Grumpy Troll has been an easy spot to take family, stop after one of Mt. Horeb’s many festivals (art, beer, shopping, you name it), or just get out of town for a change of scenery and grab some pizza. Our review is going to include not only our most recent visit, but also take into account all of our past visits as well.


Let’s start out with how the space is. Grumpy Troll is situated in an old creamery that was built in 1916 and it shows with plenty of cream city brick that’s on full display inside and out. The brewpub occupies a corner just twenty yards or so on the same street as Brix Cider and is now directly across the street from Duluth Trading Co. headquarters. I can’t for the life of me remember what used to be there before Duluth, but it wasn’t always a giant building right across from Grumpy Troll, anyway, digressing aside, Grumpy Troll has a good location just a block off of Main Street in Mt. Horeb, by all accounts a fairly quiet town (outside of festivals) despite over seven thousand residents. Mt. Horeb, for a brief moment had a trifecta of Fisher King Winery, (defunct after a move to Verona), Brix Cider, and Grumpy Troll all within a block of each other that was a short and sweet little booze cruise. Must just be feeling a little nostalgic today!


Back to the Troll. Outside of the brick, you’ll now find what seems to be a permanent streetery (sit down eating/drinking space on a street to help social distancing during COVID-19, check out the photo for a better idea) that is actually pretty nice looking. The small alley next to the Troll has also been converted into outdoor space, which was not always the case and the entrance has had some work done to open it up and make it a sort of outdoor/indoor porch space. Inside, you’ll find a small bar with high top tables, a dozen or more seats, and some booths. The back has several tables to sit folks of up to six. Unusually, the brewpub has an upstairs space that used to be (pre COVID-19) a wide open pizza parlor that more than doubled the seating space with a “U” shaped bar and tons of low tables. This was always our go to spot as the first floor has always been pretty noisy and felt a little cramped. The upstairs was always a little less packed and you could almost always find a spot at the bar to order some pizza. It was undergoing renovations this last time, so I’ll have to ask you all to picture a wide open second floor with open air pizza kitchen, old wood bar, and plenty of cocktails to be made.



As for the vibe now, the brewpub is family friendly and is fairly busy whenever we’ve been there as COVID-19 faded into memory. Even after COVID-19 the upstairs pizzeria was closed or had such limited hours as to match with our terrible luck that we haven’t had a chance to get up there. Case-in-point it was under renovation this last time. There are black and white photos highlighting the rural past of Mt. Horeb on the walls, friendly faces of patrons and staff, and plenty of COVID-19 precautions.


As for the vibe now, the brewpub is family friendly and is fairly busy whenever we’ve been there as COVID-19 faded into memory. Even after COVID-19 the upstairs pizzeria was closed or had such limited hours as to match with our terrible luck that we haven’t had a chance to get up there. Case-in-point it was under renovation this last time. There are black and white photos highlighting the rural past of Mt. Horeb on the walls, friendly faces of patrons and staff, and plenty of COVID-19 precautions.



A word on the food. I’m going to come out and say that pre-COVID-19, Grumpy Troll had the best damn pizza in the Madison area, yes, better than Sugar River Pizza, better than Glass Nickel Pizza or Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. There was no real competition to it. A four cheese blend, several sauce choices, with even their standard having some nice zest and herbs in it, plenty of unusual toppings like kalamata olives, andouille sausage, and peanut curry. On top of that, you used to be able to get any of that wrapped up into essentially a calzone that was the perfect size if you didn’t want an entire pizza to yourself. Additionally, their “Grump Chips”, house-made potato chips with parmesan, spices, and gorgonzola sauce used to be a real contender for best pub chip around (if you can keep a secret, I think the current best is Village Green in Middleton). The rest of the food was always consistently decent, if not super exciting. However, we have noticed over the span of a few trips post-COVID that it seems to be going downhill, which is a real shame. Pizza toppings are no longer carried and are not as varied. The calzones are simply gone. Other standard menu offerings are no longer there. And yes, I get that menus can change, but these changes have taken them out of the running for some unique fair that used to set them apart from the other area brewpubs. It’s just a shame that the quality of food seems to be slipping steadily down.


So what about the beer? Or drinks in general? Mt. Horeb has local wine, both from Wollersheim and Rock’n’Wool, cocktails, and they make plenty of their own beer. 4 oz. pours are $1.25 each and you used to be able to get a tray, like a muffin tin of all twelve of their beers which was always awesome. Now it’s a la carte and a standard flight is 6 beers. The price is solidly below average with a flight of six coming in at less than ten bucks which is really nice and the dozen used to be all but a steal.



Loco 542 (8.0% ABV) - This black IPA was the color of dark chocolate and named after a historic locomotive important to local history. Hannah and I both picked up citrus notes, citra hops, and I found mango and a little guava when smelling. The color of this beer is deceptive since we are so trained to associate dark beers with dark, rich flavors. It tasted like a fairly standard light and bright IPA. There weren’t really any roasted components even though darker malt was used which I thought showed some nice subtlety on the brewer’s end. Even the dryness of the hops, in this case quite earthy, didn’t stick around too long. Hannah and I both agreed that this was decent.


Owd Finley Stout (5.0% ABV)) - Hannah and I rarely like stouts, even when they are cream of the crop, barrel aged one-of a kind offerings from Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. or Three Floyds Brewing (we are talking stouts people camp out in line to get a single six pack or bottle, like multiple days wait). So to take all of the redeeming factors out of a stout that we appreciate and make it all of the things we don’t like: lots of roasted malt, the flavor of chewing on a handful of coffee beans raw, and pan toasted horse feed you can imagine we may be a little biased when tasting this one. It had dry hop character, plenty of bitterness, and was dark as night. I think there’s an "Airplane!" quote in there somewhere that sums up this beer. If this type of thing is your jam, more power to you. As for us, we will never fathom why something like this or Guinness is so successful. It tasted as the style should but we will not being putting our palates through that again.


Trailside Wheat (5.2% ABV) - You know I’m always on the hunt for a Hefeweizen, so when I saw this on the menu I had to snag a taste of this beer that was the color of river water if put in a mason jar and held up to the the sunset. I smelled some mellow banana, underrepresented clove, and maybe a little bit of spiced applesauce, or maybe pear, one of those somewhat grainy fruits that’s often paired with cinnamon. I had those same, somewhat ambiguous mellow fruit flavors that were rudely interrupted by a lance stab of bitterness that cut through all of that mellowness from the middle to finish. That level of bitterness seems really out of place for this style of beer. The search for a Hefeweizen continues!


Hummingbird Ale (4.8% ABV) - brewed with a sweet malt - Golden Promise out of Scotland - this lager also contained Fuggle and Golding hops, and local honey. I had to grab something that was this whimsical-sounding. Cloudy medium gold, this beer smelled of the milk you have leftover after cheerios and sweet malt that Hannah picked up on. I thought it tasted of overly-soggy cornflakes (generic for those wondering) and Hannah somewhat agreed picking up the taste of sweetness and corn. I thought this beer was somewhat muddled and gave a very fuzzy flavor profile that was hard to pin down distinct flavors or characteristics when tasting. It also had a high carbonation that added to that muddledness, and not in a nice way. Whimsical hopes were dashed.


Troll’s Gold (5.5% ABV) - Another lager (you know how I love generic descriptors) and I’m just going to assume, for my sanity’s sake, this is a standard American lager although it smelled strongly of malt, which almost made me think it was European before tasting it. It wasn’t overly sweet, there was just a little bitterness to round it out and Hannah tasted even more corn here than before while I picked up a very neutral profile, and there wasn’t much too it other than a crisp finish. Truth be told, it really stuck to the American lager profile in smell and taste. Malt aroma, corn (from Hannah’s nose), neutral taste and some corn flavor (Hannah) with a sort of dry finish. If you say something “just tastes like beer” as The Trickster often does, this is the beer he’s talking about.


Sunflower (4.9% ABV) - This farmhouse style was my favorite local competitor to New Glarus Spotted Cow. I will have my education rant on the term “farmhouse” when we get around to New Glarus, it’s going to be a doozy, for now, we are probably looking at farmhouse here meaning funky bastard child of a Biere de Garde. Anyway, this beer used to be a little lighter in body, with a clean, natural sweetness on the palate, a little muddled complexity funk that hit all the right notes for me.

This time around, and the time before, it’s gone down hill. What should be a rich beer with plenty of local honey given away by it’s rich gold color was instead an incredibly funky mess that Hannah opined “smells like skunk bathwater”. While I didn’t think it was quite that bad, it was definitely way more funk and less sweet than last time, despite the nice bit of honey on the nose. It has that trademark horse-hay taste but it was pretty in your face this time with no sweetness, spice notes, or any herbalism at all. This beer used to taste like a toasted country biscuit with genuine herbal honey on it, you know, the stuff right off the comb. Now, it was like old hay water. Ugh. Such a mess. I noticed on our last trip, after COVID-19 lifted, that this beer was starting to lose that subtle, but complex and somewhat spiced sweetness and I thought it was a fluke of the batch. However, I am starting to dread that this will not be the beer I remember now, just another thing to wave goodbye to.



This one is a real damned shame. Hannah and I used to love heading out to the Grumpy Troll. It was a bit of a drive at 20 minutes for pizza, but it was a rare treat in which we’d check out Duluth Trading Company, get some food, and grab a beer on a Sunday night. Their mug club was the first I had ever heard of and the first I had ever tried to get into (never stood a chance, by the way it’s a HUGE lottery) because I would never say no to a Sunflower beer had someone asked. That’s no longer the case. With the pizza going downhill, other food menu items no longer offered, and the beer quality sliding slowly downward, we no longer want to go out of our way to go to the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub. In fact, we were there for an art festival in Mt. Horeb, as in we were already in town and we actually opted to head home rather that risk disappointment again. I’m sure we will find our way back, simply because there are just so few places for food in Mt. Horeb and because we want to see if the pizza is back, but we are not holding out hope. This is a spot that we actually miss going to and will miss going to if it doesn’t improve. As of right now, we can’t suggest a drive from even Madison. If you had asked me pre-COVID I would’ve told anyone who listened to come with us for some great pizza and solid beer. For now, it’ll just be something we look back fondly on.


Until next time, keep on Crusin, don’t stop boozin’.


To learn more about Grumoy Troll Brew Pub please visit their website at: thegrumpytroll.com or on Facebook: @GrumpyTrollBrew or on Instagram: @GrumpyTrollBrew



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