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Hop Garden Brewery and Taproom

Belleville, WI


Crusin’ rating: A

Booze Rating: D+


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Hop Garden

One of Madison’s best kept secrets lies just a few miles south of Madison in the unincorporated community of Paoli. A quiet, humble spot that features a few gems. Hannah and I have frequented the small community, and, moreover, Hop Garden Brewery and Taproom a few times over each summer, and even here and there in winter. It is a tried and true spot that grows a little bit and, for better (or worse), gets a little more popular each time we stop in.

First off, Paoli is finite and while there isn’t a ton there, there are spots worth visiting outside of the brewery. If you plan it right, you can hit all of them in a day. The entire community is about the same size as 4 city blocks, it’s an easy walk. There is, of course, a small square that houses a park and a spot to walk your dogs. Once or twice I have seen some sort of community fair housed there, which is always an added bonus. Just across the street from the Hop Garden is the Paoli Bar and Grill which sports a solid burger and just down the street is Paoli Schoolhouse American Bistro, which is the perfect spot for weekend brunch. There’s an art shop, store for home decor, and a bicycle shop as well all within walking distance for those interested.

The reason why I am highlighting the spots around, instead of just focusing on the brewery is that

1) Paoli is small enough to touch on all of the spots in a day and

2) the Hop Garden is really about, more than many other breweries we’ve been too, a community experience.

Hop Garden is unique in the fact that their outdoor space is actually a privately-owned park that just so happens to be open to the public which runs right up to the Sugar River. Within the same old mill that houses Hop Garden is Driftless Chocolates, Molino Taqueria (a Mexican restaurant), Sugar River Outfitters (kayak rentals), and My Tipsy Gypsy (a cocktail spot and gift shop that focuses on boozy purchases and clothing). The mill right on the water very much reminds me of Rebellion Brewing Company with its location in an old mill and tons of shops in the building above it. Paoli is that on a smaller, and wonderfully local scale.

That really is the focus of this review. I will get to the beer in a bit, but it’s really all of these small local shops, the shared outdoor space which welcomes dogs, food trucks, loungers, an outdoor bar hosted by the Tipsy Gypsy, and an outdoor stage for local performers. It really hits all of the notes that you want to hit on a summer day. Beer, tables outside, green space, music, water - what more can you really ask for? It’s a spot we’ve brought friends for an outstanding soup contest last April and some late winter games (stein holding in spring and a keg toss!) as well as a spot to meet up with family or coworkers for a casual social hour. It is the prime spot to kill an afternoon, weather-allowing.

In winter, things do change up a bit and some of that community sense fades away into the snows and chilly temperatures, but Hop Garden is small enough inside to remain cozy. I just wish they had a fireplace. I’d say, the upstairs sitting area included, maybe twenty people can sit comfortably in the brewery. There’s one or two TV’s and a couple of board games. Downstairs are high tables that seat four, and upstairs is reclaimed dining room furniture that also seat four. While we definitely trend toward going in summer, if not for us venturing out last April (it was snowing/sleeting that day) we wouldn’t have discovered the soup contest wherein we had some of the best soups I’ve ever tried, and at $6 for unlimited samples, it was an absolute steal. So there’s definitely things to check out even in the colder months. I think though, bar none, it has the best outdoor space within an hour of Madison and, thus far, one of the best in the state, with only Sawmill Brewing Company coming close that we’ve reviewed so far. It’s like the adults-only version of the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where you can get that feel and you can actually find a table. We will, of course, keep an open mind as we continue to review, but for right now, here is our top contender for best outdoor spot of 2022! The one thing we do wish there was a bit more of, though, is food options. You can order pizza in, there’s a Mexican take-out spot in one of the small mill buildings, but the Schoolhouse has limited hours and is more sit-down food and the bar, while decent, is mainly standard tavern faire. More options as the area is built up would always be welcome since the brewery does not have food, other than bagged stuff and popcorn.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Outdoor Drinks
Hannah's Adult Capri Sun and Cru's Beer from Hop Garden

On the flipside, somewhat unfortunately, is the beer. We have gone to Hop Garden several times, and I am always hopeful the beer improves. Here and there there are some small steps forward, but, on the whole, I’m always a little underwhelmed. There are no flights at Hop Garden and pints will run you $6-7 per pint and pitchers are around $21. There are some seltzers and wines available for purchase, but you’ll have to hit up the Tipsy Gypsy for cocktails.

Smoke & Mirror (5.2% ABV) - This Helles style beer was golden with a little tint of orange when held to the light. It smelled of dried grains and a little malty. There were definite notes of campfire smoke when tasting that were mixed with, what I thought, was a little skunkiness. I got the impression of burnt cracker crust. There was some floral hop character at the end that wound up fairly bitter, but again that skunkiness followed my palate throughout the pint. Even without that, I would say that the smokiness took over here.

Killen’ Me Smores (6.6% ABV) - Love me a sandlot reference and I’ve had good experiences with some smores beer before. This beer was the color of chocolate syrup and I smelled chocolate, spun sugar, and a touch of vanilla. This beer tasted of chocolate and coffee, almost like a decent coffee liqueur but neither of us picked up on notes of Graham cracker or marshmallow. I wanted to dive into a depth of flavor here and I was just not finding it and while this wasn’t necessarily a heavy beer, it was a little much on a warm day as we found it overly sweet without a balancing hop character in there. I would skip this one on a warm day and temper expectations on a cold one as it really lacked the depth I was hoping for.

Dusk Bunny Amber (8.2% ABV) - This amber, actually considered a hoppy amber on the menu (an amber already is known for being hoppy usually), was pumpkin pie orange-brown and smelled of caramel and toffee. When tasting, there was a little bit of fruitiness, stone fruit from the hops. The hop presence was there throughout tasting. I was looking for other characteristics and I almost missed a little bit of malt toastiness hidden in there. I thought this was a fairly pleasant beer and was my favorite of the bunch. While the hop character was definitely noticeable, I don’t know if I’d say this was overly hoppy compared to other ambers.

Fuzzy Goat (7.1% ABV) - This hazy IPA smelled of dead leaves and fall with just a touch of lemon sprinkled over them. When tasting this opaque orange-yellow draft I detected a somewhat citric acid flavor, some orange, and again that sort of flavor of wet, dead leaves. The hops didn’t stick to your palate here, which was a nice touch, and this beer was sippable enough if you don’t mind that fallen-leave sort of bitter, musky flavor.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Hop Garden Exterior

I always find that the beers at Hop Garden are unnecessarily hoppy, not always bitter, but all of them have enough hop character in them to make a lot of other places IPA’s blush. I am not sure what the reasoning is, but it’s something I notice consistently. I have also found that, even though I am not a fan of the style, the IPA’s here in summer, are not so distinct in their hop profiles that I would be able to consistently tell them apart. I usually chalk this up to IPA’s being trendy so any place is going to have a few on tap, but in summer it can be rough to find anything else on the beer menu. Even when you grab something different, there is so much hoppiness that you have to wonder if you didn’t get an IPA by mistake. On my first visit I chalked this up to a newish brewery just starting but here I am years later finding the same thing.

While the beer is not my favorite, I can usually find something drinkable and, if not, there are always some cocktails to be had from the outdoor bar if that’s your thing. The outdoor space more than makes up for beer that I am not a huge fan of. It really is one of the best spots to visit in summer and I encourage anyone within an hour of Paoli to check it out. If you’re coming to Madison for the weekend during summer, absolutely make sure this is one of your stops if you’re looking for an afternoon in a park to listen to some tunes and sip on a beer.

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

To learn more about Hop Garden Brewery and Taproom please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @TheHopGardenWI

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