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Karben4 Brewing

Madison, WI


Crusin’ Rating: C+

Booze Rating: B-

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Karben4 Brewing- Outside

This trip foudn us on the far Northeast side of Madison on a spring day that was sporting heavy, and I mean heavy, wet snow which is great for a Saturday spent indoors checking out some breweries. Chances are you have seen a beer from this week’s visit thanks to their meme-tier marketing involving cats riding unicorns while toting guns. This week’s stop is Karben4 Brewing!

I have to admit, parking outside Karben4 doesn’t look like much. In a shared space with a few other businesses that have an all-too-small parking lot you can see the recognizable sign that features lime green and black, a color scheme we have seen in at least two other breweries in Wisconsin alone, such as Ooga Brewing Company. I have been confused every time I go there as the doors that are closest to the parking lot are supposedly exit only which always baffles me. Walking around to the front of the building, or, rather, the Stoughton Road side you are greeted by a plethora of outdoor tables and chairs and a few raised platforms of astro turf under a pergola dotted with trendy outdoor lighting. Currently those platforms are home to the little bubbles for outdoor dining in nasty weather, however, without some serious heat, they wouldn’t have been a great option on a day like when we visited.

Inside the first thing that pops out at you is giant paintings that go around the uppermost section of the walls, small paintings that are for sale make up further decorations in any free wall space that can be found that isn’t part of the space behind the bar. Again, it’s apparent we are on the East side of Madison. In front of you is a sideways sort of zig-zag shaped bar with some space for merchendish in front of the aforementioned doors that you aren’t supposed to enter in. To your immediate left and right are both low and high-top tables. The max capacity of the space is listed at 99 but I counted seating for just under 50. 99 would be shoulder-to shoulder. There are tons of live plants in what few windows the space has which really help what would otherwise be a standard concrete building. The green of the plants really helps the space because even during the middle of the day it’s pretty dark inside. Only one wall has dedicated windows. It’s a fairly industrial vibe with plaster walls and some plywood. The ever-present undertone of thumping music gives it a club-like feel. The music isn’t so loud that you can't tune it out but there was some significant noise once business picked up. Not always a bad thing and not really louder than any bar you’d be at on a Friday evening.

This spot was far and away the most expensive with the caveat that they don’t have flights (why the hell do places not do flights?) so you have to pick your pours out. The pours are a little larger than standard, at 5 oz but they can be anywhere from $2.50 to a whopping $5.00 per sample. I just think that’s pushing it. These aren’t spontaneously fermented organic sours, but I guess people will pay for it. We took the hit and tried some of the pricier options just for you folks. The brewery has their own beer and seltzers, but no cocktails or soda that I could see. Some snacks are available including locally made pretzels from Batch Bakehouse, but most of the stuff is self-serve from a fridge. Our “flight” ran us $14.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Karben4 Brewing- Beer Flight

Neurodiver (6.2% ABV) - This Blueberry Wheat ale smells of both blueberry and banana. Pouring a sort of soft gold with an almost cloudy orange juice tint this beer tasted of lemon, banana and definitely some sweet notes that were decidedly not fake or real blueberry flavor. It featured medium carbonation and while drinkable, was a little lackluster. I didn’t get the heavy smoothness I get from most wheat beers and without the blueberry coming through I was just left nonplussed.

Pineapple Tesseract (6.6% ABV) - A pineapple wheat beer, this beer has some local competition that I have come to enjoy in the realm of pineapple Hefeweizens. This beer was a “cloudy orange-Olympic-gold” color according to Hannah’s discerning eye. It smelled sweet, a little of pineapple juice and a little of citrus. I didn’t pick up on the usual wheat esters. We both thought this tasted like slightly tangy bread dough. Not quite wheat, and not really pineapple. Think of biscuit dough that’s stood a little too close to a sweating lemon on a hot day.

Threat Level Midnight (8.2% ABV) - In reference to a movie made by none other than Michael Scott of The Office, threat level midnight, much like the film, sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. What was described as a s’mores Stout and smelled of campfire, tasted of bitter bakers chocolate which was a somewhat promising start but then the sweetness was so faint at the end that neither of us could pick up any traces of graham cracker or marshmallow. It was so mellow that those notes got lost and ended up tasting like a slightly sweet Stout instead of a s’more which was a major bummer. This one was a pass from both of us.

Dragon Flute Pale Ale (5.3% ABV) - Perhaps an ode to the best power ranger that ever was (Green Ranger for the uncultured). This beer poured gold with a slight cloudiness and smelled of juicy mosaic hops, mango and rich tropical fruit, including pineapple and orange mixed with strong pine notes and some floral. The flavor did not measure up to what our noses picked up on. There were no notes of juicy fruit at all and instead the centennial hops dominated with their floral notes and a little herbal-ness. It wasn’t a bad pale ale by any means, but it could have been more balanced.

I know what you are thinking, how could I go to Karben4 and not review Fantasy Factory? It’s their flagship beer after all but it’s also been a beer that I have tried enough times at enough bars to know that I would have a pretty biased opinion on it. It’s so ever-present in Madison and, in my opinion, is such an astoundingly mediocre IPA that I wanted to go for some of the other options that our readers may not have heard of or tried. It’s not one of those beers where, yes, everyone has heard of it and is a standard to measure against. It’s a decent IPA but it’s by no means the best available in Madison. It might be a pretty solid option that is consistently available, and I’m pretty anti-IPA as a matter of principle but I’ve tried enough of them and enjoyed even enough of them to know that Fantasy Factory is wildly over hyped.

Now don’t get me wrong, Karben4 can do some good beers and if you try them enough or have them available sometimes you will find a real winner. My favorite summer beer of all time (before they changed it to a what seems like a sour), America AF I could do an in-depth review on. Mr. Tin Fox turned me onto that beer and when I first tried it, it was my go-to boat beer for two years running. I will try it again this summer to see if they’ve worked out those too-sour kinks. So there are definitely some diamonds hidden within this brewery, there’s also a lot of coal.

It’s tough to judge a place that has such a high-high and several lows, and a lot in the middle. They are a decent brewery and I’ve been there more than once and will continue to try their stuff. If you’re in Madison I’d say it’s a place you should definitely try. There’s also enough to do in Madison that if you’re traveling from an hour away I would put it on my list of brewery suggestions to try while in town (this list would also include Working Draft). While it may not be the highlight of your trip, they will have a beer for just about anyone and it’s definitely got a lively energy to it.

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

To learn more about Karben4 Brewing please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @Karben4 or on Instagram: @Karben4Brewing

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