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Starkweather Brewing Company

Madison, WI

 

Crusin’ Rating: D-

Booze Rating: D+

 
Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Starkweather Brewing Company- Outside
Photo Credit: Startweather Brewing Company Facebook

In the dead of winter Hannah and I had finally gotten around to try Next Door Brewing Company on Atwood Avenue on Madison’s deep east side. While we had heard rumors of them going out of business, little did we know we happened to visit on the final day of business. We left with some free six packs and decided not to review a spot that was no longer in existence. It wouldn’t do our readers a whole lot of good to review a spot that they couldn’t visit!


Before Next Door Brewing Company closed, the owners promised that a new chapter was starting. It was vague and mysterious and has been something that isn’t as uncommon as you think. A winery goes under, or distillery or even a brewery and within a year something similar has popped up in the exact same spot or with some suspiciously similar if not the exact same products (see where Death’s Door Gin has ended up- Dancing Goat Distillery AND Dog and Shrub Distillery). Business plans change, allegiances change, and time moves ever forward. In this case, it wasn’t long (later the same day, in fact) that we caught wind of the upcoming opening of Starkweather Brewing Company.


Fast-forward a few months and this new spot has opened in the same building where Next Door brewing once stood. While we weren’t wild about Next Door, we hoped that Starkweather would be an improvement or at the very least a new vibe. It’s located in the little mecca of imbiberies on the East side of Madison where you’re only about a five minute drive from four breweries, two distilleries, and even a meadery. Of course, if you’re going to hit all seven spots I’d suggest a brisk walk in between each.


While the hand-painted signage on the outside was par for the course on Atwood Avenue, once Hannah and I went inside we were greeted by quite the familiar space. That’s understating it. It was almost as if nothing in the space changed at all except for the name. The seating, bar layout, and perhaps even some of the staff remained unchanged from Next Door Brewing. Everything had a new color scheme, but under that, everything was the same. This is excellent news if you liked the space back when it was Next Door, but not so great if you were hoping for some improvements and overhaul.



The chairs and tables are suitable. Some high tops, some of them made of actual wood and one that can seat a party of at least eight, sturdy stools, and some low slung restaurant tables provide enough seating for guests. Lines of kegs encroach on the seating area in a haphazard storage attempt and, just as when we were in the space last, it is quite dark. There’s an emergency exit or two made of glass, but that’s about all the natural light that gets into the space outside of the front window. If you’re in the back right corner where the bar is located, then I hope you don’t have seasonal affective disorder because you can kiss sunlight goodbye. The building is made of cinder block which has been thankfully painted (albeit nothing bright or reflective), and it’s sort of just, unremarkable. I don’t want to say it’s dingey, because that would denote uncleanliness. It’s a clean space for sure, but it’s dim, dungeony but without charm. It feels like you’re underground without actually being underground at all would be a good way to put it.



They don’t feature any food yet and I was warned beforehand by Mr. Tinfox that they may not even have any beer that wasn’t a collaboration. I tempered expectations, knowing they aren’t a full bar and that I may only be drinking beer not actually brewed on site. I was pleased to find that they had beers that were their own, just a few.


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Starkweather Brewing Company- Beer Flight

Our flight was a whopping $14 which is the highest-to-date. The 3 oz. pours are anywhere from $2-$5 a piece which also makes them the most expensive per ounce of beer that we have tried.


Hug the Hops (6.4% ABV) - This West Coast IPA was warm gold in color with medium clarity. I got notes of pine, resin, tree sap, and fresh cut grass. Featuring both Columbus and Citra hops this beer has a sweet sap flavor with some herbal notes that transitioned into a yellow melon finish with bitter hop aftertaste.


Vitamin Ale (5.25% ABV) - A hazy New England IPA, this beer was golden with low clarity and was made with Barbe Rouge Hops, a hop varietal that was new to us and exciting. This beer smelled of banana, as if you picked them fresh and strawberries. It tasted like strawberry smoothie without the dairy, closer to a fresh strawberry daiquiri, sans booze. Hannah quite enjoyed this and afterward we learned this was clearly due to the inclusion of that hop varietal. I couldn’t quite get past that it reminded me of Flintstone Vitamins. Nostalgic for sure, but a flavor I had successfully blocked out til now.


Sweet Heat Plum (5.3% ABV) - This was a collaboration (holdover?) with Next Door Brewing. A Gose made with plums and scorpion peppers you all know Hannah demanded to try this. We both caught strong notes of plums and and raisins with just a little heat on the nose for this dark golden slightly orange-purple color of plum flesh. Now, there was heat on the nose and you could tell there would be heat in the beer but it wasn’t spicy, the aroma if that makes sense. If you cut a scorpion pepper and put it to your nose it will burn as the Capsaicin oil, the chemical that makes peppers spicy, assaults the membranes of your nose. This was not that experience. It tasted, of course, of figs and plums but with barely any spice. Hannah noted that there was a disappointing amount of heat for being brewed with a scorpion pepper. So little that she mused there may have been only one pepper in the entire tank of malt. Cheers to them for the attempt, but the search for spice continues (there’s a DUNE joke somewhere in there).


Boneyard (13.5% ABV) - This Rye Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Belgian Quad needed maybe just one or two more adjectives in the description. I love a good Belgian Dubbel, Tripel and Quad and I enjoy innovation but Belgians are plenty complex enough to begin with, perhaps one of the most complex styles you can brew so to age it in a barrel and rye at that seems gimmicky and unnecessary. It’s a collaboration with Sunshine Brewing out of Lake Mills (coming soon) and is not to be confused with one of my favorites from last year, Bone Orchard IPA from Second Salem. I smelled plenty of rye barrel in the aroma along with some anise and clove and even tasted a slight burn of rye, followed light raisin candied nuttiness (from the barrel) a touch of herbs and then more rye on the finish. Hannah aptly pointed out that this actually tasted closer to a barrel-aged stout with notes of roasted malt rather than the fruity spiced flavors we usually taste in a Belgian Quad. You know, I really think this could have been a solid Quad and it didn’t need the barrel-aged qualities. It didn’t add anything, but rather muddied the experience with those charred barrel notes and nuttiness from the rye mixing with the already herbal level of the Belgian. This was an instance where the wheel did not need reinventing. Rye is good. Belgians are good. Don’t mix them.


Calamondale (5.1% ABV) - This bright banana peel yellow fruited sour was an afterthought that we picked up with our Reelpass and is made with 60 pounds of Chinese Calamondin Citrus from the nearby Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Super groovy and super local. This was some innovation that we could get behind and although it was listed as a collaboration, as far as we could tell this was their own beer, just a collab on the fruit. It was quite sour, like so sour that Hannah didn’t want seconds with the use of citra hops there was so much citrus here it was almost like sucking on a raw lemon slice. Not exactly a nuanced experience that begs you to come back for more but this was a very cool and different beer to try.


As much as I dislike to admit it, Mr. Tin Fox called this one outright by telling us to not get our hopes up. We both felt like nothing really changed from Next Door Brewing and, unfortunately, we were not wild about the space or beer then and not much has changed. Our one glimmer of hope was that sour at the end and while I wouldn’t recommend it, the ideas behind it, working with local growers to make something truly unique, is something we can appreciate.


If you’re in Madison and you're spending some time out drinking, then by all means stop in as you hit all seven places on a booze tour. I cannot recommend traveling from outside of Madison to try Starkweather as of yet. However, as they do more and more of their own brewing we will revisit to see what improvements get made.


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


To learn more about Starkweather Brewing Company, please visit their website at: starkweatherbrewing.com or on Facebook: @StarkweatherBrewingCompany or on Instagram: @StarkweatherBrewing

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