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The Borough Beer Co. & Kitchen

Madison, WI


Crusin’ Rating: C-

Booze Rating: D-


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Blogger- The Borough Beer Co- Exterior

Here and there, Hannah and I won’t quite make it to a brewery before it closes up shop for good. It’s always a shame to hear it, really. That was the case with Rockhound Brewing on Park Street in downtown Madison. Luckily for us, after Rockhound closed, a new brewery was announced within the year to take over the space. That brewery is the feature of this week’s article, The Borough Beer Co. and Kitchen.

Taking over the space that was formerly Rockhound, The Borough left much of the interior and exterior the same, and who can blame them? Rockhound fought a long battle to both fund and get approval for the small outdoor patio on the corner of Drake Street. That patio, with a couple tables, would be a mistake to not make full use of since outdoor space is at a premium along Park street. The interior of the space is dominated by a large hardwood bar with booze racks suspended from the ceiling. There are tons of windows in the space so there’s no shortage of light which is a welcome change from many of the breweries in Madison that struggle with natural light (Karben 4, Working Draft). There a small booths along one wall (probably big enough for four people total), a larger short table that a group of at least eight and then high tops near the windows. The walls are dark, as is the leather and wood which gives the space a well-lit but loungey feel. While Hannah and I had only been to Rockhound once, we didn’t notice many changes from the layout or decor other than some faux ivy in the far corner surrounding some windows. I think a few real plants would really go a long way here but other than that, why fix what isn’t broken?

We took a peak at the menu and saw a majority of dishes are around the 15 dollar mark along with fanciful appetizers, plus 10 or 11 dollar cocktails and some plates in the twenties. Hannah and I opted to find cheaper fare elsewhere as we weren’t ready to risk a 60 or 70 dollar tab on a place that had just opened and may very well turn out to be dressed up brewpub food. It looked a little classier than some other brewpubs in the area, but that doesn’t mean it’s better and it definitely came with the premium price tag.

Mini Rant: Can we just talk about this growing and ridiculous trend of "service fees" at restaurants? Hannah and I have both worked service jobs plenty so I get the importance of tipping. This isn't about that. But we pay for our food, pay a gratuity, and then restaurants in Madison are tacking on these hidden fees more and more. Why? It doesn't go to the servers. Somehow, through COVID, restaurants just up and decided that they could start charging more money just because they feel like it? Most of the COVID precautions are over for all but the most cautious of places which includes Madison. What did restaurants learn from it? Did they learn to start paying liveable wages to their staff? Not really (few exceptions). Instead, many have adopted this wholly shady practice of adding extra fees without listing them anywhere apparent. We've even seen places where you aren't served food, you do all the ordering via app and bus your own table and you're still expected to pay this service fee. For crying out loud, if food is getting more expensive build it into the menu. Don't tack on hidden fees. This practice is doing nothing but turning people against the industry when it's trying to make a comeback. Make the menu items more expensive, pay your workers better. Simple.

As stated before, the full bar offers plenty of cocktails, wine, and even other breweries on tap such as Toppling Goliath and Three Floyds. The brewery, at this time, only has 3 beers available in a flight for 8 dollars ($2.60 per sample). The bartender was harried, but polite, so we didn’t press with tons of questions.

Crucial Zs Czech Pilsner (4.8% ABV) - This beer was a very pale gold with medium clarity. Hannah and I both picked up malt on the nose but other than a hop note there wasn’t much to pick up on here and I would say the aroma was light, if anything. We had a tough time with this one as it really didn’t hit many of the boxes we were looking for in either a Czech Pale or Czech Premium Pale Lager. There were plenty of floral hops when tasting, but they weren’t really present when smelling. I’d say there was high carbonation and the flavor was anything but complex here. Hannah and I had to double-check that we hadn’t accidentally tried the IPA by mistake as that’s how hoppy this beer was which doesn’t belong in a lager, bitterness yes, but not a hugely apparent hop flavor. I can chalk this one up to an early attempt at a Czech Premium Lager that has not hit the mark other than the floral hop flavor. I would skip this one but, surprisingly, Hannah didn’t mind it. There are far superior Pilsners to be had in Madison, though, that we can both agree on.

Roli Soli Hazy IPA (6.1% ABV) - This New England IPA was Green Bay Packer gold in color with medium cloudiness. With faint hints of orange and citrus, we were again underwhelmed by how hard we had to look for the aroma here and that’s after an initial whaft, sip, swirl, re-sniff, the whole nine yards. Hannah and I both picked up primarily orange rind complete with bitterness. Hannah described it as “hoppy orange juice”. It was simple with those orange rind hints and a resin finish that we both thought was harsh, even in the context of various IPAs. By this point, we are used to hops, we’re used to the tongue-coating sap that stays around for the rest of your meal, but often times those are just pronounced, rather than the harshness we found here. Again, this may be a first attempt, but there’s a lot of work to be done if that’s the case. Between the bitterness, weak aroma and flavor profile coupled with the harshness of the hop aftertaste made this a solid skip.

The Drake Pale Ale (5.0% ABV) - I love when brewmasters are as vague as possible. A pale ale can easily fit into several styles within the moniker (such as India Pale Ale, English, Belgian, and American with ample subcategories of each, the previous NEIPA being an example). A pale ale is a fairly generic term that can be organized into so many different categories of beer to the point of being almost non-descriptive. So, it’s up to Hannah and I to taste and guess as to what style it should be. The only descriptors we were provided with were “amber, malty, and session-able.”

Mini Rant: Now, session-able tends to mean a beer with a low enough ABV that you can drink several in a session and not get absolutely plastered. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (which we are fans of), a session-able beer is less than 4.0% ABV with the idea that you can drink a few of them in a “session” and still keep some decency. We usually stick with this definition because, for example, Spotted Cow clocks in at 4.8% ABV and you can drink several but I wouldn’t consider it session-able because it’s a fairly heavy beer and the ABV, to me, is too high to really slam a couple of them in a short time and be anything other than tipsy and quite full. Miller light comes in at 4.2% and I still wouldn’t call that a session-able beer either, although it’s getting closer.

Another aspect of “session-able” is flavor since many IPA’s are deemed “session-able” as well as several other styles with fun flavors. That doesn’t necessarily mean a session-able beer needs some fun flavor like a watermelon Kolsch, but even without taking the flavor argument into account, the fact is that if it’s above 4.0%, we aren’t considering it session-able.

Even if we accepted the broader definition put forward by some this beer still wouldn’t qualify since it sits at 5.0%.

After reviewing notes and doing some reading, I’m putting this beer in the American Pale Ale category. American Pale Ales can range from golden to amber which this one was almost entirely the latter. Hannah and I actually both thought it was an amber at first but upon review and, to be fair, the American Pale Ale and Amber can come quite close in some respects but it was really the absence of caramel flavors here that tipped us off. We definitely picked up on hops when smelling both floral and pine. Tasting this beer gave me an impression of bread crust along with floral hop notes and even a little bit of buttered bread. Do you see how those flavors could easily be mistaken for a specialty old-world Amber? Anyway, we know that the breadiness here confirms that this is a Pale Ale as the American Amber should primarily have caramel that prevails throughout the flavor. However, this beer was messy. It was very harsh on the hops again and while it did check some of the boxes of the style, it did not check any happy boxes with our taste buds. Unfortunately, this one needs some refinement as well.

It’s always tough to know if these are just errors of a new brewer and some growing pains (which we hope is the case) or a spot that’s going to be serving up some sub-par beer. Hannah and I had never been head-over-heels for Rockhound and unfortunately it looks like the Borough is shaping up to be more of the same. We will, of course, check back some time in the future and perhaps update our review at that time, but, for now, we are going to have to pass on recommending this place for a booze cruise in Madison.

Better luck next time! Until then, keep on Crusin’, don’t stop boozin’!

To learn more about The Borough Beer Co. & Kitchen please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @theboroughbeercoandkitchen or on Instagram: @theboroughmadison

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