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The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Madison, WI

Great Dane Brewing Hilldale's front entrance

This week we are looking at what I consider to be the flagship brewpub of our current home, Madison, Wisconsin. This can be none other than the Great Dane Brewpub. There are currently five locations of this Madison staple and we’ve frequented each of them several times during our tenure, and I’ve even been to the outlier in Wausau. This review is going to focus on the Hilldale location. It may not sport the biergarten of the downtown location or the space of the Fitchburg location but it’s location in Hilldale gives this spot it’s own uniqueness.

It was a beautiful day of 78℉ so we elected to sit outside. The patio there is a little lacking, just a strip of patio on each side of the building that is pressed in by the roads and sidewalks which offers little in terms of privacy or sound-dampening. During the entire meal we were constantly beset by the roar of Harley's or the smell of exhaust. Maybe next time we will eat inside.

As always, we are not a food blog, but the Dane almost always has solid food. Not great, but solid, and definitely better than most brewpub fare.

We ordered Poutine, Wings, and a Mexican Rice Bowl.

The poutine is one of the better poutines available in Madison in my experience, not the best, on account of just how overly salted the gravy is, but pretty decent. We ordered fried chicken as on ours and I think we both thought it was going to be popcorn chicken but instead it was a large fried chicken breast sliced. It was a little awkward and looked like it should belong on a salad. It didn’t fit in with the rest of the dish as it was.

The wings are always big and hearty at the Great Dane. Honestly, they may not be the best wings in Madison (that definitely belongs to Chicken Licks in Sun Prairie) but I think they may be my second favorite. They are substantial, to say the least. This time, I tried something new and went with the dry rub, probably because I was craving the same thing from Chicken Licks but I may as well have ordered naked wings. There was next to no dry rub whatsoever. Usually I go for mango-habenaro, asian BBQ or a similar sauce and they are always good, so maybe this was a fluke. Definitely a must order if you visit the Great Dane.

The Spanish rice bowl “had sweet potato that actually worked well, but needed a lot more guac” as Hannah said. You can never have enough guac, right?

Flight of 5 beers at Great Dane Brewing

What I like about beer flights at the Dane is the fact that you can order the small samples a la carte and get as large or small a flight as you want which is nice as sometimes four gives you too small a sample size for a place with a dozen beers and eight leaves you a little too buzzed to take accurate tasting notes. We opted for five on this visit.

Crop Circle Wheat (5.5% ABV): This wheat beer smells of juicy lemons and hops. Unfiltered and cloudy with low carbonation, this beer sports a bright taste of lemons and that familiar bready/banana finish of a Hefeweizen. To me ,Summer Shandy will always be the king of lemon beers, or at least it has been for the past ten years, but I think that Crop Circle wheat may be my second favorite shandy beer. It’s hyper local (to us) and it’s available year round. All around this is a really solid summer’s day beer that I wish was available on the Union Terrace.

Old Glory APA (5.25% ABV): This American Pale Ale is a staple offering from Great Dane and smells of hops and floral scents. I got a faint nutty or earthy taste while appreciating the high carbonation. Rich straw in color, this is a classic hoppy beer.

Pecks Pilsner (5.5% ABV): This Pilsner has a spicy aroma and spicy taste, a pretty straightforward Pilsner. Medium body, moderate carbonation, medium hops and deep gold in color. I think this “czechs” all the boxes of a Czech style Pilsner, but doesn’t wow me.

I5 IPA (7.1% ABV): From what we were told, this is an offering that’s only available at certain times. It had a very floral aroma with sweet caramel but tasted almost exclusively of sweet caramel and the hop presence was low. I found it hard to believe this was an IPA at all. Ours had low to medium carbonation and a heavy malt presence rather than hops. I don’t know if we got a fluke but I didn’t hate it.

Stone of Scone (6.6% ABV): This Scotch Ale was dark oak in color, full bodied and very malt forward. Malt on the nose, malt on the palate. It was rich with caramel and charred wood. The description said espresso but I missed it in my tasting and there may have been a chocolate finish but it was not obvious. It wasn’t overly boozy and we both found this to be a comforting beer to sip on.

Again, we are not major fans of brewpubs as an overall rule because they tend to not do either of the things they set out (beer and food) extremely well but if we had to pick one it would be the Great Dane. The vibe is always buzzing with energy, loud, and a little too sports-bar for our taste but on an afternoon with no games going on it can be a tried and true lunch spot. The inside has booths, tables, nothing amazing as far as decorations go but I suppose it’s not urban industrial. You can’t really go to Madison without trying the Great Dane at least once and I think that sums it up!

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

To learn more about The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company, please visit their website at: or Facebook: @GreatDaneDowntown or Instagram: @GreatDanePub

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