A couple weeks ago our friends Cass and Liz and Chris and I all piled into our Jetta wagon and headed on an epic road trip to Madison Wisconsin. Why Madison you say? Well. Wisconsin only has some of the best craft beer in the world. And we had a plan to get our hands on it.
Said beer is from a special brewery that will, for now, go unnamed. That will be saved for another post for in say, a month from now. After a certain wedding takes place. You see, this beer is so famous among true beer geeks that we need to keep it top secret until after the fact. Or risk crashers. Seriously.
Let me also add that our little party of four went through some harrowing experiences to get said beer. And that I’m lucky to be sitting here bragging about it. Again. A story for about a month from now.
So back to Madison. Besides it’s amazing beer, it’s also a beautiful city — sitting on an isthmus between two lakes. The city is centred around its stately capitol building, which is itself a thing of beauty. One of the most amazing things we experienced was the Saturday morning farmers’ market, which sets up around the edges of the capital square, with what I estimate was a few hundred vendors — that’s right, a few hundred. There was a lot of repetition among vendors but clearly, they get the business to support it. And everyone walks around the square in the same, clockwise direction, as the sidewalk is pretty tight once you have the vendors in there. This was the most impressive non-permanent farmers’ market I’ve ever seen.
But sadly, we couldn’t really buy much of anything, because we weren’t equipped to cook it. We did have some cheese curds of course though. And we ogled everything! Wisconsin is also known as the cheese state, and we sampled so much cheese. Every restaurant and pub serves local cheese. And beer-battered deep fried cheese curds. Chris even had a burger with them on it (thinking when he ordered it that it was just topped with regular, unfried cheese curds). And also sadly, we cannot bring cheese or produce across the border so we had to leave it all behind. So eat we did, but shop at the farmers’ market we didn’t.
And maybe because there is so much cheese (and so much good beer?) the city is full of very active people. Runners, walkers, and cyclists. Toronto could learn a thing or two about being a bike friendly city from Madison. They had just gotten their own version of the bike rental system (like Toronto and Montreal’s Bixi system), only launched a few days before we got there but already well in use. So many streets have bike-only lanes. Everyone bikes everywhere.
Now Madison wasn’t all perfect — there is a lot of labour unrest in Wisconsin and there were a few protests, all very polite, going on. And a lot of homeless people sleeping in the very well-manicured gardens and on benches all around the capitol building. It was often disturbing to happen across groups of homeless (mostly men) lying about in places that I think in Toronto they would have been run out of. I’m used to seeing homeless people — Toronto has plenty — but it was as if there were no shelters for them to go to at night in Madison. In Toronto at night, I think homeless people tend to either find a shelter or go to rough encampments or other places that tend to be out of sight. I don’t really know for sure but it seemed different somehow, and it made me sad to see.
We did a lot of drinking of course, checking out places like The Old Fashioned, Great Dane Brewpub, Brasserie V (where the bartender was unbelievably kind, buying us drinks after waiting 20 mins in the sweltering heat for a cab — just a note that cabs are not easy to obtain in Madison, likely because most people bike!), Alchemy, Brickhouse BBQ, and The Cooper’s Tavern. We had great food at most of these places, as well as at Graze, which specializes in locally produced food. I didn’t find their atmosphere terribly spectacular but their menu was incredible. I know Cass is planning a full review for either Free Our Beer or The Bar Towel, so I’ll let him tell the story of the beer and rate the pubs. I liked them all.
It was blisteringly hot there, as much as it was here, and I was about ready to die of dehydration when we happened upon a street festival late on the Saturday, where — yes — they had a mobile beer trailer serving right from the side of the vehicle. By this point however I opted for a water break.
We also did some driving in the countryside, but this is where I have to leave the story and tell the rest of the tale another time. In the meantime, enjoy some photos (there are some hints in the photos of the story yet to be told)!