About a year ago, I went on my first-ever brewery road trip. It was August of 2010, and I was on the first paid vacation that I’d ever had as a working adult. Since then, I’ve taken a trip through the breweries of southwestern Michigan, which I covered in great detail for this blog, but the August 2010 trip was in pre-Alehead days. It was a sprawling voyage through southeastern Wisconsin, and it included a LOT of good beer.
One of the breweries that made a particularly big impression was Ale Asylum in Madison. I hadn’t heard of them before going, but after trying a bunch of the beers in their tap room, I wouldn’t be surprised if the brewpub, which distributes in Southern Wisconsin, becomes a bigger player before too long. Making hyper-American, in-your-face brews with a decidedly West Coast attitude, Ale Asylum sticks out like a sore thumb both for their beer and their tattoo-inspired art and design. I think the closest comparison in terms of style might be the nearby Surly Brewing in Minneapolis. The title of this post refers to their motto: “Fermented In Sanity: Brewed in Madison”
Fortunately for me, I have a friend in Wisconsin who paid me a visit a while back, and they were kind enough to bring along six packs of two of the Ale Asylum brews that made a big impact on me during the original trip. Tasting notes follow:
Ale Asylum Contorter Porter
APPEARANCE: Dark brown into true black with a quickly dissipating tan head and very little lacing.
NOSE: Like iced cocoa.
TASTE: All malt, with lots of milk chocolate flavors and some nuttiness, not a high degree of roast. Almost like a milk stout, but not as heavy. No hops to speak of.
MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied, with prickly carbonation. Very creamy.
DRINKABILITY: The ideal session porter for porter lovers. My description may not have made it sound like an incredible beer, but within style, there aren’t many better. I love flavorful, low-alcohol beers like this.
SCORE: 3.5 hops…keeping in mind that this is weighing it against other English porters. The college students in Madison are lucky to have a locally brewed porter like this on hand.
Ale Asylum Ambergeddon
APPEARANCE: Orangey-amber hue as the name suggests. Thin but dense bubble head that leaves patchy, spiderweb lacing throughout.
NOSE: Sweetish, piney aroma of hops, almost like “new car smell.” Much hoppier in the nose than most breweries’ amber ales.
TASTE: There’s a charge of caramelly sweetness, followed up by APA-like bitterness levels. A good balance of sweet and hoppy, with piney and citric hops duking it out with caramel and some booziness. It almost has the flavor profile of something like “barleywine lite.” If you doubled the original gravity, a barleywine is exactly what you would have. There’s something that mars the finish slightly for me that I could only describe as a very small touch of “sweatsock” that is barely perceptible.
MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied and fizzy, with a long-lingering bitterness.
DRINKABILITY: Fairly high, considering it’s about 7% abv. Still, a more challenging and substantial brew than almost all amber ales.
SCORE: 3 hops. It’s definitely not bland, which is the main criticism leveled against amber ales in general. It may not be true to style, exactly, but it’s a pretty darn good session brew with an interesting hop character. Try it if you can get it. And honestly: Are there many amber ale names better than “Ambergeddon”?
Lest I forget, I should also mention that when I actually visited the brewpub, the folks at Ale Asylum were very, very kind to me, and I had some of the best service there that I had on that particular trip. After I polished off two separate flights and a pizza over the course of an afternoon (I spent like 4 hours there), the waitress gave me a pint glass to take home, as well as singles of each beer they currently bottle to take home to my father. So–big props to the Ale Asylum crew for supporting a weary beer traveler. I look forward to getting back to Madison someday to try some more of their beer.