Next Door Brewing hopes to get neighbors talking; plus, Madison Craft Beer Week is nigh

Finding an original craft beer in Madison is no longer difficult, but that doesn’t mean the market for great beer and gemütlichkeit is saturated just yet. You just need some good product and perhaps a little hook to rouse the wanderlust of Madison’s famously savvy beer fans.

The latest entrant into the brewpub game, Next Door Brewing Co., is perhaps hoping to play off its neighborly name by reminding folks that “pub” was originally just a truncated form of “public house” (or “publick house” if you’re feeling particularly old-timey).

“A large part of our dream is to create a place that not only allows polite political conversation but actually encourages it,” said Keith Symonds, Next Door Brewing Co.’s co-owner. “We expect to regularly book lectures, debates, and discussion groups.”

Of course, while the Internet has invited people from around the world into a bustling marketplace of ideas – and, somehow, managed to polarize them more than ever – there seems something comforting, if not exactly quaint, about an establishment that will seek to encourage patrons to “actually converse with people from their neighborhood about important ideas.”

But even as the world becomes more global and impersonal, people everywhere are seeking a tighter local connection through the places they patronize and the things they buy, and Next Door Brewing seems dedicated to forging an identity as a neighborhood brewpub – a fact that’s reflected in everything from the pub’s name to its food and beer offerings.

“Our menu will consist of beer-friendly fare, made fresh on site from local, sustainable ingredients,” said Symonds. “Think Wisconsin tavern fare meets German beer hall meets current gastropub.”

I can think that. I can think that all day long – particularly the German beer hall part.

Symonds said that the ball really got rolling for Next Door Brewing – which is slated to open in late summer or early fall at 2439 Atwood Ave. – when he met Pepper Stebbins at the Great Dane in Hilldale a little more than two years ago.

“He was ‘my’ bartender,” said Symonds. “Pepper was working on a restaurant concept that couldn’t quite get traction. He also wanted to put together a place that was more beer-centric. We started to talk about his dreams and mine and realized that we could make a good team, provided we could find the right partners to fill in some of the start-up skills we lacked.”

The two found that in a local couple (for now, they remain silent partners) who were just starting to explore the possibility of opening a brewpub.

Symonds, who says he’s been a strong advocate for craft beer for the past 30 years (far before many Madisonians jumped off the macrobrew bandwagon), will serve as Next Door Brewing’s head brewer and plans on brewing primarily ales. He says the pub plans to offer three “everyday” beers, plus a rotating “black” beer such as a stout or porter. The pub will also have five to eight additional specialties once it gets up to full speed, many of which will be seasonal. He says he expects to offer a completely new beer every 10 to 14 days and plans collaborative brews, “perhaps with some surprising collaborators.”

Symonds brings a wealth of experience to the new venture, both as a head brewer and as a master beer judge. A self-described evangelist for craft beer, he regularly presents beer dinners, introduction to beer appreciation courses (through Madison College), and tastings for parties. For the past four years, he’s also co-hosted BeerpocalypseNow, a local-access beer-tasting TV show on WYOU.

Of course, Atwood Avenue is already home to the still-new One Barrel Brewing Co., but if Symonds’ overall plans are any indication, he surely intends on being a good neighbor. And local brewers are still a long way from fully slaking Madison’s thirst for craft beer.

“The craft beer community in Madison is amazing,” said Symonds. “The craft community here has the gravity to be a destination for others wishing to explore a rich diversity of brewing in a local community. We see this continuing.”


Madison Craft Beer Week!

I admit, this sort of snuck up on me this year, but we’re just days away from the Third Annual Madison Craft Beer Week, a series of dozens of local beer events that coincides with ticket sales for the Great Taste of the Midwest (on Sunday, May 5).

The slate of events runs from May 3-12, and numerous Madison-area pubs and eateries are participating. I’m still planning my Beer Week schedule with my wife, Cheryl, who thankfully enjoys craft beer as much as I do but, sadly, enjoys being a pitiable derelict far less.

Left to my own devices, I’d probably hire a pedicab driver and make a determined effort to hit all these events, but luckily marriage has ushered in a new era of civility wherein my limit is now one or two beers per night instead of all of them.

So I have to be judicious when it comes to selecting events. A few have caught my eye (a Belgian beer tasting at Brasserie V on May 4 and the Night of Dark Beer Delights at the Malt House jump out at me), but you’ve likely got your own idea of what sounds good.

Luckily, a handy guide is available by date and by venue.

Last year’s sampling was a treat, and we hope to step it up just a bit this year. Hope to see you out.

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