I mentioned in an earlier post that I visited a brewery last week: Confluence Brewery. While I am excited to write about my experience, I am actually going to hold off for a few weeks. Why you ask? Because like an idiot, I ordered a pint before sampling other beers. The beer I ordered was the most alcoholic on the menu, which single-handedly brought me to my limit. Safe to say, I’d like to try a variety of beers before I give Confluence a proper review. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, I visited another brewery today: Madhouse Brewing Company. Unlike Confluence, I was smart enough this time to order a flight. So I have five beers to review. Let’s get it started!
Establishment: Madhouse Brewing Company
Location: Des Moines, IA
Background: According to the bartender, Madhouse was founded by Mason Groben, a vintner working at local Jasper Winery (another location I hope to visit) who decided he wanted to try making beer. While a winemaker making beer doesn’t sound very exciting, it was apparently illegal in Iowa up until recently. Mason is credited as the driving force behind lobbying for the law to change. And change it did. Free to experiment, Mason started Madhouse in 2009. Originally only a production brewery, Madhouse opened its first taproom in 2014. The taproom I visited in Des Moines is said taproom.
Décor: Unlike most craft breweries, Madhouse is in a semi-conspicuous location. I actually found it on my drive to Confluence, much to my surprise. But like most breweries, the building’s primary function is just that: a brewery. The taproom was very secondary at Madhouse. A small bar flanked about five tables. In an effort to add a bar-theme, a single TV faced the largest table. I think it was showing soccer. Regardless, the few people in the bar were not interested. To its credit, a small backroom did contain a foosball table. Although playing by myself seemed a bit depressing.
Staff: I didn’t catch the guy’s name, but the bartender seemed pleasant enough.
“It’s a good weekend gig. I get to drink on the job.”
I’ll drink to that.
Patrons: While the inside of Madhouse was small and minimal, the patio was clearly the place to be. Almost everyone who arrived during my visit (about 12 people) were bikers sporting spandex, and chose to drink outside, basking in the warmth of the 76-degree day. Mid-to-late 20s was the average age, although two older women in their fifties also visited. See, Mom? Who says you can’t be hip and go to breweries?
Food: Strictly a brewery, Madhouse does not serve food. Per se. Although they did have a list of local restaurants that deliver. Also, they served hot pretzels for $3. Which seemed weird.
Beer: Righting my earlier wrong with Confluence, I asked for a flight of the “flagship” beers. It came with 3 oz. samples of the five most popular beers. At $9 per flight, it seemed annoyingly expensive for less than a pint of beer. But I was happy to try five kinds.
#1- Honey Pilsner
5.0% ABV- 20 IBU: Probably my favorite of the six, the Honey Pilsner was and extremely refreshing beer. The smooth taste and slight sweetness were reminiscent of Honey Weiss, as was the golden color. I could definitely picture myself drinking a few of these during an early summer bbq. I’m guessing for hop heads, however, they would see this beer as lacking body. But for those who appreciate subtle, session beers, this one is a must.
#2- Pastime Pale Ale
5.2% ABV- 38 IBU: Fittingly named after a 1907 Maytag washing machine, this beer cleanses the often stale genre of pale ales, leaving a fresh floral scent. Normally I find pale ales uninspiring, but this beer had the perfect mix of flavor and drinkability. I’m a fan of Cascade hops, which shine through in this brew without proving overpowering. Definitely worth trying if you enjoy the fruity, floral characteristics of hops.
#3- Hopburst IPA
7.2% ABV- 65 IBU: Using a new hopping technique known as “hopbursting,” the Hopburst takes IPAs to the next level… for better or worse. I imagine this is what your beer would taste like if the Jolly Green Giant farted in it. One sip opened Pandora’s freaking box of everything hoppy: sharp, herbal, earthy, zesty. Oddly enough though, this bitch-slap of hops was not mind-numbingly bitter (after all, 65 IBU isn’t terribly high for an IPA). It reminded me of “hop candy” I once tried at Northern Brewer. It seems the aforementioned brewing technique enhances the hop flavor in beer without adding a biting bitterness. To those who obsess over hops, this should be on your shortlist. Otherwise, approach with caution.
#4- Imperial Red
8.5% ABV- 50 IBU: Barrel-aging, a technique commonly used in wine and spirit making, has become common practice in more robust brews. The problem is, I have yet to develop the palate for “oaked” beer. The “creamy texture and sweetness” Madhouse described tasted, more accurately, nauseatingly sweet and alcoholic. I feel like this a theme with barrel-aged beer: “Fuck, it tastes awful! Oh well, make it super alcoholic and either bitter as hell or tongue-twistingly sweet. Then they’ll think the time we wasted making this crap makes it worth 60 cents an ounce.” Save yourself the trouble and skip this one.
#5- Coffee Stout
6.0% ABV- 40 IBU: Full disclosure: I am a fan of coffee stouts. That being said, this did not disappoint. A shiny tar-pit black, this beer was so dark you couldn’t even read the label on the glass it was in. The color came in part from the addition of cold press coffee, which gave a robust coffee flavor usually lacking in more watered-down coffee stouts. The taste was strong but smooth. I’m thinking this would have been an interesting nitro beer. Regardless, a solid stout.
Bill: As I mentioned, $9 for 15 oz. of beer is kind of bullshit. But since I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, less beer was probably a better choice on my part. Besides, I do this to try new beers, not to get the most liquid for my dollar. If that were the case, I’d stay back at the farmhouse and pound Busch Light with Carl.
Madhouse is a commendable, small-time brewing company. While I’m guessing their beer will be difficult to find outside the immediate Des Moines area, I will make an attempt to find a locale that carries it. The Honey Pilsner and Pastime Pale Ale were definitely worth another taste, and would go great with a summer cookout.
So, anyone up for a summer cookout in Iowa?