ACB Returns to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest

Places that are warmer than Wisconsin these days include Mars and Mt. Everest, yet I still wasn’t surprised when the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest sold out yet again last Saturday despite the frigid temperatures. For the fifth year in a row, the culmination of Wisconsin culture drew people out of their toasty homes and into the arms of warming ales and succulent cheeses. In a marathon event, I drew out the highlights from an extensive range of brand-new brews to long-beloved ones.

Historical Cameo

Rhinelander Brewing Company is a regular at beer festivals all over the state, and while I’m familiar with their beer, I wasn’t familiar with the associated history. Rhinelander was the first to put beer in a “Shorty” 7 oz. bottle – those bottles that we all know and love as companions to , ACB Returns to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Festour Bloody Marys. Having recently re-released the bottles along with the original recipe, this one was perfectly malty and refreshing, just as an old school lager from the northwoods should be.


New to the market this year was Wisconsin Brewing Company, a long-awaited brainchild of a famed Madison-area brewer of more than 30 years, Kirby Nelson. He did not disappoint with his first few expert brews. My favorite was the Session IPA – all the hoppy intrigue and floral aromas of an IPA, all the crisp sleekness of a session ale that allows you to fest on.

Mobcraft was also new to the festival this year. As they were one of the first to run out, it’s clear that enthusiasm for this crowd-sourced brewery remains high in their fifth month of business. I was lucky to grab a tasty and dessert-worthy Chocolate Banana Stout, another interesting recipe brewed in the minds of the public.

During the Keg Change

The value of cheese at this festival is not to be understated. What better companion to the suds in your glass and the pretzels around your neck than a cube of Wisconsin-made dairy. My reigning favorite is Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods’ Abergele. Hailing from North Wales, it’s a , ACB Returns to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Festrich, white number that makes an excellent host to a number of different mixtures: apricot/ginger, onion/chive, and my favorite, portabella mushroom.

Best of the Fest

In keeping with my current European fixation, I was drawn this year towards the Belgian ales. My favorite was Scarlet 7 by Red Eye Brewing Company. It’s a dark but drinkable Belgian Dubbel, malty and reminiscent of old Europe with a slight sweetness suggesting raisins or plums. Hearty yet friendly.

January days can be tough for Sconnies – battling polar vortexes, icy layers of snow on our windshields, and frozen taps at the Packers games – but a few gems make it all worthwhile. In a tight battle with Meat Raffle Day and Igloo-building Day, I’d say the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest takes the cake for the best thing to happen to Madison in January.

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