Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Visit To Madison Brewing Company (of Bennington, Vermont)


In his song “New York State Of Mind,” Billy Joel once sang, “some folks like to get away and take a holiday from the neighborhood.” When he sang that, the so-called Piano Man discussed heading into New York. This weekend, though, I knew that I could use a chance to get away from New York; instead of hopping a “Greyhound on the Hudson River line,” though, I snagged a ride with our esteemed executive editor and his wife. Our getaway destination? Vermont – specifically, the town of Bennington and the Madison Brewing Company.

The town of Bennington is about 30 miles to the northeast of the Capital District city of Troy; from most places in the region, it’s approximately a 45 minute drive, give or take. Just over the border from the New York town of Hoosick Falls, Bennington sits in a valley adjacent to the first foothills of the Green Mountains. It’s the very picture of a beautiful New England town; the streets of Bennington are lined with mom-and-pop businesses, coffeehouses, and rustic-looking gas stations.

Madison Brewing Company sits on one of the two main streets – Vermont Route 9 - that runs through Bennington. The exterior façade of brick and painted wood is somewhat reminiscent of an Irish pub. Stepping inside, however, reveals that Madison Brewing Company exists in a large, vaguely industrial converted space, with high ceilings, a balcony on the second floor that seems to present the opportunity of private dining, and a number of large brewing tanks on both floors. (When we were there, the second floor was closed off for dining.)

The first floor of Madison, where we spent our Saturday lunchtime visit, is divided into two sections; the entryway from the street leads into a medium-sized bar area (which, we should note, was very endearingly decorated with vintage pull-top beer cans, most of which were of defunct beers ranging from Knickerbocker to the television tie-in MASH 4077 Lager). A large wall and staircase separate this from the main dining area; this led to a little bit of confusion with the serving staff, who didn’t seem to notice us at first and were somewhat listless in getting us to our table. Once we got there, the dining area was pretty nice – well lit and generally spacious, and decorated with a variety of wall-hangings from local artists. There were a couple of plasma-screen televisions on the main floor - one in the bar area, one in the dining area; both featured sporting events when we were there.

Now, for the important part – the beer. I ordered a sampler, which featured the following: Sucker Pond Blonde, Buck’s Honey Wheat, Willoughby’s Scottish Ale, Crowtown Pale Ale, Old 76 English Strong Ale, and an IPA that was described as “seasonal.” (This sampler comprised all of the Madison’s offerings of the day, save for a Raspberry Wheat, which I didn’t try.) The samples were about 3 oz. each, give or take. Most of the beers were a touch on the watery side; whether I sipped from the Honey Wheat or the IPA, none of the beers had a consistent, appreciable finish.

Of the lot of beers, I would have to say that my personal favorite was the Old 76 Strong Ale, which – while suffering from the watery finish that was characteristic of the entire spate of Madison’s offerings – it was distinctively darker in finish than the other beersm, and had a distinct, rich malty flavor with hints of nuttiness and a slight citrus touch. It was the best of an otherwise mediocre lot; the remainder of the beers’ best features came from small touches. Buck’s Honey Wheat was served with a slice of lime instead of the normal wheat-beer garnish of either orange or lemon; this added a sweeter citrus touch to this otherwise unremarkable brew. None of the other beers were particularly remarkable; this is not to say that they were bad, per se – they were all drinkable, for better or for worse. However, given this bar’s utter dependence on ales (4 of the 6 beers in the sampler were ales), better care could have been made to differentiate between them. I would have liked to have seen something dark; there were no browns, no porters, nor were there any stouts – this was disappointing, especially given the similarities among the offerings that they had on tap.

Fortunately, the food was much better in quality than the beer. Our appetizer of Irish Fries (served with two types of cheese, diced tomatoes, and onions) was delicious, and was only a difficult choice in retrospect, having seen the incredibly appealing size of the Nacho platter another table got. The lunch menu featured a number of interesting sandwiches; our executive editor got a “Bird and Brat” sandwich (featuring both chicken and bratwurst) with potato chips, his faithful companion got an open-faced turkey sandwich, where I went for a turkey-cranberry combination that came with a side salad. All food was pronounced to be quite delicious; when combined with generous portion sizes and pretty decent prices, it was quite a bargain.

All in all, I would say that Madison Brewing Company wasn’t too terrible of an experience; while the beer wasn’t spectacular, the food was quite good. It’s not really a destination visit – our trip was certainly aided, if not enhanced, by side ventures to the Hoosick-based Man of Kent pub and a Vermont beer store – but it’s not a terrible place to have lunch if you’re in the area. You could certainly do worse.

1 comment:

Kris said...

Just finished reading your blog on Madison's Brewing in Bennington, VT, and couln't agree with you more. I moved from Albany to Bennington back in 2005 and was excited to find a brewery about one block from the apartment me and my fiance were living in at the time. Needles to say I was mildly dissaponted in the selection and, most impotantly, the taste of the beers. I have to agree that the Ole 76 is the best beer they make, but after that the quality drops off quite significantly. He does brew a porter in the winter (at least when we were still living there) called Rock Candy Porter which is pretty poor...but comparing it to Smuttynose's Robust Porter or Otter Creek's Stovepipe Porter isn't quite fair. Regardless, I gave it a few chances on different occasions and never quite warmed up to it. Yes, the food isn't bad...but does that really matter? If I have to recommend a brewery near Bennington, I would say drive the extra 20-25 miles east on Rt 9/Main Street (the same street that Madison's is on)to a town called Wimington and stop at Maple Leaf Malt and Brewery. It's much smaller than Madison's but the beer is much better, he makes a killer stout and might have even had a bock on tap last time I was there which was back in May/June (I have since relocated to Michigan). The food is good as well. However, the last time I was there I overheard the owner mentioning he was looking to sell and move back to Florida and open up a Brewery down there, so it might be worth a quick phone call. They also have great guest beers on tap so you can't go wrong if you don't like their beer. Just read your blog for the first time today...keep up the good job.

Kris