Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Malt House

Wonder's Pub was the first. Then Maduro. Then Brasserie V. Then Dexters.

Now The Malt House. Sitting at the corner of East Washington and Milwaukee, beer has been served at this location, more or less, since 1858. Now re-opened by the current President of the Madison Homebrewer's Guild, it is set to re-invigorate the East Side, like Brasserie V has done for the West Side, and Maduro has done downtown.

The Malt House opened on Monday, June 9th, and the celebration lasted late into the night. By June 10th there were 5 of us, 1 who was me, and 2 of whom were from the Homebrewers Guild.

But, as if to pass the baton, the veteran bartender from Wonders is now behind the taps at The Malt House teaching the newbies how to muddle drinks. Speaking of which, the service was fantastic; they know about the product and can offer recommendations, even if they may not care for the Cantillon Framboise.

The decor is a work in progress. While it does have a gorgeous, authentic, late-1800s backbar, the orange walls, occassional beer-related poster, and yellowed 50s-era lighting leave a lot to be desired. The bartenders were thinking candles. I'm thinking TVs or a pool table or dart board.

Other than the beer and liquor, there is nothing at this bar to draw people in and keep them there. While us beer folks will definitely hit it up, the lack of diversions may make it hard to keep people there. Granted, Brasserie V doesn't have TVs, but they have a more residential location, top notch food, and live music. Granted, Maduro doesn't have pool tables or darts, but they have live music, a downtown location, and cigars. Dexters, of course, has food.

The tap list at The Malt House is split between Belgians (Duchesse, Cantillon, Corsendonk, etc.), priced between $6 and $10, and "Americans," priced at $3.50. The prices on the Belgians are typical going rates, and while we've said before that you can buy these for less on retail shelves, that's not really the point. On the other hand, $3.50 for a pint of Ale Asylum is a steal (is it even that cheap in their own pub!?). The Americans are almost entirely from Wisconsin, with Bells to break up the cheese-staters. There are some interesting tap selections (Capital Prairie Gold, Ale Asylum Big Slick) and some boring selections (New Glarus Fat Squirrel, Tyranena Brown, Bells Two Hearted). What would make this selection stand out is to choose local and regional seasonal and one-time releases. I would think there would be enough to sustain a tap rotation. I can't really complain about the Belgians, though it seems to me that limiting the selection to "Belgians" would seem to eliminate great choices from the rest of continental europe.

The Malt House has a huge selection of bottles, some interesting, some not so interesting. Eventually they will have these all in a handy printed form, but for now you'll just have to stroll over to the refrigerator and have a look - if you want lagers you'll have to ask for them because they are under the bar.

Once you find The Malt House (it really is there at the corner of East Wash and Milwaukee, but the old signs are still up) it's a great, east-side location to grab a great beer in a laid back environment. If we could just get a tv or pool table we might stick around for more than one.


  1. Personally, I'm excited about a bar where the only entertainment is conversation. I can't stop myself from looking at TVs, even if I don't give the slightest damn about what's on. I hope you're wrong about the need for distractions!

    If you're ever bored enough to read a book written by a sociologist, The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg argues that the European pubs often function as community centers because they're able to avoid luring customers with things that detract from interaction.

  2. Nice Place. Still a work in progress. Great beers and no Miller or Bud on tap!

  3. Just say NO to TVs! A genuine bristle dart board would be cool though. I miss being able to actually play darts, with rules and real darts, rather than sloppy "hey I hit something and it scored!" darts with little plastic thingies that resemble darts. Other thoughts: Bell's Two-Hearted is boring? Prairie Gold is definitely an acquired taste (akin to musty sweat socks). I don't care for Belgians, but the draw is important for the Malt House. If having exclusively Belgian ales on 6 of 18 taps doesn't work, I'm certain they'll swap them out. And last, there is new artwork being delivered to the pub tonight. Welcome to the neighborhood, Malt House!

  4. OMG thank dogs! no TV! That was one of the first things I noticed about the Malt House. The last place I bar tended at had TVs but a strict "only on when it's a local sporting event" policy. Management had some crazy idea about people actually talking to each other or something. So cheers to the Malt House, I hope they keep that policy in place. I would never say no to pool or darts. And I do mean real darts. Ah yeah.

  5. I have not been there yet but must make a comment.

    In Columbus we have a "Brewery" called The Kurth. They no longer make their own beer and are only open 2 nights a week.

    What stands out is NO TV, no dart boards no entertainment except people talking to each other.

    It's WONDERFUL!!!

    I will most certainly make a trip there (as a home brewer myself).

    I hope they get more beer from different parts of the country though! I would love to try more Dogfish Head or Rogue or any of the other great craft beers!

  6. I have to also agree with the lack of TV. On my first visit, I noticed the lack of TV and the lack of jukebox. I like that the bartender controls the music and the volume. I was able to enjoy some of my favorite beer and converse with my date. And that not only guaranteed I'd return, but I told all my friends about it.

    On the other hand, a dartboard wouldn't be awful, and would fit with the Belgian motif, but I honestly don't think this bar needs it.

  7. bobandannaweavenMay 24, 2009 at 5:57 PM

    Sounds like the person who wrote the review has somewhat misguided/unrefined priorites. Here is hoping the owners ignore the opinions of such types. I am guessing they will.

  8. excellent i must say !Still a work in progress. Great beers and no Miller or Bud on tap!


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