As many of you know by now, JT Whitneys' space on the West Side of Madison at Odana and Whitney Way is now occupied by the owners of the Vintage. They have decided to call it Vintage Brewing Company. It opened maybe a week or two ago (?), and the brewery is currently inactive with nothing planned until March, at least. Thus, admittedly, this review may be a bit premature; however, since it is a bar in a place called "X Brewing Company" I think it's fair to get a feel for the place.
Before I get to the pub itself, I want to go off on a quick diversion because I think it really sucks that they've chosen to import a brewmaster from outside of Wisconsin to brew here. There are quite a few very talented brewers in the city of Madison and Wisconsin generally that are currently unemployed and looking for work. However, most of the breweries in the area are set for brewers and assistants, so jobs don't open up often. Thus, when one does open, I think it would behoove the owners of said facility to at least interview some of those unemployed brewers and try to support our local brewers rather than be nepotistic and hire a relative from out-of-state.
Anyway. With that out of my system, I was able to hit up the Vintage Brewing Company on Friday night and, unfortunately, I can't really recommend it. I'll get the worst of it out of the way first: the mac and cheese was awful. To quote Mrs. MBR: "I'd have rather had Roundy's Shells and Cheese". It was all of the worst things about bad macaroni and cheese: it had been cooked too hot, the cheese had separated, and any binding agents had caused it to be gritty; the shells were over-cooked and mushy. The $12 crab cake (note: not crab cakes) appetizer wasn't much better; though the top was finely crusted, the bottom was soft and mushy and the inside was cold; and the mango salsa was most generously described as "interesting." The pulled pork sandwich was fine. But for one crab cake ($12), a pulled pork sandwich ($9), and mac and cheese ($14), we spent $31 and one of us didn't hate our food. In all, I wouldn't recommend it for the food; though as a cook and eater of food, I tend to be a bit more forgiving since we all have off-nights.
So, OK, the food was less than stellar and moderately over-priced, but you aren't reading this site for the food. How was the beer?
Less than interesting, unfortunately. A (very) limited tap and bottle list that, to its credit, focused on local beer was wrong. A fellow diner ordered the "Sprecher Abbey Triple Alt" (sic; no such beer exists, by the way, though it was listed in exactly that way on the menu - presumably it was the Sprecher Abbey Tripel and the "Alt" was a typo) and was served a MadTown Nut Brown instead. He wasn't asked if this (not even remotely close) substitution was acceptable. And while taps are $4.50, Strongbow, listed with the rest of the "tap beers" was inexplicably $6, with nary a price to be seen anywhere on the drink menu in any event.
To me, though, the biggest disappointment was what seemed like a conspicuously strong and pointed disinterest in quality beer. What taps and bottles they had, which wasn't much (about 6 taps or so, and maybe 10 bottles) overlooked seasonal and special releases in favor of predictable, unadventerous, year-round releases. Of course, something can be said for offering something that the general public, typically unfamiliar with more exotic and bold beers, can readily approach. But does that really need to comprise the entire tap list? Morevoer, I'm not sure that bodes well for what could be coming from the brewery itself. If the restaurant and bar is this disinterested in craft beer when they have the entire universe of Wisconsin craft beer to pick from, what will they do in the infinitely more challenging arena of creating their own?
Combined with a less-than-stellar menu, it seems that Vintage Brewing Company isn't really interested in providing a craft experience. The goal here is not to present skilled art in a manner that might appeal to a general public. Rather, the goal here is to take advantage of a fad and try to get dollars out of people by presenting a superficial sheen and a facade over what is otherwise the same thing you can get at any of the chain restaurants down the street at the mall.
Look, I hate writing bad reviews and you'll probably call me a cynic. I choose to think that I have high standards, and see little reason to excuse, or give a free pass to, mediocrity. And, yes, I'm perhaps a bit more vehement than I might otherwise be, but it really irks me that the Vintage came into this space, bringing in outsiders in the process, jumping in line over many other groups. Groups that were actually interested in using the space to brew good beer and provide an experience that JT Whitneys wasn't in my time, but I am assured was in its glory days. It irks me that this space could be used for such great things, and they not only blew it, but did so in such a shallow, callow, poseur, manner.
Look, admittedly the place is new, and it's not yet brewing. I'll go back when the brewery is up and running, but frankly I see no reason to go here instead of The Great Dane, or even Granite City down the street.