Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Other reviews for this beer:
Eddie Glick one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer read it ›
Franz Mueller one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer read it ›
Ale Asylum
Madison, WI

Style: American Pale Ale

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Consider this the review that almost wasn’t. As a hopologist, Nigel loves anything that’s loaded with Cascade gold, which Madison-based Ale Asylum claims their Hopalicious is. I also love the name—how could any Hophead pass up such a tantalizing title? However, Hopalicious was reviewed recently by Eddie Glick and after sampling the brew and reading his assessment, it’s clear we have essentially the same opinion of it. Therefore, I was going to pass on reviewing it since I had very little to add to Eddie’s evaluation.

I have changed course, however. While I may share many of the same thoughts as Eddie had regarding Hopalicious specifically, I have some thoughts about Ale Asylum as a whole that I’d like to share. Basically, it comes down to this: I’ve come to the opinion that Ale Asylum may be one of the most overrated craft breweries in the Midwest. Perhaps this is blasphemous to some of you Beer Dorks in southern Wisconsin, but I gotta tell it like I see it.

My most recent experience with Ale Asylum came Thanksgiving weekend, when Nigel traveled to the family homestead for a turkey-filled extravaganza. Nigel grew up just north of Mad City and drives by Ale Asylum’s east side headquarters on the commute. On my return trip, I stopped in to get a growler of—hopefully—Diablo to review. Entering the nearly-empty brewpub on a Sunday afternoon, I asked the bartender for a growler. “We’re out,” she said, “but we do have six-packs for sale.” Yes, they did in fact have six-packs for sale … for $8.50. Ale Asylum recently began distributing in Milwaukee and a six-pack of their Hopalicious and Ambergeddon runs about $7.00-$7.50 here. Yeah, I drove to Madison to pay an extra buck for a sixer. Please. Also, the only selections out of Ale Asylum’s 8-10 brewpub offerings available in six-pack form were the Ambergeddon, Hopalicious, Mad Town Nut Brown, and Gold Digger Blonde Ale. I wasn’t here to review amber, brown, or blonde ales; I wanted to review something with balls. Needless to say, Nigel left a very unhappy man.

Does this in itself make Ale Asylum overrated? Absolutely not, but I’ve got more. Despite living in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin for the past few years, I heard of Ale Asylum’s beginnings in early 2006, although the details were a bit sketchy. This made me think the opening was big news, as few outstate developments penetrate the backwards bubble that is the Fox Valley. My understanding was that the former brewer of Angelic Brewing Co. on Johnson St. (not far from the UW campus) ditched the microbrewery there (Angelic no longer brews their own beer) and set up shop on the east side (this is likely due to the gestapo near campus that are sure that binge drinking by UW students can be curtailed by eliminating anything even remotely fun). Ale Asylum opened with much fanfare and received a positive reception with its attempt at being hip and edgy. I now realize that this was largely due to the fact that Angelic had developed a cult following among Madison craft-beer lovers, so much of this positive buzz was created before the first beer actually rolled off the assembly line.

Furthermore, while attending the Quivey’s Grove Beer Fest in Madison in October, I was looking forward to sampling Ale Asylum’s offerings and expected to hear tons of good things about it. On the contrary, I heard VERY mixed reviews. Yes, there was some positive buzz, but not nearly to the extent of other regional brewers like Capital, Great Dane, Grumpy Troll, Lake Louie, New Glarus, and Tyranena. Many festival-goers that I spoke to were adamant in the belief that Ale Asylum was really not that good. I sampled the Diablo there, and was not at all impressed.

All of these things, in addition to chatting with some fellow Beer Dorks who are more familiar with the Madison craft beer scene than I am, have led me to the conclusion that this brewery is highly overrated. I was expecting so much more after reading craft beer blogs, but I can’t say I have any reason to believe it’s anything other than just another craft brewery in a rapidly growing and crowded market.

Hopalicious seems to be Ale Asylum in a nutshell: it’s a good American pale ale, it's well conceived from a marketing standpoint, but is nothing so extraordinary as to make it anything other than average. Much like Eddie alluded to, Hopalicious starts out promising but fades as the session progresses.

As the bottle claims, 11 types of Cascade hops are utilized, and you notice it at the pop of the bottle cap; this is an aromatic brew indeed, one that will send any Hophead into a tizzy. Fairly lively for an APA, a nice, pillowy white head foams up on the pour, slowly dissipating into a golden brown brew with significant lacing and some sedimentation. Aromas of piney, citrusy sweet Cascade hops inundate the nostrils from the glass. Hopalicious both looks and smells like a Hopheads dream come true.

The taste is disappointing, but by no means bad. The overly-hopped aroma doesn’t translate to the flavor. Cascade hops do dominate, but only slightly more than the light, caramel malt. A bit earthier than you would typically expect from a Cascade-heavy brew, it lacks the characteristics that would make it anything other than an average APA. It’s both sweet and bready, without the bitterness and zip that I was expecting. On the lighter end of the medium-bodied spectrum, it goes down smooth and could be considered a nice session brew. It’s a solid APA, but certainly not anything worth driving to Madison just to try.

As for Ale Asylum, I do think they’ve got the right idea when it comes to creating a fun, edgy image, but they need to tweak themselves a bit. You can market yourself all you want and rely on your loyal cult following for business, but unless you make beer that’s better than average, your likely not going to go anywhere in the current marketplace, where good craft breweries are popping up like weeds. If you want to have success outside of the locals, you’re going to have to take it up a notch. It would also help to have enough growlers on hand on a busy holiday weekend for us passers-by that want to sample your beer.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 5, 2007.
Agree with this review?

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...