Madison Has Two Breweries That Achieve Greatness in Very Different Ways

Madison Has Two Breweries That Achieve Greatness in Very Different Ways

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Walter and I took a drive down to Madison this past weekend to visit Mad Paddle Brewery and New Madison Brewing. Madison is a beautiful town with a lot to offer residents and the tourists. From Hanover College to Clifty Falls State Park to the Ohio River, there is a lot to see. And from the history to the art to the Chautauqua there is a lot to learn in Madison. You can now add the two craft breweries to all that culture, for they are integral to Madison as well, along with the wineries and the two burgeoning distilleries that draw the city together.

However, Madison is also a city of contrasts. There is the downtown along the Ohio River, with its tourist destinations and history, and there is the top of the hill, with more industry and residents. Having only two breweries, one in old town and one on top of the hill, allows us to compare and contrast the two establishments. There is a lot different between them, but there are also things that are similar – like attention to detail in meeting their customers’ needs.

image credit: New Madison Brewing

Locations and Origins: Mad Paddle Brewery is located in a 150 yr. old feed mill converted into a brewery, restaurant, distillery, and event center. It’s situated just a few blocks from the Ohio River in the heart of the historic downtown. New Madison Brewing is located up the hill in a building they built themselves in 2018. They have a lot of land around them that could support a building expansion or an outdoor music venue.

The location and size of each place has at least something to do with the situations in which the two breweries were born. Jerry Wade was looking for a place to have a retirement home and fell in love with Madison. He is the type of person that can’t be idle, so it wasn’t long before he recognized Madison’s need for a brewery and acted. If you’re a successfully retired financial guru, then you look for something meaty, an old building in the tourist/historic area, and you look to serve the tourist industry that drives Madison.

On the other hand, Chris Bratten, Nick Privette, and Darryl Hardesty are still working stiffs. They wanted to turn their love of craft beer into a second job, but they still had their day gigs. Doing things themselves meant a small footprint, and a different kind of location. Therefore, they ended in a good-sized building on top of the hill that allows for growth while still having a cozy taproom.

Customer base: This aspect is somewhat driven by the location of each brewery. It isn’t a hard and fast rule for either establishment, but Mad Paddle sees more tourist traffic while New Madison is more of a local brewery. For sure, locals also find their way to Mad Paddle repeatedly, but you can’t ignore the number of people who end up with pictures on social media when they found Mad Paddle on their travels (Jerry is always looking to get peoples’ pictures on the Mad Paddle FB page).

image credit: Mad Paddle Brewery

New Madison Brewing, being on top of the hill, is better located to serve people at the end of a long workday, or for locals on the weekends after running errands or doing yard work. Again, that doesn’t mean they don’t also get their share of tourists, especially craft beverage tourists, but we’re betting that the fellows know most of the people across the bar on a typical afternoon or evening. On a recent visit to Oldenburg and Creek Bottom Brewery, co-owner Melanie Stahley mentioned how much she likes hanging out at New Madison and loves their beers.

Service: Here we find a great similarity between the two breweries from Madison. Both are as friendly as breweries anywhere. The conversations at New Madison are always interesting, and that’s from the patrons too, not just the beer slingers. You want to see the brewhouse? Come on back. You want to hear the stories of the beers? Let me talk to you about them. Are you an IU, Purdue, or Louisville fan? We can talk about all with equal passion.

As for Mad Paddle Brewery, it’s the rare first-time customer that doesn’t end up with a tour of the building from Jerry. From the historic photographs to pointing out the old elevator and beams, the Mad Paddle are rightfully proud of their location. Plus, there is almost always some music on the stage at Mad Paddle, so there is always something to interact with.

The beers themselves are part of the service at each establishment. Mad Paddle started with canned beer sold in distribution and at local events, and then they opened the small taproom before moving on with their expansion(s). Their beer offerings are approachable, but also innovative, with names that tourists and locals alike can find interesting. Names like Wicket, 3 Stacks Cold War, and You Gotta Regatta mix local history and fun. They may not make as many different beers as some breweries in northern Indiana, but they do offer quite a bit of diversity.

New Madison is increasing their beer production. Look for an ESB and a vanilla porter in the offing. image credit: New Madison Brewing

At New Madison, the beer takes the premiere position; it’s all they do and it’s what matters most. Diversity in a small number of offerings is the key, from a tripel to a porter to a pale ale to a sour – and the names reflect the fact that style and detail make the difference – Amber, Quad, Chocolate Stout, Pale Ale – they tell you that the beer is the point.

Hours and Covid-19: The hours for New Madison Brewing are always going to be narrower than for Mad Paddle Brewery since the guys still have full time jobs and Mad Paddle needs to be open when the tourists are around, but Covid has also affected both places. If you want to enjoy New Madison beers right now, you’re going to need to plan a Friday or Saturday afternoon/evening visit. And even though usually Mad Paddle is open all week, right now they are closed on Mon-Wed. We look forward to the day when they can both be back to their full schedule.

Our visit on Saturday was oh so pleasant, a really good time to enjoy both breweries and the people there.  Between flights and pints we tried every Mad Paddle beer on tap – the ESB called Delicious Fehrlicious was a standout. It wasn’t Marion County so we could sit at the bar – and we did. We saw someone order a 32 oz. draft, we assumed he meant a crowler, but no – Mad Paddle does a 32 oz. draft in a big Mason jar – interesting. We talked to Shelby for a couple of hours before Jerry came out to give us a tour of the distillery. Look for Mad Paddle Spirits on sale in the next few weeks; they had a Covid-19 delay in the release of their moonshines, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone by now.

Mad Paddle Brewery is an anchor venue for the Madison Music Movement (M3) and has live shows three nights every week. image credit: Mad Paddle Brewery

We moved up the hill to New Madison and had a great time there too. Co-owner Chris Bratten and his better half Jacquie were behind the bar and local home brewer and beer guru John Thur was down the rail from us. John has brewed with New Madison for a saison and will be doing some more Belgian beers with them soon. This is good news for us, since we already Indiana brewers make fantastic Belgian style beers.

The taproom was packed (socially distanced) for most of the time we were there, and the pints were flowing quickly. We tried several of the beers, including a great chocolate coffee stout and new (to us) amber that had a lot of flavor from the malts and was pleasantly sweet. New Madison has been branching out with their distribution, including having some beers on at Greg Brown’s Harbor & Hops in Jeffersonville, and you might be able to get canned New Madison beer in the future as they are currently mulling over the ideas of mobile canning versus buying their own canning line.

We heartily encourage everyone to visit New Madison and Mad Paddle because of, not despite, the differences between them. Each has a niche and a philosophy, but they both fill the need/desire for good beer and company in their city. Oh, and their city is nice too.

  • Brad Miller
    Posted at 00:22h, 24 December Reply

    Our downtown is not just old, it the largest contiguous Historic Landmark District in America. It’s in the same league as Savannah, Charleston, and Williamsburg. There is a reason people come here.

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