Top off a day of canoeing along the Wisconsin River with a few cans of Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat.

Top off a day of canoeing along the Wisconsin River with a few cans of Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat. Photo By Jerry Luterman

Craft beer, great outdoors pair well in Madison area

Wisconsin's capital is no slacker when it comes to options for outdoor exploration. Madison, one of the state's top cycling cities, is also sandwiched among four large lakes and is a stone's throw from some of Wisconsin's best state parks.

It seems like those activities have created a thirsty citizenry, with Madison also boasting a burgeoning craft beer scene. From longtime stalwarts like Capital Brewery to new up-and-comers like Wisconsin Brewing Co., the area is a hot bed for hop heads.

So what better way to explore the area than by pairing the two? Check out these five outdoor adventures paired with Madison-area brews for a perfect day trip or weekend outing this summer.

Ice Age Trail and Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale

Take a morning hike along Wisconsin's only National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age Trail, near its alliance's headquarters in Cross Plains. A short, 2.7-mile off-road segment begins on Lewis St. and includes a climb up a steep ridge for views of a distant ridge and Blue Mound. An access road leads back into Cross Plains, not too far from the segment's starting point, or you can continue west toward the trail's Table Bluff segment.

Keep heading west in search of good beer and more adventure — in the form of trying to find Lake Louie Brewing. Tucked in the tiny town of Arena about 20 miles west of Madison, the brewery doesn't have any signs directing visitors down gravel roads to the small facility. There's no tap room, and free tours are given by brewer and owner Tom Porter on select Saturdays. They included limited samples; opt for Warped Speed Scotch Ale, which Porter said is what gets customers hooked on his beers. Slightly sweet with a light, hoppy finish, the brew goes down easy after working up a sweat on a hike.

More information: The Ice Age Trail Alliance headquarters is at 2110 Main St., Cross Plains. Call (800) 227-0046 or see iceagetrail.org.

Lake Louie Brewing is at 7556 Pine Road in Arena. Reservations are recommended for the tours, which are limited to 30 people. Check the brewery's website at lakelouie.com for dates.

SUP and Ale Asylum's Hopalicious

Rent a standup paddleboard from Rutabaga Paddlesports for a leisurely cruise around Lake Monona or Lake Waubesa. Madison is a popular spot for the sport, which involves standing on an extra-large surfboard and paddling around with an extra-long canoe paddle. Every July, the city plays host to the Midwest Standup Paddle Festival.

A day of working your core calls for a pint of Hopalicious at Ale Asylum, which opened a new facility on Madison's east side in 2012. This American pale ale is smooth and not too bitter, great any time of year but especially refreshing after a full day on the water.

More information: SUP rentals are $40/day or $25/half day from the Rutabaga dock, 220 W. Broadway. Two-hour beginner lessons are $50. Call (608) 223-9300 or see rutabaga.com.

Ale Asylum, 2002 Pankratz St., is open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-close and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tours, which cost $5 and include a free pint plus a special sampling, are offered on the hour on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Call (608) 663-3926 or see aleasylum.com.

Sandbar camping and Capital Island Wheat

It's camping as camping was meant to be — no fees, no reservations, no electricity. Hop in a canoe and paddle the Wisconsin River from Mazomanie to Spring Green and spend the night camping on one of the river's sandbars. The 92-mile stretch of the river from Sauk City to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Wyalusing State Park is wide, dam-free and protected as part of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Camping on sandbars is free and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Leave your glass bottles behind (they're heavy and aren't allowed on the river anyway) and top off your day of paddling with a can of Capital Brewery's Island Wheat. Capital, in Middleton, was one of Wisconsin's first craft brewers to offer select beers in cans in 1997. Made with wheat grown on Washington Island off the tip of the Door County peninsula, this easy-drinking, sweet but not sugary ale is perfect for a warm summer day spent on your own little island.

More information: Canoe rentals from WI River Outings range from $45 for a day trip to $87 for an overnight trip. Call (608) 375-5300 or see canoe-camping.com.

Capital Brewery sells cans in its gift shop, which is open Tuesday-Thursday 2-7 p.m., Friday 2-8 p.m., Saturday 12-8 p.m. and Sunday 12-5 p.m. The brewery at 7734 Terrace Ave. in Middleton also offers tours throughout the week and features a large beer garden. Call (608) 836-7100 or see capital-brewery.com.

Biking the Glacial Drumlin and Tyranena Session IPA

The 52-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail is great for both long and short summer bike rides. And it parallels I-94 from Waukesha to Cottage Grove, so it's easy to access from Milwaukee or Madison. The mostly crushed limestone trail follows a former rail bed, so elevations changes are minimal. A 13-mile paved section extends from Waukesha to Dousman.

Reward yourself after a ride with a pint of Session IPA in Tyranena's beer garden in Lake Mills.

The brewery, accessible via a short trail spur and city streets, features a large tap room that serves up 16 of its brews on tap, including hard-to-find specialties like this smooth, but still hoppy, IPA. Like other session IPAs, this one's low in alcohol content so you can sip a couple and still bike back to your starting point. Visit on a Friday or Saturday for live music and rotating food trucks outside.

More information: Riders 16 and older need a state trail pass to bike the Glacial Drumlin trail — $4/day or $25/year. See dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/glacialdrumlin.

Tyranena's tasting room, at 1025 Owen St. in Lake Mills, is open Monday-Thursday 4:30-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 3 p.m.-midnight and Sunday 12-8 p.m. Free tours are given on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m. Call (920) 648-8699 or see tyranena.com.

Blue Mound and Wisconsin Brewing Co. Zenith

It would be easy enough to spend an afternoon at the big, gleaming Wisconsin Brewing Co. facility in Verona, which opened in November and features an outdoor beer garden with a fire pit, bean bag toss games and plenty of chairs for lounging.

Pick up a stainless steel growler in the brewery's gift shop and fill it with Zenith, a mild saison that was released on the longest day of the year in June. The light-bodied beer has a dry finish and is great for warm-weather drinking.

Growler in tow, continue following Highway 18/151 about 20 miles west to Blue Mound State Park. Climb up the east or west observation towers or follow the 2-mile Ridgeview Trail to the highest point in southern Wisconsin for great views of the surrounding valley. Cheers to sipping Zenith at the zenith.

More information: Blue Mound State Park is at 4350 Mounds Park Road, Blue Mounds. Call (608) 437-5711 or see dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/bluemound.

Wisconsin Brewing Co.'s tap room, 1079 American Way, Verona, is open Tuesday-Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday 1-11 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. or close and Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. or close. Free tours are offered at various times Tuesday through Sunday. Call (608) 848-1079 or see wisconsinbrewingcompany.com.

Day Out features day trips within a two-hour drive of the Milwaukee area.

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