We actually sell five to six kegs of this a week, which is second most of any bar in the country,” mentioned Matt Van Nest, owner and founder of Brasserie V, as I sipped contently on their house beer.
Now, that fact would be impressive regardless of what brew Matt was speaking of. But when you consider that Brasserie V’s house beer is St. Bernardus Abt 12, which is ranked the 43rd best beer in the world by ratebeer.com, it becomes dramatically apparent the man has a passion for Belgian ales.
In addition to the St. Bernardus, Brasserie V keeps 13 other taps, rotated consistently to ensure you always have a reason to come back and try something new. Perhaps more impressive, however, is their book of bottled beers (yes I said book, not menu). Thick as a novel and organized by country, with mostly European offerings, Brasserie V’s bottle list exceeds 175 unique options.
What is arguably most impressive about the selection sprawled across each page is not the quantity but the quality and—most importantly—rarity of beers. For me, if I’m going to order a bottle of beer in a bar, it better not be a brew that I can find in a liquor store for five dollars cheaper. I want something rare, something I can’t find anywhere else in Madison. I want something like Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva (2005), Cantillon or The Bruery Fruet: All beers that can be found at Brasserie V.
It didn’t take much more than a glance at this astounding selection to realize that Mr. Van Nest had an incredible passion for good beer.
He handed me another tap sample, the golden Belgian ale La Chouffe Achouffe, and we continued to discuss a mutual fascination with the almighty ale. A salesman for the entirety of his career, Matt elaborated that he had never had any bar management experience when he opened Brasserie V five years ago. Inspired by the great neighborhood bars in small towns across Belgium he frequently visited with his wife, the couple decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a career rooted in something they loved.
It’s a great story, yet one that seems to resurface surprisingly frequently throughout the craft beer community. If there’s one thing I’ve learned researching the entire “better beer” movement, it’s that beer is about doing what you love.
That may require, as it did for Matt, sacrificing the comfort, certainty and financial stability that comes with a sturdy job and a constant paycheck. But what results from such faith-testing demands is an industry full of people whose passion exceeds reasonable doubt, finding their greatest reward in the occupation itself, not its spoils.
Now, before I run out of space letting my incoherent beer ramblings tire themselves to exhaustion, I want to leave you with some descriptions of the actual beer you can try at Brasserie V. I’ll start, of course, with their house special:
St. Bernardus Abt 12 (tap): Considered to be one of the best Belgian Quadruppels in the world, this beer is even better on tap. Immediately you’ll notice lots of tart and sweet green apple, accompanied by caramel, fig and raisin and a nice rum alcohol heat to warm the throat on a snowy, winter Wisconsin night.
Schneider Aventinus (tap): Simply put, this is the best doppelbock you can find anywhere. With a vicious onslaught of toffee, molasses, dark candied sugars, plumb and caramelized bread, this dessert beer is perfect for the more adventurous beer drinkers who want more from their favorite German brewers.
Mikkeller/To Ol Ov-Ral (tap): If you ever see a beer from Mikkeller on tap at a bar, buy it. One of the most creative and simply ingenious brewers out there, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø from Denmark doesn’t seem capable of making a bad beer. Or-Val is a sour IPA, which is a style that I’d never heard of before, yet tastes amazing.
Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005 (bottle): Take one of the best Belgian beers and age it in oak barrels for two years and you get Struise Grand Reserva. With a perfectly balanced and full-bodied profile of dry dark chocolate, honey, raisin, butter and cranberry, this is one of my favorite beers of all time.
In summary, Brasserie V is an astounding place. It’s everything that a beer bar should be. Though prices are not cheap, they are fair, and the selection may be the best in Madison.
Do you also have a more refined pallette than a Natty Lite lover? Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for Niko? Send them his way at email@example.com and maybe your favorite beer, bar or brewery will be featured on the Thursday Beer column.