Randomly wandering through Union South a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a flyer, posted somewhat unnoticeably under The Sett food menu, highlighting four specialty craft beer offerings. Considering the relatively limited selection at the Memorial Union, I wasn’t expecting much, but as my eyes fell upon the last beer on the list, my jaw dropped.
There it was, modestly listed as if who ever printed the words had no idea of their significance: Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust. For those of you who haven’t heard of the beer, Zombie Dust is considered by most critics to be the best pale ale in the country. A single hop bomb of floral, citrus and resin, the beer provides an unbelievable amount of fresh, juicy hops without the bitterness of an imperial IPA. Though many of the better craft beer bars in Chicago carry the beer on tap during certain times of the year, finding it in Wisconsin is nearly impossible… or so I thought.
Zombie Dust’s acquisition prompts the question: How does a small, unknown newcomer to Madison’s craft beer scene like The Sett obtain a beer that many city staples could never dream to get their hands on?
The answer surprised me in its simplicity. According to their supervisors and directors, all it really took was a few people who love craft beer, and a very good relationship with the distributors.
While many bars stick to proven sellers amongst their regulars, The Sett’s ambitious outlook on beer seeks to bring as many different unique brews as possible to their taps. For example, while your typical beer bar may try to keep a few IPAs, pale ales and local favorites on tap at all times, The Sett will pretty much put out whatever is new and exciting. And to be blunt, they don’t seem to really care if the casual beer drinkers like it or not. I suppose that’s what the other six to nine macro taps are for.
I’m not sure if this mentality has given the bar priority amongst the distributors, but whatever it is, The Sett continues to receive kegs that most other great Madison beer spots simply can’t get. The most notable beer currently on tap is Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, a massive 15% ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels. It’s an aggressively rich beer that yields decadent milk chocolate, vanilla, espresso and buttery cream. That is, if you can handle the significant bourbon heat.
However, the fact that such a great beer still hasn’t sold out despite only being a 1/6 keg points to The Sett’s underlying problem. In reality, this spot is Madison’s best-kept secret when it comes craft beer, but it really doesn’t want to be. One hurdle to overcome is a predominantly student crowd that may not be as familiar with craft beer. Thankfully, that is slowly starting to change, with more and more undergrads recognizing that the only place for Natty Light is seven beers deep.
Still, if a student union bar expects to appeal to the poor college crowd, it needs to help us out a little bit. Charging $6.50 for a six ounce portion of Bourbon County is simply not fair, regardless of the insanely high ABV. Consider that a four pack of the same beer at your average liquor store will cost five bucks for a twelve-ounce bottle, and the sample-sized six ouncer seems like a joke in comparison.
For this reason I suggest the Sett sacrifices profit margin for product movement, so they can sell more beer and rotate their kegs frequently.
Similarly, the Union South spot isn’t doing itself any favors with a lackluster online marketing campaign. After significant searching online you can find an out-of-date beer menu. But with no Facebook, Twitter or live tap list, I’m not sure how they expect even the biggest of beer geeks to hunt down their best offerings. For that reason I’ll go ahead and list their upcoming taps: Lakefront Luther Helles Rauchbier, Big Eddy Baltic Porter, Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout, Sprecher Hopfuzion and (of course) Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust are all on the horizon for consumers.
It’s a beer menu that is absolutely worth checking out, and with an expanding bottle collection and great distributor relations, the future looks promising for The Sett. It is my new go-to spot for hunting down rare seasonals from the likes of Bells, Three Floyds and Goose Island. I just hope that poor marketing and pricing doesn’t keep The Sett from reaching its full potential.
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