If you live in Madison, you've probably walked past Genna's and thought it was little more than a cocktail bar filled with the countless suits who work at the Capitol. You know what I mean. And yes, I'm told that they're known for making some fine cocktails but I went in undercover and wanted to see how they were doing with beer. After all, they do advertise for the Tyrenna Brewery (Milwaukee, WI) right in their window.
The building itself is situated on a triangular corner, thus resulting in an unusual right-triangle layout inside. You enter along one of the corners and face the bar. In front of you are a small number of clean tables surrounded by comfortable bar chairs. To your left is a selection of cheeses, crackers, and other food items. I didn't try any of it. The walls are adorned with classic Guiness posters, lending an Irish pub like theme to the place. But it wasn't as convincing as, say, Brocach. This is not the kind of bar you want to stroll into wearing bar clothes. Everyone there was attired at the business casual level. I found it lacking Dotty Dumpling's Dowry's gemütlichkeit, Brocach's craic, and the soigné of Barriques Wine Cave. But what it lacked in warmth, it more than made up for in class.
Behind the bar there are 12 quality beers on tap and over sixty bottles from which to choose. As I looked at the selection of beers on the wall, I was stunned by the bold variety. They had Chimay Rouge, Delerium Tremens, Anchor Porter, Sierra Nevada APA and stout, among other world-class beers. The beer with the last class there was PBR. If I had to criticize the variety at all, it's that they went for a "world's best" approach rather than drawing from the fine selection of local brews. They had Spotted Cow and Wisconsin Amber on the wall, but where was the Lake Louie Scotch Ale? Or the Central Waters Lac du Bay IPA? Or Lakefront Eastside Dark? Although I don't agree with the global focus, I respect Genna's for being bold enough to serve Chimay in 750 mL bottles. To my knowledge, there is no other bar in Madison with the variety that I found at Genna's.
The bar tender knew a bit about beer, which was a gentle surprise. Although Madison is a beer savvy city, a startling number are hooked on disappointing macros. The bar tender seemed to have a good familiarity with the world of beer. When I ordered a Anchor Porter, they were out. So he suggested a Sierra Nevada Stout instead, which he said is much like a porter. I was impressed by this suggestion because I agree that Sierra Nevada's Stout is sufficiently light that I could easily mistake it for a porter.
I drank two beers there. Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout and Anchor Steam. I believe they cost $4 and $3 respectively, which are very reasonable prices in my opinion. When the bar tender placed the bottle and glass on the counter, I was disappointed by three things. First, the stout was served ice cold. The temperature at which stouts ought to be served is often said to be 65° F. Second, the glass was unusual to say the least. A pint glass would have kept with the Irish-themed decor and have highlighted some of the qualities of the beer. Instead it was the dreaded American tumbler glass. Third, I was carded. Now, as you can tell from my profile, I'm still only 24. And I understand that bars suffer serious consequences when they serve people who aren't of age. But I feel that carding is somewhat declassé and it shows a lack of respect for the guest.
The Oatmeal Stout was almost certainly skunked, which is an unfortunate consequence of the fact that it's sold in clear glass bottles. I still have no idea why brewers sometimes insist on non-opaque bottles. In my mind, it shows a lack of respect for their product. Still, the rich oatmeal flavors danced on my tongue followed by waves of roasted malt flavor. A wonderful beer. The bar can't be blamed for the bad bottle. One problem that haunts beer bars is that they have sacrifice freshness in obtaining diversity. From what I've heard, Genna's has a good reputation for serving fresh brews.
I had my first brush with Anchor Steam as well. Unfortunately, I drank it after the stout so my pallate wasn't able to give it the attention it deserves. I'll review it under my standardized conditions at a later time, so stay tuned!
In the summer, Genna's has a balcony where you can sit and have a beautiful view of the Capitol. The mere thought of a beautiful summer evening with a pint of Hefeweizen sounded so appealing that I knew that I'd be back.