The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company was established by long-time friends Rob LoBreglio and Eliot Butler, both hailing from New York, Their shared dream was to create a brewpub that would offer a wide variety of house-brewed ales and lagers, alongside delicious made-from-scratch pub fare. The original Downtown location of the Great Dane opened its doors in November 1994, making it the first brewery to operate in the city of Madison since the closure of the Fauerbach Brewery in 1966.
The establishment of the Great Dane brought about a revitalization in Madison’s brewing industry and marked a significant chapter in the intriguing history of the Fess Hotel property. The Fess Hotel had a rich past dating back to the 1850s when George and Anna Fess opened a hotel, livery, and eatery on Clymer Street, known as Doty Street today. The business remained in the hands of the Fess family for over a hundred years. In 1883, the Victorian cream brick portion of the building was erected, while the Queen Anne pressed brick side, originally built in the 1850s, underwent remodeling in 1901. Both sections of the structure stand as remarkable examples of their architectural styles in Madison.
In 1973, the property underwent an ambitious renovation that converted the hotel rooms upstairs into office suites, and the Fess Restaurant began its twenty-year tenure of offering fine dining. The building’s historical significance led to its inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places. However, in June 1994, the Fess restaurant ceased its operations, and the property changed hands, providing the perfect opportunity for The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company to find its new home.
The remodeling undertaken in 1994 gave the Fess Hotel building’s interior a fresh yet classic appearance. The main bar room boasted a beautiful mahogany bar and offered an excellent view of the brewing process. The dining room featured meticulously restored brickwork, while the Rathskellar bar showcased original stone walls. Each space provided a unique and inviting atmosphere in which patrons could savor the Great Dane’s hand-crafted beers and indulge in hearty pub fare. Outside, the secluded arboreal garden, updated with real brick pavers and dramatic lighting, consistently received accolades as one of Madison’s best outdoor dining spots.
Two years later, in 1996, The Great Dane expanded into the adjacent space at 203 King Street, a former antique shop located on the corner of Doty and King streets. This expansion allowed for additional brewery space and an increase in the variety of beer styles available at any given time. The newly acquired area, known as the “pool hall,” introduced four Brunswick billiard tables, carefully crafted booth seating, a hand-crafted shuffleboard, a raised lounge area, and a gift shop. It quickly became a popular destination for patrons seeking entertainment alongside their brews. In a memorable 2002 match, professional billiards player Janette Lee, widely known as “The Black Widow,” soundly defeated Great Dane president Eliot Butler, despite the advantage of playing on his home table.
The downtown brewery, where it all began, has been a cornerstone of the Great Dane’s operation. With an average production of just under 2,000 barrels per year, this location remains the heart of their brewing operations. In 2012, the Great Dane achieved another milestone by introducing their first bottled beer. The inaugural release featured an enticing imperial red ale, boasting a robust 11.5 percent alcohol content. This marked the beginning of a series of bottled beers that further expanded the Great Dane’s offerings to beer enthusiasts.
In addition to their brewing achievements, the downtown Great Dane Pub & Brewing also introduced a unique offering to the local beer scene. They were the pioneers in the area to provide the 32-ounce “crowler” package, offering patrons a convenient way to enjoy their favorite brews. This innovation showcased the Great Dane’s commitment to meeting the needs and preferences of their customers while maintaining their reputation for exceptional craft beer.
As the Great Dane expanded its footprint across Madison and beyond, each location has brought its own distinct character and atmosphere. While the downtown location remains the brewing hub, the other pubs have successfully captured the essence of the Great Dane experience. From Fitchburg to Hilldale, Wausau to Eastside, patrons can expect the same commitment to quality, vibrant ambiance, and outstanding food and drink offerings that have made the Great Dane a beloved destination.
Great Dane Fitchburg
The second Great Dane location was established in Fitchburg, a suburb of Madison, specifically at 2980 Cahill Main. Unlike its predecessor, this new branch was housed in a purpose-built facility, boasting a more contemporary ambiance.
At the Fitchburg location, patrons can delight in a beer list that encompasses the beloved classics from the downtown establishment, alongside exclusive offerings unique to this specific location. One such example is the John Stoner’s Oatmeal Stout, a brew paying homage to John Stoner, the first farmer in the area. This personalized touch adds an extra layer of local connection and flavor to the Great Dane experience. Notably, the Fitchburg pub produces slightly over 1,000 barrels per year, showcasing the commitment to maintaining a consistent supply of exceptional brews.
In a groundbreaking move for Wisconsin, the Fitchburg pub became the first in the state to introduce self-service taps at select booths in 2013. This innovative system revolutionized the way customers could enjoy their favorite beers. Equipped with digital displays indicating the available beer options, customers could now pour their own beer and monitor their sales by the ounce. This interactive and self-service feature added an element of excitement and autonomy to the pub experience, setting the Fitchburg location apart from traditional establishments.
Great Dane Hilldale
In 2006, the Great Dane Pub extended its reach by opening its Hilldale location at 357 Price Place. Hilldale is an upscale shopping center located on the west side of Madison, known for its mix of retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The decision to open a pub in this bustling area was a strategic move, as it allowed the Great Dane to tap into a diverse demographic and attract a wide range of customers.
The Hilldale location of the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company boasts a charming and inviting ambiance. The interior design combines elements of a traditional English pub with a modern twist. Dark wood accents, comfortable seating, and warm lighting create a cozy and relaxed atmosphere that encourages patrons to stay and enjoy their experience. Prior to the establishment of the Great Dane Hilldale location, Wisconsin had strict regulations that limited brewpubs to operating a maximum of two establishments. These laws hindered the growth and expansion of craft breweries and brewpubs across the state. Recognizing the need for change, the Great Dane, along with other stakeholders in the brewing industry, advocated for a modification in the state law.
In 2009, Wisconsin legislators passed Act 108, commonly known as the “Great Dane Bill,” which lifted the restrictions on the number of brewpubs a company could operate. This legislative change opened the door for the Great Dane and other breweries to expand their reach and contribute further to the state’s craft beer scene. The amendment allowed the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company to establish the Hilldale location, which quickly became a local favorite.
Hilldale location, the restaurant itself opened its doors in 2006; however, the brewery didn’t become fully operational later. Hilldale establishment boasts a spacious layout, allowing for further expansion and increased capacity. It serves as the primary production site for most of the packaged beer offered by Great Dane. Annually, the Hilldale brewery produces approximately 2,700 barrels of beer. Notably, when Great Dane began canning beer in 2016, the mobile canning line was set up at the Hilldale location.
One distinctive aspect of the Hilldale brewery is its role in brewing beer for the Madison Mallards’ baseball games, particularly two brews crafted exclusively for games held at Warner Park, fondly known as “The Duck Pond.” These special brews, Mallard’s Ale and Big League Brown, are enjoyed by fans during the games. Great Dane has been one of the founding sponsors of the Mallards since 2001 and has a permanent presence with the Great Dane Duck Blind, an outfield seating area at Warner Park that was renovated in 2017 using repurposed shipping containers.
While all Great Dane locations offer a similar core beer and food menu, each location may also feature special beers or unique attributes. One distinctive event specific to the Hilldale location is Bockfest, which takes place every February. Bockfest brings together various local craft brewers and their bock beers, creating a memorable experience for beer enthusiasts in the Hilldale community and beyond.
Seven different malts, dominated by caramel and backed by chocolate and victory create a hint of sweetness in this rich yet balanced Scottish-Style Ale. Our oldest recipe and a brewmaster favorite.
Hops: Millennium, Fuggle.
Malts: Pils, Victory, Caramel, Munich, Carapils, Chocolate
Porter – American
Full-bodied, complex, coffee & chocolate. A mélange of nine different malts are met by millennium, fuggle and cascade hops to create a truly rich and complex dark ale. Served via beer engine. Our brawniest brew.
Hops: Cascade, Fuggle, Millennium
Malts: Pilsen, Chocolate, Caramel, Roasted BArley, Carapils, Victory, Munich, Wheat, Black Malt
IPA – American
Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria hops deliver a mix of tropical fruit and orange flavors that’ll take your tastebuds to the Caribbean. This is the go-to IPA for warm weekends spent hanging out in your own paradise – from backyards to the boat.
Hops: Mosaic, Mandarina, Bavaria
Wheat Beer – Hefeweizen
Unfiltered, fruity, refreshing. A traditional Hefeweizen, slightly cloudy with traditional phenolic aromas and flavors of banana, citrus and clove from the interaction of the yeast and wheat. Over 50% wheat malt, imported German yeast and Hallertau hops. The lemon slice makes it extra nice.
Malts: Munich, Pilsen, Wheat
IPA – Session
The official beer of the Madison Mallards, Home Run Hazy is a session IPA that’s packed with juicy mango flavor. Brewed with Galena and Citra hops, this hazy IPA is more refreshing than a 7th inning stretch.
Hops: Galena, Citra
Malts: Pils, Wheat, Marris Otter, Aromatic, Caramel, Flaked Oats
Pale Ale – American
Medium bodied, unfiltered, hoppy. Our interpretation of an original American Pale Ale. Classic cascade flavors and aromas of citrus, floral and spice are balanced by notes of light caramel, honey and biscuit. An homage to what hoppy used to mean.
Hops: Cascade, Millennium
Malts: Pils, Aromatic, Caramel, Victory, Carapils, Flaked Barley
Porter – American
A Great Dane classic, reborn with vanilla. Our flagship porter is full-bodied & complex, with coffee, chocolate, and now vanilla, flavors.
Hops: Cascade, Fuggle, Millennium
Malts: Pilsen, Chocolate, Caramel, Roasted Barley, Carapils, Victory, Munich, Wheat, Black Malt
Stout – Irish Dry
Velvety, creamy, dark yet light. An authentic Irish nitro Stout. True to style – appropriately light bodied and dry with a dense, creamy head; black barley, black malt and roasted barley create complex flavors. This brew was inspired by early trips to local pubs in our Brewmaster’s Irish neighborhood in the Bronx; way more than an Irish-style clone, this beer stands tall in its own right.
Malts: Pils, Caramel, Black Barley, Black Malt, Flaked Barley, Roasted Barley
Pilsner – Czech / Bohemian
Medium bodied, moderately hoppy. A bracing amount of noble Saaz hops creates a clean, straightforward and moderately spicy flavor and aroma that’s refined, not heavy handed. Based on the original pilsner, we toast to Rosaline Peck, frontier woman and owner of Madison’s first public house.
Malts: Carapils, Pilsen, Caramel, Munich
This beer is reminiscent of our regular Kolsch; the subtly fruity, yet light and crisp German style ale you all know and love. This one has the volume turned up. More German malt lends a slightly sweeter, fuller body. Instead of subtly fruity, it is noticeably fruity, but still with the characteristic Kolsch flavor. The 8% ABV may come as a surprise given how quickly a pint goes down. This brew is named in memory of Dane friend and enthusiastic beer lover, Jamie Cowles. The Imperial Kolsch was one of his favorites, and this name combines two of his passions-good beer and old school punk.
We’re calling this one a Pilsner because it was inspired by this classic style, and shares the bulk of its ingredients in common. German Pils malt, Czech and German hops, clear, golden color- These all suggest Pilsner. But this is no classic Pilsner, as it is fermented exclusively with Brettanomyces Claussenii yeast. The flavor and aroma is dominated by this unique yeast. This makes for a complexly flavored beer evoking the fruity, tart character of Lambic beers from the Zenne valley region of Belgium.
Hops: Saaz, Hallertau
Bock – Single / Traditional
Goes down like velvet, hits you like a hammer. Brewed with imported malt and our lager yeast, the Velvet Hammer is a classic bock: Smooth, with a sweet caramel-maltiness that almost hides the relatively high alcohol content. Relatively sessionable; a “gateway” bock.
Malts: Pils, Munich, Caramel, Chocolate
Lager – Vienna
Smooth, well-balanced, approachable. Vienna-style lager turned nitro pour. Dry-hopped, noticeable Hallertau flavor and aroma riding on light caramel malts. A true Great Dane original – first brewed in 1994 and lay’s claim to the honor of world’s first nitrogenated lager (at least that’s what the experts say); our Brewmaster’s top pick.
Malts: Pils, Caramel, Chocolate, Carapils, Wheat, Flaked Barley
IPA – Imperial / Double
Hop heavy, piney, full-bodied. British floor malts provide a firm malt backbone on which Simcoe, Columbus and Ahtanum hops ride. Aggressively dry hopped for maximum flavor and aroma – for the hoppily inclined.
Hops: Millennium, Columbus, Ahtanum, Simcoe
Malts: Pale Caramel, Caraplis, Flaked Oats, Dark Crystal
Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
Full-bodied, malty sweetness, cararmel & chocolate. A harmonious combination of seven different malts, dominated by caramel and backed by chocolate and victory, make this authentic Scottish-style Ale rich yet drinkable. Understated hops create a malt-forward pour. Our oldest recipe, dating back to 1991 – our Brewmaster sought to impress his audience with a complex, malty, flavorful offering that stood apart from the relatively bland beer landscape of the times.
Hops: Millennium, Fuggle
Malts: Pils, Victory, Caramel, Munich, Carapils, Chocolate