I am hoping that if I promise to give you TWO Brewery of the Week posts this week, you will all forgive me for shorting you last week. I will try not to let you down again. I will spare you the list of excuses, but in truth this post was incredibly hard to write. I have been torn up about how to best approach this subject. I would never want to paint an Iowa brewery in bad light because I seriously believe in the greatness of all the options we have here and the potential we have to be a hotspot in the brewing world. However, I am also an overly honest person by nature and could never lie to my readers.
Maybe I was just too excited to go for the first time and hyped it up in my head. But Saturday’s adventure to Madhouse in Des Moines was a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, this was not the worst experience I’ve ever had. But there’s a lot opportunities for Madhosue to step up their game. I decided the most diplomatic approach to this is to first tell you what was great, and share with you the few negatives that soured our stay. To the owners/employees/lovers of Madhouse: please do not take this as an attack. I hope you take this constructive criticism with a grain of salt and work to improve on the things that fell short.
This space is gorgeous! We see so much of that large, open, modern industrial space with exposed rafters and polished concrete floors these days, and I never get tired of it. I don’t know why my brain perceives this as such good beer-drinking atmosphere, but it always does. As you may have read in my previous post, Madhouse currently has a whole selection of Barrel-Aged offerings, which I thought was really great. I had the VIP-the Vanilla Imperial Porter, and it was DELICIOUS. Very vanilla bean + whiskey in its taste, just the right amount of sweet and burn. I regret not being able to try more of them.
While were were there I did notice that the staff were more than willing to give tours and explanations to whomever was interested, and saw a couple going on in the short time we were there. We didn’t try any of their snack foods, but the pretzels looked and smelled sooooo good. We also had a flight while we were there, and the boards used to serve them are pretty dang cool. Oh, and if you’re a foosball fan, there’s a table on site.
With that being said, there were a few overriding details that soured this trip for me. Big, big sad face.
While I am not a certified professional, I have been working in the restaurant industry the LAST 15 YEARS. I have served, I have bartended, I have trained, trained, and trained some more, and I have managed. So I am not an idiot on the subject.
I panicked and rushed to get there on Saturday afternoon before they closed for the weekend. Hours of operation are only 4p-10p Thursday and Friday, and 10a-6p Saturday. As soon as I saw this I thought, “Who goes to a brewery at 10 o’clock on a Saturday?” The bartender confirmed this when I overheard her say “There is never anyone here before noon.” Madhouse has a gorgeous space. I had intended to stay and enjoy this space for a couple of hours, spending money and sampling all their beers, but I realized at 4:15 that they closed at 6 and I was still in West Des Moines, while they are downtown on the east side of the river. Such a missed opportunity.
It should never, ever, ever, take 9 minutes for a bartender to bring over a flight of 5 beers on a slow afternoon. Ever. We walked in, ordered the flight, the bartender rudely told us she would bring it to us when it was ready. So we sat at the table staring into space for NINE MINUTES. She was not busy! There were two other people working and no one else ordering beers. I’ve worked as a bartender for years in both top corporate restaurants and hole-in-the-wall dives. I know when a bartender is genuinely busy and when they just don’t want to serve me because they know the place closes in an hour. But seriously. I tried to make excuses the first 5 minutes. The last 4 I just got increasingly angry. And cut into the time I had to spend more money and buy more beer.
IF for some crazy reason it does take NINE minutes to hand a flight of beers over the counter, ALL FIVE OF THEM BETTER BE COLD. In this case, 3 out of 5 were not. $9 not well spent. And on that note, beers there are higher priced than other relatively similar breweries. I get that the space is expensive. I get that you have bills to pay. I am HUGE supporter of small businesses and am willing to pay more when it comes to that. But I’m not willing to pay too much. But when you’re only open 3 days a week, when the hours don’t best serve customer needs, and when you’re not selling products that customers want (see next paragraph) I just can’t feel bad for you. $9 on warm beer samples and $6 on a 14 oz (<– educated guess from years of pouring beer) tulip of a season selection just was too much higher than the competition without any additional value.
No other brewery limits themselves to “A flight can only be these 5 beers and exactly these 5 beers.” I understand Madhouse wanting to push their flagship beers. I get that. But as someone who makes many a trip to breweries, wineries, and anywhere else that’s got a whole boatload of beers on tap, I have NEVER been anywhere where I couldn’t pick all or at very least most of my flight.
Same goes for growlers. Only the 5 flagship beers are available for growler fills. I buy a growler of almost every brewery have been to. I loved the Vanilla Imperial Porter and would have probably taken some home. But since I was not allowed to purchase a growler of the only beer I had that impressed me, I did not spend the money. I know the kind of profit margins that come with those. Madhouse is shooting themselves in the foot.
Again, I apologize to anyone that takes offense. It killed me to paint one of our breweries in anything less than great light. Keep in mind that this post reflects only on my brewery experience, and not the beers themselves. [I didn’t think it was fair of me to make many judgments on my flight, as I think I would have felt differently if it had been served at an adequate temperature.] I hope this doesn’t deter anyone from picking up a 6-pack or 22oz bottle of Madhouse’s beer, I know HyVee has a full selection. I am hoping someone who knows someone at Madhouse forwards this to them and they take it with a grain of salt and consider how these things fit into their business model.
I would love to hear from anyone else who didn’t have this type of experience or does not think these things. I would love to be wrong about this. My gut instinct is these are exactly the types of the things that make over 60% of new businesses fail in their first 5 years. I hope there is a turn around. And I accept that this was only one trip and am more than willing to give it a second chance. So I guess stay tuned for Madhouse Revisited at some point down the road.
Madhouse Brewing Company | 501 Scott Avenue Des Moines, IA | 515.988.5355