Great Taste of the Midwest Doesn’t Make Sense… But It works

Great Taste of the Midwest Doesn’t Make Sense… But It works

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I love going to craft beer festivals, especially new ones and ones that let me discover beer I cannot get at home. On August 8, 2015 I attended the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild-sponsored 29th edition of the Great Taste of the Midwest festival in Madison, WI. If you are into craft beer and attending craft beer festivals, you have heard about Great Taste from someone. It is not the largest or most attended festival I have been to but it is one of the best. Ticket sales are limited to 6000 and there is an odd process that involves putting trust in strangers to get tickets, but in my opinion it is worth it. There were over 1000 beers from nearly 200 brewers there this year, and 12 of those were from Indiana! This was an experience I hope I am able to repeat every year.

We planned an entire weekend for Great Taste and the festivities that surround the festival. We visited breweries and cheese shops along the way.  We debated which pre-Great Taste events we would attend from the day the events were released through the Friday we drove up. There are events at nearly every bar that serves craft beer in Madison with breweries bringing beers that are either brewed only for the festival or rare beers that you may never get to try again. Planning out the night before the event is as important as anything else you plan to do over the weekend. If you have been to many festivals you realize at some point in the night those plans will change.

My Great Taste eve started at Funk Factory Geuseria where O’so and Penrose Brewing were taking over. We got there an hour and a half after the start and half the list was gone, but there were still several beers worth trying, like O’so Brewing’s Goldilocks’ Revenge. This is a brandy barrel aged imperial stout that was the color of old motor oil and had a silky mouth feel. The barrel came through strong on this beer and made it a great selection. We had a few more and realized that we needed to get to the next place as close to the start time as possible in order to have the greatest chance at not missing something.

We headed to Side Door in downtown Madison for a Badger State Brewing vs. Brugge Brasserie shoot out. Being from Indy and loving sours I am partial to Brugge and looked forward to this all week. There were 11 Brugge and 5 Badger beers on tap. We were lucky enough to make it in time to sample all 11 of the Brugge offerings. Since we wanted to try a few of the Badger beers and visit a couple more places, we didn’t drain them all. Hopes and Dreams was my favorite of the round and I am sure it had nothing to do with the cognac barrels. We visited a couple of more places and tried several other offerings from different breweries before calling it a night.

The next day we rushed to get to the park for the 1pm opening. We arrived at 10 minutes till 1pm and were able to get checked in and to the line at the gate before the fest started. It’s an outdoor festival and the temp hovered in the high 70’s and was a bit overcast most of the day. This and a slight breeze made the few long lines at the festival bearable. I headed over to O’so Brewing to try Project Lo, an American Wild Ale aged in French oak barrels and randalled through a load of sour patch kids. The beer itself was tasty, a little sweeter than their other sours – I attribute that to the candies. There were several other beers on tap but I was ready to move on to one of the other booths and try some offerings that I had no access to at home.
The booth spaces at this fest were some of the more elaborate I have seen. A few included interactive displays like Dark Horse’s live portrayal of Jesus. Jesus stood on a pulpit and called out to people, made jokes, and told stories. Ale Asylum had a take on the “Price is Right” including a big wheel and “Kinko”. 3 Sheeps built a beer engine out of an old bicycle and used a keg as the front wheel. Then there was my favorite single non beer item of the day, a homemade glass rinser. It sat on top of an old barrel-turned-jockey box and was fully functional. I do not know why Rockford Brewing’s glass rinser made such an impression on me, but it did. Also, a special shoutout goes to Metropolitan and their robot themed jockey box that pours beer from the hands. 

There were some fun beer styles at Great Taste that I either had not tried or had only tried once. Mob Craft had a “festival only” barrel aged sour barleywine on tap. This was in my top 5 of beers for the fest. The maltiness and barrel played well with the sour of this beer. I was impressed with how balanced this bastard child of Mob Craft was and I wanted more, but they ran out by the time I returned. As we were making our way around I heard that Delafield Brewhaus had some kind of amazing mango beer on tap. When I got there I found Mango Sunset Lager was the only mango beer left. A 4.0% lager didn’t give me reason to expect much but I tried it anyway, and this was a beer that nearly anyone could sit and drink all day in the heat of summer. It was all mango without being too sweet and it was crisp and refreshing. I left there understanding why I had kept hearing about this beer. 

We continued to make our way around trying everything we could without getting stumbling drunk, as there were way too many hills in the park and I could just see me rolling down one and into the lake. I might be too big for the construction fences to hold!

The firkin tent was loaded with over 50 offerings from over 30 breweries. There were offerings from Indiana breweries Flat 12, Lafayette, Shoreline, SunKing, and Triton. A couple of big hits were from Metropolitan Brewing with their habanero and orange peel infused Kolsch and Lucid Brewing with a peach and coriander Amber. Right next door to the firkin tent was New Glarus Brewing who was pouring the R&D releases from the same weekend. New Glarus is very close to Madison and does a 3 day R&D release every year. Typically they are sours that you can only get during this time and it is first come first serve. I did not make it to any of the releases so I was very pleased to get a sample pour of one. From here I knew it was time to get something to eat. 

Now, there are vendors all over the park, but I had my eye on something special I had seen earlier in the day.

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I couldn’t think of anything to go better with beer than thick cut bacon on a stick! I was wrong though: the only thing better than that was getting two thick cut slices of bacon on sticks! Oh the fatty fried goodness brought a smile to my face in a way that only bacon can. It may not be good for you but neither is sampling beer for 5 hours, so who cares. While I was walking around I also saw pickles on a stick. Since pickles are a finger food anyway I could not figure out why they were on a stick but I liked it. This seems to be the theme of the event. It may not make complete sense but do it anywfesay and it will be enjoyable. There was music being played everywhere, like two guys playing one violin, and someone dressed up as a giant hop. We saw people playing cornhole on a giant cornhole set. There was a putting green and a throne, non toilet type, to sit on. It was a great time at a great festival and I can’t wait to see what’s next!


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