There's a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that gets passed around a lot in the beer world: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Whether or not Franklin actually uttered these words, there must be some truth to the saying: The heavens bestowed a blessing of sunshine on Madison's annual Great Taste of the Midwest, held this past Saturday at Olin-Turville Park.
The morning of the event, over an inch of rain fell in the area, leaving the beer festival grounds a little soggy. But just before the gates opened at 1 p.m. the rain stopped, the sun came out and the temperatures rose into the 80s. Divine intervention? Perhaps.
Festival organizers have always said that holding the annual event the second Saturday in August guarantees great weather. As with Franklin's famous words, legend or not, the faithful claim that out of 23 Great Tastes, only a couple were marred by rain pouring over the pouring beer taps.
If you were one of the fortunate 6,000 to attend this year, you probably have your own list of favorite brews and memories. Here are a few of mine.
Best Pre-Great Taste Party
Dexter's Pub with special guest taps from Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, Ohio) and Dark Horse Brewing (Marshall, Michigan)
Dark Horse Crooked Tree (an Imperial IPA) and Great Lakes Blackout Stout (a Russian Imperial) were more than tune-up beers for the weekend. And if they weren't enough, Dexter's offered nine different types of fish on the menu.
Heaven for Hopheads
Double Bubble Imperial IPA from Rush River Brewing of River Falls
Double Bubble provides a different twist on the assertive bitter flavor you expect in an IPA. It has a complex flavor created from double hopping for bitterness, with added sweetness from local honey. The combination leaves a hoppy-resiny body with a warm, slightly sweet, high-alcohol finish.
Big among the Big Brews
Rosie's Old Ale from Barley John's Brew Pub of New Brighton, Minnesota
Not the strongest beer you could find at the Great Taste, but at over 10% ABV, Rosie's certainly ranks among them. It's a big beer, one that offers wonderful flavor, not just a kick. Rosie's is made with wild rice and is triple fermented, aging for eight months in Old Fitzgerald Bourbon barrels that impart flavors of oak, vanilla and bourbon and, yes, added warmth.
Thunderfoot from New Albanian Brewing of New Albany, Indiana
Made with malts that include special pale, Simpson's roasted barley and dark crystal and flaked oats, this beer is hopped with Northern Brewer and Willamette. Cherries are added in the hop-back, and oak chips are added to the fermentor. Then this beer ages for 20 months. The result is a smooth, slightly sweet and fruity Imperial Stout.
Brain Freeze from Kuhnhenn Brewing of Warren, Michigan
The brewery's Crème Brulee Java Stout is chilled to near freezing in a "slushee machine."
Real Ale: Cask Conditioned
El Nino Double-Hopped IPA from Fitger's Brewhouse of Duluth, Minnesota
This intensely hoppy brew (116 IBUs) seemed perfectly suited for the warm temps and high humidity following the morning monsoon rains.
Beer and Food Combo of the Day
Bitter Woman IPA from Tyranena Brewing of Lake Mills served with Baumgartner's cheeses and meats
You can't go wrong with the assertive hoppiness of a Bitter Woman and a big hunk of landjagger sausage topped with a slice of Limburger. I actually watched as the last of the Limburger was sold to the cheers and jeers of those standing in the sandwich line!
Beer and Music Combo of the Day
Thorn in My Side Imperial Stout from Red Eye Brewing of Wausau and the music of Jim James & the Damn Shames
This robust, full-bodied stout with deep dark color seemed almost "shameless" when paired with the Madison band known for pouring out a mix of country and blues.
Brewer and Beer You Just Want to Hang With
Tommy and DeAnn Porter of Lake Louie Brewing of Arena, and their Arena Premium
There's always a big smile from the Porters at Great Taste, and the Arena Premium is a solid flavorful beer you can't go wrong with.
A Great Sunny Saturday in the Park Brew
Belgian WIT from Potosi Brewing Company
Assertive orange and coriander combine for a refreshing crisp beer that was great in the heat and humidity.
Best Non-Beer Discovery
Vanilla Cinnamon Mead from B. Nektar Meadery of Ferndale, Michigan
A wonderful combination of sweet mead flavor and spice.
Best Beer Name
Thunderstorm from Town Hall Brewery of Minneapolis, Minnesota
While hoping to avoid the real thing all day, the American Strong Ale dubbed Thunderstorm was a welcome visitor to Olin-Turville Park, despite its name. Minneapolis Town Hall was established in 1997 by Pete Rifakes and Scot McClure, who met in seventh grade at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton.
Most Provocative Dress/Garb/T-shirt
Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout from Foothills Brewing of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The logo on the back of a T-shirt from the brewery can be viewed in the gallery above.
Most Appropriate T-shirt of the Day
Millstream Brewing from Amana, Iowa
The shirt bears the Benjamin Franklin quote: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
Mark your calendars. The next Great Taste of the Midwest will be held on Saturday, August 14, 2010, with tickets going on sale on Sunday, May 2. The forecast calls for sunny skies.