Lines started forming outside of the entry gates to the Great Taste of the Midwest nearly four hours before the festival started.
More than 6,000 passionate beer enthusiasts gathered for the Great Taste of the Midwest at Olin-Turville Park on Saturday, August 11. According to event chairman Mark Garthwaite, the outdoor beer festival attracted over 142 breweries. While the exact number of beer choices is difficult to pin down exactly, Garthwaite is certain that for the first time in its 26 years, the number topped 1,000. And the weather was perfect, with Lake Monona providing a beautiful backdrop.
The festival continues to grow and bring in new breweries. Among the rookies this year was 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan. Co-owner James Owen brought three beers to the festival: Rebel Kent the First (an amber ale), Really Cool Waterslides (an IPA), and BAAAD Boy (a black wheat). "This is unbelievable. This is the biggest festival we've been to so far, and we feel a little unprepared," said Owen as he watched the eager crowd streaming in the entry gate. 3 Sheeps opened only a few months ago, and its brews have only been available on a very limited basis, something that Owen hopes to soon change.
First-time festivalgoers David Harrison and Liezel Martin, both originally from Oregon (the state, not the nearby village), were there to celebrate the fact that Harrison had just days before completed his nursing degree at UW-Madison. The pair said they were familiar with large beer festivals, having attended a number of others around Portland. However, Harrison thinks the Great Taste has a big advantage: "This is the best overall selection of beer, and the best bourbon barrel beers I've ever had."
Tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest are always tough to acquire. They go on sale every first Sunday in May at a handful of locations, and lines start forming the night before. There's also a mail lottery for those who don't want to give up some sleep to purchase a ticket in person. Due in part to ticket scarcity, pre-parties held around Madison in advance of the festival are becoming increasing popular. The Great Taste pre-parties in 2012 were spread throughout Madison's downtown and east side, with over 40 different venues offering special tastings and celebrations, some even serving beers that were not available at the festival itself.
Here are a few of my memories from Madison's biggest beer weekend of the year.
Best Pre-Great Taste Parties
- Wednesday: The Malt House
The east side tavern tapped a selection of beers from Tall Grass Brewing (of Manhattan, Kansas).
- Thursday: Dexter's Pub
This north side tavern served tandem offerings from Summit Brewing (of Saint Paul, Minnesota) and B. Nektar Meadery (of Fernale, Michigan).
- Friday: Drackenberg's Cigar Bar
Nate Peck, brewmaster at Sand Creek Brewing (of Black River Falls, Wisconsin) opened up a special version of Double Oscar's Oatmeal Stout that had aged for over six months in a white port barrel from Wollersheim Winery.
- Friday, second stop: Forequarter
This new Tenney neighborhood restaurant offered a crowded but ideal setting to pair a meat plate with beer from O'so Brewing (of Plover, Wisconsin). Brewmaster Marc Buttera offered a number of special beers just for the event, a few of which were not available at the Great Taste.
Tastes from the Great Taste
Biggest Beer with Flavor, Not Just Strength
The Bruiser from Dave's BrewFarm of Wilson, Wisconsin
A smoked wee heavy that was smooth, with very seductive flavor. However, at 12% ABV, one small sample was enough
Bitter and Hoppy with Balance
Midwest Monster Imperial India Pale Ale from Brady's Brewhouse of New Richmond, Wisconsin
This beer is bold and resiny yet with a mild malty backbone. Finishes at 98 IBUs and 9.4% ABV.
Nearly Over the Top Bitterness
Hop Sutra from Peace Tree Brewing of Knoxville, Iowa
A very assertive IPA.
Bold and Robust Character
Wyatt's Barleywine from Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co. of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
An English-style barleywine with deep malty and biscuit tones, it was complemented by molasses and plum sweetness. The barleywine is made with eight different types of barley and three specialty malts. The name celebrates Wyatt, the young son of brewmaster Jamie Baertsch.
Templeton Slugger Fiddler Oatmeal Stout from Potosi Brewing of Potosi, Wisconsin
Aged in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels.
Cask Ale Favorites
- English Summer Ale from Vintage Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin
Made with Wisconsin-grown Mt. Hood hops.
- Lyndale Brown with Pomegranate and Green Tea from Rush River Brewing of River Falls, Wisconsin.
A firkin infused with pomegranate and organic green tea.
Great Taste Rookie and Brewery to Watch
3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
So new they didn't even make the festival guidebook. This is a brewery to watch for in Madison tap houses. Really Cool Waterslides is an India Pale Ale that finishes at 6% ABV and 60 IBUs, and Rebel Kent the First is an amber ale that offers a combination of Belgian Abbey-style sweetness with hints of rye malt dryness.
Blackberry Tart from Vintage Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin
This new brew debuted just for the Great Taste.
Mushroom Wheat from the Woodman Brewery of Woodman, Wisconsin
A light golden wheat ale made with morel mushrooms, it has a light earthy-musty finish. This is an unexpected and adventuresome brew from a small brewery belonging to Dennis Erb, who follows the motto "Variety is the spice of life."
Lightest Brew with Distinctive Flavor
Gossamer from Half Acre Beer of Chicago, Illinois
A nice light-bodied, easy-drinking beer at 4.2% ABV. It was great on a sunny Saturday in the park.
Fun Beer Names
- Cereal Killer from Arcadia Ales of Battle Creek, Michigan
A robust English-style barley wine.
- Hello My Name is Amber Ale from Flat 12 Bierwerks of Indianapolis, Indiana
A name that says it all.
- Kashmir Godzilla from Bluegrass Brewing of Louisville, Kentucky
A West Coast-style IPA.
- Naughty Girl from New Albanian Brewing of New Albany, Indiana
A Belgian India Blonde Ale.
- Greed, Lust, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, and Wrath from Saint Francis Brewery and Restaurant of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A sinful take on naming beer.
Brewpub in a Bottle
Imperial Red Ale from the Great Dane Pub of Madison and Wausau, Wisconsin
This is the first bottled beer to be offered by the Great Dane. Unveiled at the Taste, a limited supply should start to appear at the brewpubs this week.
Best Non-Beer Finds
- Kwench Blue from White Winter Winery of Iron River, Wisconsin
Light, sparkling and sweet with a deep reddish-purple color that seemed almost like a thirst-quenching soda, only with 6.5% ABV.
- Zombie Killer from B. Nektar Meadery of Ferndale, Michigan
A mead made with Michigan honey, cherries, and apple cider. I wasn't overly taken by the flavor; however, the meadery brought a number of staffers dressed like zombies, so it was hard to resist taking a sip.
Out-of-Towner I Was Most Enamored By
Toppling Goliath Brewing of Decorah, Iowa
This small brewery, located just about a half-hour over the Iowa-Wisconsin border, started in 2009 as a 12-gallon homebrew system in a small tavern in Decorah. In 2010 it expanded with a 10-barrel-production brewery located nearby. This year, its ZeeLander, Pseudo Sue, Golden Nugget IPA, and several of its other beers were also served at the brewery's the pre-Great Taste party at Dexter's.
Brew That Just Didn't Work For Me
5 Grass from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria of Chicago, Illinois
Made with lemongrass, juniper, sage, rosemary and Tasmanian pepperberry. It was an interesting combination of spicy flavors that went a little too far, especially with the piney juniper.
Beer That Left Me Saying "I Really Don't Think This Is Beer, But Pour Me Another"
Crème Brulee Java Stout from Kuhnhenn Brewing of Warren, Michigan
With the sweetness of crème brulee and the aroma of cold coffee, this was a sweet treat that seemed more like a dessert than beer.
Seasonal Brews to Watch For
- Oktoberfest from Hinterland Beer of Green Bay, Wisconsin
This fall seasonal hasn't even been bottled yet, but was brought down to the Taste for an early release. Wonderfully smooth caramel maltiness and a clean and crisp finish.
- Oktoberfest from Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wisconsin
As always, a fall beer of choice. Medium-bodied and smooth caramel maltiness make finding the first seasonal release of this brew a tradition at the Great Taste.
- Oktoberfest from Central Waters Brewing of Amherst, Wisconsin
Firm maltiness, yet clean. It's another one of the best Wisconsin versions of the style.
Bamrique from O'so Brewing of Plover, Wisconsin
A Bamberg-style lager made with beechwood-smoked German malts. It was one of brewmaster Marc Buttera's special one-off tap beers.
Happy Ending from Ale Asylum of Madison, Wisconsin
With a name like this, it's a great way to pay tribute to the final beer of the day at the Great Taste.
It's only getting bigger, so save the date! The 2013 edition of the Great Taste of the Midwest will be held on Saturday August 10, and tickets go on sale on Saturday, May 4. Make plans now!