Video shoots have become standard part of the Great Taste in recent year. Here brewmasters Peter Gentry (center-left in pink hat) of One Barrel Brewing and Mark Knoebl (center-right in blue hat) of the Grumpy Troll is being interviewed by Keith Symonds (r
For the 6,000-plus beer enthusiasts who made it into the Great Taste of the Midwest with a tasting glass in hand, it was glorious on Saturday, August 10. It's no secret that tickets to the annual festival are difficult to come by, and those who acquired them could only feel fortunate.
Saturday provided perfect weather at Olin-Turville Park, situated on the south side of Madison along the shores of Lake Monona. For its 27th year, the festival hosted 150 brewers serving more than 1,000 different beers over five too-short hours.
Great Taste chair Mark Garthwaite noted he's seen many changes over the years, but what stood out to him is how knowledgeable Midwest beer drinkers are about craft brewing and the industry it has built. "They are so much more informed about beer and brewing," he said. "They also know what they're searching for."
First-time Great Taste attendee Ted White, of Brooklyn, New York, flew into Madison just for the festival. He arrived on Friday afternoon and was met by friends who had an extra ticket. "I was picked up at the airport, and in 15 minutes I was at One Barrel Brewing's pre-party," he said. "I'm delighted to go to a place that has such a high regard for craft brewing."
Here are a few of my memories of this year's Great Taste of the Midwest.
Best Pre-Great Taste Parties
What struck me was the sheer number of Great Taste Eve parties in 2013, with well over 60 different events over the week leading up to the festival. It made actually having a ticket seem almost incidental. Two celebrations stood out.
- Tuesday through Friday: Dexter's Pub
The north side beer bar hosted celebrations over four nights leading up to the festival. The Friday night party with Toppling Goliath Brewing of Decorah, Iowa has become expected on Great Taste Eve. This year's special treat was Mornin' Delight, an Imperial stout made with maple syrup.
- Friday: Vintage Brewing Company
The patio of the west side brewpub played host to another half-dozen breweries at this party. Not only were Vintage Brewing beers served, but also creations by Sweet Mullets Brewing, the Grumpy Troll brewpub, One Barrel Brewing, House of Brews, MobCraft, and Wisconsin Brewing, all based in and around Madison. Brewers from each made an appearance through the night.
Tastes from the Great Taste
Biggest Beer with Flavor, Not Just Strength
Doppelvision Doppelbock from Milwaukee Brewing of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
This brew offered the sweetness of a bock alongside vanilla and bourbon tones imparted by its aging in bourbon barrels. It's big at over 8% ABV.
Bitter and Hoppy with Balance
- Backcountry Blonde from Bent Paddle Brewing of Duluth, Minnesota
For its first trip to the Great Taste, this brewery that just opened in May brought a crisp Belgian pale ale with nice malty and yeasty underpinnings.
- ZeeLander from Toppling Goliath Brewing of Decorah, Iowa
This American IPA showed off bright and bitter Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand. It's just a very nice pale ale.
Nearly Over the Top Bitterness
Anti-Hero IPA from Revolution Brewing of Chicago, Illinois
It's difficult to pick just one beer that stood out with a bold bitterness. So many qualified that it doesn't seem fair to pick just one. But this IPA was memorable, but it wasn't just because it was hoppy at 70 IBUs. More importantly, there was still a certain malty-versus-bitter finesse that made Anti-Hero enjoyable. That underlying maltiness never wins, but it certainly makes this beer more interesting and drinkable than so many others that come off as just hop-juice and alpha-acids in a glass.
1100 Wheat Wine from Fitger's Brewhouse of Duluth, Minnesota
This bold, smooth and sweet wheat-based beer is aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for several months before it's released.
Cask Ale Favorites
- IBA from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
This India black ale is made with Sorachi Ace hops.
- Elder Skelter from Vintage Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin
It's an English brown ale brewed with elderberries.
Great Taste Rookie and Brewery to Watch
Kinky Kabin Brewing of Bangor, Wisconsin
A new brewery located near La Crosse, the Kabin has been in operation for less than a year. It featured a few 22-ounce bomber bottles at the Taste, including its Apricot Naughty Wheat ale.
Best Beer and Food Combo
Jambalaya from Jamerica (of Madison, Wisconsin) with Zombie Dust from Three Floyds Brewing (of Munster, Indiana). In the sunny summer afternoon atmosphere at Olin Park, the Caribbean dish was perfectly paired with this American pale ale, a strong bitter beer that hoppy beer fans rarely pass up.
Fruity or Veggie Brews
- Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice from One Barrel Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin
This American pale ale was created by One Barrel just for the Great Taste, and was made with beets grown in assistant brewer Dan Sherman's garden.
- Kartoffel Bock from O'so Brewing of Plover, Wisconsin
Wisconsin potatoes are the essential ingredient in this Maibock.
Shipwrecked from Sweet Mullets Brewing of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
A blend of an American lager and a sour gruit made with mugwort and heather tips, this brew is aged several months in a Cabernet barrel.
Strong Ale and Wisconsin Pale Ale from Next Door Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin
Keith Symonds, who plans to open a nano-brewery at 2439 Atwood Avenue this fall, was on hand sharing booth space between House of Brews and One Barrel Brewing.
Most Unusual Brew
Really Squiddy Waterslides from 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Squid ink made this black IPA particularly murky. The piney bitterness of the hops had a slight saltiness in the background that was probably due to the kraken.
Best Non-Beer Find
Oaked Wildflower Mead from Bos Meadery of Madison, Wisconsin
This local mead was the most memorable.
Brew That Just Didn't Work For Me
Cool Hand Cuke from Right Brain Brewery of Traverse City, Michigan
This Saison was made with cucumber and basil.
A special four-year-old version of Tripel Nova from Ale Asylum of Madison, Wisconsin
Brewmaster Dean Coffey poured this aged version of the Belgian Trippel made by Ale Asylum -- it was the only beer I went back to the tent for a second sample. It tasted of nectar with its full-bodied softness and light hints of apple and lemon. Definitely my favorite beer of the day.
Louie's Reserve Scotch Ale from Lake Louie Brewing of Arena, Wisconsin
The Great Taste always offers a first taste of some favorite fall seasonal. Brewmaster Tom Porter likes to use the festival to unveil his annual batch of this big and bold version of his popular Warped Speed Scotch Ale. This year it lives up to its style, that of a Wee Heavy, with lots of malty sweetness and alcohol at 8.4% ABV.
This festival comes but once a year, and the clock is already ticking! The 2014 Great Taste of the Midwest, its 28th annual edition, will be held on Saturday, August 9. Tickets go on sale on Sunday, May 4, so save the date.