Beer festivals are typically awful, run-of-the-mill, drunken stupors starring someone you didn’t ever want to see again after high school. Not so with the 31st (!!!) Great Taste of the Midwest, put on by the fine folks of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. It is essentially “Beer Christmas”, as I’ve called it. The vibe, the aura, the power of the fest is unmatched. Normally the weather is pristine (it was again this year), the people are courteous and jovial, and the breweries bring their best liquid. Everyone has different schemes to attack the fest (timed tappings or no timed tappings?) (Drink by style?) (Only visit people you’ve never heard of?) and all of them are correct.
Since this was my first GTMW that I wasn’t able to fully experience, I relied on some Twitter friends for my annual blog post covering the event. Simple instructions were to provide me with your favorite beer experience of the day. Have fun with it, get emotional, really dive into the depths of your brain to tell me about your favorite beer and why. I didn’t want just a beer review – I wanted an anecdote about how they felt when they tried something they really, truly enjoyed. Tasting beer is an experience, in a communal gathering place, a way to reminisce about the best of times. Here’s what I was given:
My Favorite beer at the fest was New Glarus 2016 R&D Geuze. Another reminder of the beer mastery we have regular access to and I sometimes take for granted. Also was the first festival my wife and I have gone to since having our first kid, and we were able to get drunk together (instead of just me getting tipsy). She agreed that was her favorite beer, and that beer is awesome and worth driving to Madison for. Those choice affirmations feel great.
It was 3:17 and I found myself deciding between standing in line for the 3:30 tapping of Great Lakes BA Christmas Ale or grabbing another beer in-between. I began making my way to the nearby Real Ale (cask) tent, dodging a stumbling, sweaty pirate en route. I quickly scanned the list of casks and then stopped in front of Lakefront’s Brandy Barrel Cherry Lager with Vanilla. “#20,” I confidently ordered with a knowing grin, which was met with the volunteer telling me that cask beers are much different from kegged beers and was I sure I would like it? I nodded politely, took my sample, and walked away, realizing with each sip that this festival houses hidden gems everywhere you look.
I’ll start by saying that a friend of mine brought in a bunch of delicious delicacies from the Northwest, so I had way too much on Thursday. That all-too-familiar feeling carried into Saturday, so lessons were learned at my first Great Taste. I came in expecting Ardea Insignis or Morning Delight to take the day, but I was blown away by BA Maple Vlad from Hailstorm. It had just enough coffee for my liking and the purest maple flavor I’ve tasted in a beer. I tried their vanilla and coffee variants which were also great, but nothing measured up to Maple Vlad on that day.
The beer world is fraught with shitty names. “$100 Yoga Pants” feels like it could be right in line with the sarcastically misogynistic standard. Thankfully, Corridor Brewing doesn’t appear to go in that direction with its $100 Yoga Pants cucumber blonde ale. The beer is crisp and refreshing, without being obnoxiously cucumbered, and the brewery resists gross gender jokes in its description of the beer. It was a refreshing pour that lasted long into the day, probably a victim of what people thought it might have been instead of being celebrated for what it was.
“…So I had two highlights, one from his yin and one from my yang. My favorite pour of his was Solemn Oath’s Oktöberface, a take on märzen that I found particularly malty and sweet, though not cloyingly so, and unusually intense for the style – though right on par with how Solemn Oath would approach it. The most successful pour in the other direction was Cherry Sour from Upland. I love Upland’s traditional sours, but they have some serious pucker so I wasn’t sure how this would go over with Dad. But this one wasn’t an acid bomb, and that wood character worked in perfect harmony with the woody, pit-like character of the cherries.”
Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a full-fledged barrel-aged (bourbon) stout guy. Imperial Oak Brewing’s Quiet Giant absolutely nailed it for me. Ultra dark, rich, and complex with notes of smooth bourbon, cinnamon and vanilla stopped me still in my tracks after sip number one. I actually knew this was going to be a winner from just the appearance of this brew in my glass. Fine, mocha-colored head, viscous motor oiled liquid, and the aroma. I may have went back for a second pour.
My personal favorite of the day was the first beer that I tried – Mikerphone “That One Guitar”. Hazy IPAs are about as played out as Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69”, but I’ll be damned if my first sip in the hot sun wasn’t my best experience of the day. The thirsty beer masses descending on their first brewery of the afternoon, the sound of ravenous neckbeards storming the grassy hills. Close second was New Glarus’ draft version of Pommier Sauvage, an older R&D release that was full of dry, sour apple deliciousness paired with champagne note while a cool, steady breeze danced over me.
A huge thank-you to my esteemed panelists who lent me their words for my second post of 2017. I took no pictures, so you get no pictures. You get a recap list of these people’s stellar suds of the day. You won’t find them on shelves, but you could find them at 2018’s Great Taste of the Midwest.
New Glarus R&D Vintage 2016
Lakefront Brandy Barrel Cherry Lager with Vanilla (firkin)
Hailstorm Barrel-Aged Maple Vlad
Corridor $100 Yoga Pants
Solemn Oath Oaktoberface
Upland Cherry Sour
Imperial Oak Quiet Giant
Mikerphone That One Guitar