In some ways, I actually hate Madison’s Great Taste of the Midwest. It’s the last huge beer event for the summer and I’ll be going back to work teaching soon. But man, do I end the summer with a bang. From bottle releases to pre-parties to the fest itself, it’s an enjoyable 3 days even if you don’t have tickets to the main event. So how was it?
by Craig Gonciarczyk
Best Bottle Release – New Glarus Wild Barrel (or Bourbon Barrel Bramble Berry/BBBB)
New Glarus’ Very Sour Blackberry release two years ago was chill, with no problems and not a ton of people. I don’t even think the main parking lot was full. Then the shit hit the fan, and the Wild Peach release caught New Glarus off guard. Wild Peach Friday was really bumpy, but things were running smoothly by the Sunday release. So how would they handle a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday release of a bourbon barrel fruited beer? Almost flawlessly, setting it as the standard for a bottle release.
I arrived at about 8:30 AM on Thursday, expecting a line and some waiting. I got a wristband upon getting in line, and then continued walking until I had my bottles. I was back in the parking lot, hanging with some friends, well before the stated 9 AM selling start time. Bottles didn’t sell out until 2 PM.
Friday I was expecting a bigger showing, so I got in line at 7:30 AM. I ate my breakfast (a doughnut), went to throw away the garbage, talked to two groups of friends, then realized they were handing out bracelets. Went back to my spot in line, got my bracelet, and essentially walked all the way to pick up my bottles. I brought two bottles to share with those in line; I didn’t even have time to open them because we basically never stopped. Bottles sold out around noon.
Saturday I took a break and slept in. If I felt like it, I’d show up after I got up and see if they had bottles; if not, no biggie. I woke up early enough and decided to go. I got there around 11 AM, just in time to get one of the last allotments of bottles.
The biggest issue with the release, probably because it ran so smoothly, were people going back in line getting multiple allotments. Rumor has it an ID scanner was there but didn’t have time to be implemented, so hopefully that’ll solve that problem.
Lastly, and most importantly, were the daily sell out times. All were well after the sale time and they moved the line really quickly. There was no reason to get there at 5 or 6 AM. Let me repeat that – There was no reason to get there at 5 or 6 AM. They made enough so you could stroll in at 11 AM each day and still get bottles.
Best Great Taste of the Midwest pre-party – Dexter’s Pub (Toppling Goliath tap takeover)
Dexter’s does a Toppling Goliath tap takeover every year, but this year they had both Mornin’ Delight (imperial breakfast stout) and SR-71 (BA stout from the second runnings of Assassin) available at 9 AM. I got there with no intention of getting a pour of Mornin’ Delight or a chance to get a very overpriced $20 pour of SR-71 and that was the key to enjoying yourself. There was a small line to get in that moved quickly, and all other Toppling Goliath beers were still on (outside of the aforementioned duo) all day. It never really felt packed, and I luckily found a table of friends that had an open seat so I could order some much needed grub. I ordered a Mornin’ Latte (not good, tasted like coffee water) and King Sue (cloudy, hoppy and very juicy; could’ve had it all day) and began eating my food when, all of a sudden, people at the table were getting pours of SR-71. Apparently there were 100 tickets with a limit of 4 per person, so the first 25 (or so) bought them all up. When they realized they couldn’t trade them (or people backed out; who knows why one person needs four $20 pours) they started selling them. So everyone at the table chipped in and I got to taste SR-71. It was a bit boozy, but the chocolate and vanilla notes were there; I likened it to last year’s Assassin when fresh.
Good job Dexter’s.
Worst Great Taste pre-party – Brickhouse BBQ’s Central Waters tap takeover
Having gone to the Central Waters/Short’s/Hinterland tap takeover in 2014 and thoroughly enjoying myself, I had high hopes for this. We got there around the event starting time (5:00) and looked on as Peruvian Morning, 17, and Cassia Sunset (a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with coffee, vanilla and cinnamon) weren’t pouring. Peruvian Morning eventually got on, but 17 was off and on, and Cassia Sunset took forever to get on (I think it was the last beer I had because they got it working around 7 PM). Add that to the fact that the bars (at least the 2nd and 3rd floor ones) were understaffed and moving slowly, and you have a recipe for disaster.
But I didn’t worry. I just got in the line for the special timed tappings of Maple Syrup Barrel Stout, Rye Black Gold, and Black Gold. I eventually got the Maple Syrup Barrel Stout and wasn’t impressed. I was then told they tapped the wrong beer and it was Rye Black Gold. Then I was told it was the Maple Syrup Barrel Stout. Why was this an issue? Because I didn’t get much maple syrup on whatever pour I got. I got back in line for what I was hoping was the Rye Black Gold and wasn’t terribly impressed with that either. The clear winner was the Cassia Sunset that they finally got working.
I’ll definitely be hesitant to go next year.
Best Great Taste Booth
1st place – Door County/Karben4/Great Lakes/One Barrel’s 1985 Beer Arcade
Free arcade games and beer from 4 great breweries? Sign me up.
2nd place – Bell’s Boat Theme
Always the first place I hit upon entering. After last year’s misstep (Shark Week theme), they redeemed themselves with a nautical theme, complete with free GTOM captain’s hats, which were EVERYWHERE. (FYI – 2 years ago was a science theme and 3 years ago was a superhero theme).
3rd place – Ale Asylum’s The Pint is Right
Ale Asylum brought a giant wheel and “Kinko”, which you could play to win glasses, beer, and brewery tours.
Revolution’s free hot dogs
Goose Island’s race theme
Dark Horse’s Jesus
Tyranena’s bee theme – Blind Melon!
Bell’s Brewery – Double Two-Hearted – Just like Two Hearted, just more hops in the aroma and flavor. A damn great beer that I hope gets packaged.
Brau Brothers – Red Velvet Moo Juice. – Their oatmeal milk stout infused with candied red velvet cake. Smelled like red velvet cake, tasted like red velvet cake.
New Glarus – Vintage 2014/Bourbon Barrel Bramble Berry – I opened a Vintage 2014 two days after I purchased it; I thought it was a little sweet. The sweetness has dropped considerably, leaving a tart, dry gueuze. Definitely keeping some bottles to see how it develops. Bourbon Barrel Bramble Berry was still a little young, though good. Bourbon character up front, followed by the fruits, then finishing with the bourbon. If the bourbon and fruit integrate and the fruit gets a bit more jammy this will be unbelievable.
Kuhnhenn – DRIPA (Double Rice IPA) – Refreshing and did not taste like a DIPA at all. So easy to drink. This was my “walk around the festival and see what’s going on” beer.
Transient Artisan Ales – Apricot Ardent – Transient’s Ardent sour saison (which was on tap at our anniversary party!) with apricots. The apricots cut into the sourness, leaving a lovely apricot saison. Right there with Kuhnhenn’s DRIPA as a “walking around the fest” beer.
Odd Side Ales – Ahhh Nuts – A bourbon barrel imperial stout with hazelnut. Reminded me of a thinner Nuthulhu with more hazelnut flavor. The first pour I got after Mornin’ Delight and it’s still on this list – that’s saying something
O’so Brewing – Grandpa’s Got a Gun – Brandy barrel aged strong ale brewed with maple sap instead of water. Reminiscent of Lawson’s Maple Trippel due to the similar brewing method. Maple sweetness was there; not sure if a brandy barrel was the best choice, but I enjoyed my pour.
Revolution Brewing – Cherry Café Deth – Having had both Deth’s Tar and Café Deth, I figured I’d try this as I passed their booth. Wow. Deth’s Tar with a hint of coffee bitterness and a touch of cherry sweetness. Thicker mouthfeel than what I remembered from the Café Deth I had at the Revolution taproom. Bonus : Got an Adam Vavrick pour!
Toppling Goliath – Mornin’ Delight – Having had it before, I vowed to skip it. Then I saw that the line wasn’t horrendous. Thick, creamy, with maple syrup and vanilla sweetness and coffee bitterness. Worth one of the few lines I waited in.
Une Annee – Order Out of Chaos/Le Seul I – Jerry Nelson said he would bring it this year, and he did. Order Out of Chaos was a blend of 4 different beers and was a delightful treat – tart, effervescent, and perfect for the outdoor festival. Le Seul I was a bit heavy alcohol-wise (and you could taste it), but it more than made up for it with the tart cherries (that came across more as black cherries).
Last year I felt the lines for the beers – any beers, not just limited, timed tappings – was the biggest problem. They solved that one this year, but somehow there was a massive bathroom problem. Every bathroom had a line 10 people deep; the only ones that didn’t were the scant few they placed outside of the festival, near where the buses stopped and picked people up. You basically had to choose between waiting in a half hour (or more) line or trudging all the way outside of the fest while having to pee. I twice chose the latter. Definitely need more bathrooms for next year.
‘Til next year Madison!