Great Taste of the Midwest 2019
Back for a 33rd year, the Great Taste of the Midwest always signals the beginning of the end of summer (for myself at least). But it goes out with a bang. Between the events the day prior, the bottle releases at various breweries and the fest itself, the Great Taste of the Midwest should be on any beer lovers’ bucket list.
Great Taste Eve
Great Taste Eve takes place the day before the fest and is sometimes the only thing people come to Madison for. I repeatedly asked some of my friends on Friday if they were going to the fest, and it wasn’t 100% yes (tons of maybes though). It’s really easy to see why.
Bottle releases at breweries and special beer drops at bottle shops litter the Madison landscape the week leading up to the Great Taste, coming to a head on Friday with the longest running bottle release at New Glarus. Every year for the Great Taste New Glarus releases at least one of their R&D beers. This year it was Vintage 2018 (New Glarus gueuze-style beer that’s been released every year since 2014) and “Fruited Sour,” an ale with blackberry that was brewed in 2010 and 2017. Yes, this is the return of Very Sour Blackberry, one of the most sought after New Glarus beers ever.
And New Glarus ran the release seemlessly. While there was a fair line around release time, the line moved swiftly. As a bonus they even had the blackberry Fruited Sour on tap so you could try what you just bought! Last year’s Kriek release was the first time New Glarus had the release on tap and, although the line moved at a snail’s pace due to the beer pouring slow, they opened up another pouring station, cutting the wait time down dramatically. (For those wondering, this version of Very Sour Blackberry was much more sour at release compared to the original, which was more on the jammy side.)
From there it was off to Funk Factory for their bottle release. All week Funk Factory had been releasing bottles of their blended and fruited beers, and Friday saw the release of All Black Everything (a wild ale with blackberries, black raspberries, black cherries, and black currants) as well as Untitled Art and Angry Chair’s collaborative Barrel-Aged Chocolate Vanilla Maple Stout. I was greeted with another line, but this one also moved.
Funk Factory’s Great Taste Eve party has been THE event for the past few years, mainly because there were many breweries pouring that aren’t pouring anywhere else all weekend, Angry Chair. Voodoo. Phase Three. Hidden Springs. The area where the breweries were set up was a bit cramped, but thankfully my group got a spot away from all that and we just shared everything we got. A great time was had and I’ll definitely be back next year.
Great Taste of the Midwest
There’s something to be said about the fest having the same layout every year. The breweries change locations, but the tent structure remains the same. With 23 rookie breweries to the fest this year, they actually added another small group of about six breweries (all rookies) right by the entrance, confusing me initially as I was looking for the Hop Butcher and Listermann booths. While most things were the same, there were two very subtle differences to the fest from years prior.
The first was the swag. While probably at an all time high, in the past it was mostly free, while this year it seems a majority of it was for sale. I understand t-shirts, but when things like frisbees (a past example of an awesome giveaway) were for sale, something’s not right. There were, however, some breweries still doing the free swag thing and that’s always something I look forward to.
The second was the Real Ale tent. Years ago the tent had two rows of casks filled to the brim and it was swamped with people. This year (much like last year) they barely had enough to fill the bottoms of both sides of the tent. I hope more breweries decide to participate in the Real Ale tent in the upcoming years and it’s a great and classic way to consume beer.
Booths of the Fest
Bell’s usually has a good theme each year with lots of free things, and this year was no exception. Their “sportball” theme was fun, their tent had a “coach” in there at times and they even had fest-goers kicking field goals with a giant, inflatable football. But the most necessary and best giveaway of the day came from their booth – a headband. My hair became soaked after walking around the fest for a half hour, and their headband stopped all that for the rest of the fest. A win for fun and functionality.
Fair State Brewing from Minneapolis had a Class of 2019 photo booth in the style of the 90s, plus a wheel you could spin to win some swag. The most interesting item was a beer koozie. But not just any beer koozie – a slap bracelet beer koozie! Two slap bracelets put inside the koozie foam so you can slap the koozie on any can. It’s something that I didn’t know I even wanted!
Other notable brewery booths were Central Waters’ Old West theme, Tyranena’s classic TV game show theme, and Pearl Street Brewing’s skill games (although you had to pay for that).
Beers of the fest
Peach Brandy Barrel-Aged Imperial Chickow! | Brown Ale | 14.3% | Listermann Brewing Co. | Cincinnati, OH
Listermann might not be a familiar brewery to most, but to those that have attended FoBAB the last few years are probably both familiar with them and their FoBAB-medal-winning beer, Chickow! This imperial brown ale is aged in peach brandy barrels, with the brandy playing perfectly off the triple brown ale base. The peach is subtle but there, making for an impressive entry into the barrel-aged Chickow! line. Definitely keep an eye out for them at FoBAB.
Buckley Reserve #1 | Imperial Stout | 14.5% | Transient Artisan Ales | Bridgman, MI
It’s all the things great about Buckley (maple syrup, vanilla, coffee) but with some foeders and barrels! Aged for six month in the first ever whiskey foeder then transferred to bourbon barrels, Buckley Reserve #1 is, above all else, smooth. Coffee and vanilla are prominent, but the beer never gets too sweet and it eminently drinkable, even for a 15% double-barrel aged stout.
Citrust | Saison | 9% | Taxman Brewing Company | Bargersville, IN
A gin barrel-aged saison on a hot day? Yes please. Despite being 9%, Citrust was refreshing with the right amount of gin notes (juniper and coriander mostly) balancing the base beer out well. Would’ve crushed more but there was so much more to drink!
Nexus of the Universe | Russian Imperial Stout | 12% | Third Space | Milwaukee, WI
Tons of roast and chocolate notes balanced by the bourbon and brandy barrels, Nexus of the Universe was flavorful and drinkable without being too boozy or overly sweet. Despite having cocoa nibs and vanilla, Nexus reminded me of an unadjuncted barrel-aged stout of yore, as all the additions were in the right amount and the beer was attenuated well.
The Sam Adams Utopias at FoBAB I can’t believe they brought this beer to a festival award
Triple Weizenbock | Weizenbock | 18% | The Livery | Benton Harbor, WI
I thought they wrote it wrong on their chalkboard. Or at least I hoped they did. I was hoping for 1.8%. But that was not meant to be. As far as I could tell, this was easily the highest ABV beer at the festival. I asked for and received at relatively small pour and it was good, but of course extremely boozy. Tons of bourbon and oak, with some vanilla and leather rounding it out, made this one a great sipper. In front of a fireplace. In December. Kudos to them for bringing it, but this could totally knock someone out at the festival if they’re not careful.
Scroll down for more pics! See you next year!