Great Taste of the Midwest

The 22nd Annual Great Taste of the Midwest is now a few days behind us, so we’ve had time to reflect on the remarkable selection of breweries represented and the beers we consumed (as well as the unfortunate misses.) It was a perfectly organized event in a beautiful location, and the only real complaint our traveling group had was that we couldn’t take it all in during the allotted five hours.

With the crowd limited to 5000, and learning that only 25% of the mail-order lottery tickets were fulfilled, I continue to be amazed that we, and our out-of-town friends, all got tickets. It was convenient to stay miles away from the festival since shuttle buses were organized from points around the city. We were able to walk to a shuttle stop and travel to Olin-Turville Park.

Members of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild donned beige work shirts and, in a polite manner, herded us into the well-organized line which serpentined around the park grounds. Soon after, more MHTG volunteers arrived trading our tickets for wrist bands (which conveniently displayed the phone number for the cab company) and we obtained the ~60 page booklet and map listing all of the information needed to make it around the festival (the program and other printed materials are available to download in PDF.) The people in line were polite, and there was enough shade and grass to make the wait tolerable.

Great Taste of the Midwest

Great Taste of the Midwest

When the crowd started to move, we were once again herded through the line where we picked up our heavy-bottomed glass, sized to accommodate our 2-oz pours, and the quest for the best beers began.

Five large tents housed 120 brewer’s booths, and smaller tents were set up for vendors, food pairings, demonstrations and a Real Ale tent. The Real Ale tent was a great set-up. There were around 25 kegs lined up on either side of the tent, in rows stacked two kegs high, and covered with bags of ice to keep them at a reasonable temperature. There were signs above the kegs, and lists on the tables, so we could order by number. The MHTG volunteers would find the tap and pour from the firkin. In retrospect, I could have spent my whole day right there.

We went to the Real Ale tent for Kuhnhenn’s Crème Brulee Java Stout, but missed out by mere seconds. We did, however, enjoy Surly’s Tea Bag Furious (while we stared aghast at Surly Darkness draining out at a slow pour from an open tap.) Another one I enjoyed – and apparently my companions did not – was M and D Peanut Butter Brown from the Orland Park Rock Bottom.

I hang out with a fun crowd!

The food tents offered lots of snack choices: liverwurst and cheese sandwiches, subs of all kinds, kabobs, brats, dogs, burgers and pizza. And coolers were allowed, so we could bring our own food and water. Earlier in the day, Uncle Jedi took Brandi and I to the farmer’s market at the capital building and to Trader Joe’s, so I had cheese curds, beef stick and pretzel slims to enjoy between beers.

I hang out with a fun crowd!

People had chairs set up in the shade, and acoustic musical groups played throughout the park (the accordion ladies even let me try my hand at the squeezebox – I don’t have that talent!) Port-o-potties were plentiful, but I was also pleased to find real flushables in the park. With the Madison skyline in view, and breezes off Lake Monona, it was a perfect spot to spend the day.

It was a wonderful day and there was no way to keep a list of all of the beers, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Piece (Chicago, IL) – Cameltoe
  • Blind Tiger (Topeka, KS) – Java Porter
  • Founder’s (Grand Rapids, MI) – Cherry Ale
  • The Livery (Benton Harbor, MI) – Impeche
  • Short’s (Bellaire, MI) – Cup-a-Joe Coffee Creme Stout, Anniversary Ale 2008 (a double IPA with seven varieties of hops in seven hop additions at 8.5%ABV and 100 IBUs, this was probably my favorite of the festival!) and Nicie Spicie
  • Surly (Brooklyn Center, MN) – Coffee Bender and Tea Bagged Furious (on cask)
  • Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams; Cinncinnati, OH) – Blackberry Witbier (I say this in comparison to the Coffee Stout; samples of each were available to be voted upon for the 2008 Brewmaster’s Selection)
  • Central Waters (Amherst, WI) – Brewhouse Coffee Stout
  • Viking (Dallas, WI) – Hot Chocolate (chocolate stout made with cocoa, milk sugar and a dash of cayenne pepper)

And in the category of, “How did I miss that?!?!” are the following:

  • Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery – Mango Mama
  • Flossmoor Station – oh, just about everything! – Organic Woody in the Woods, Sarge, Killer Kowalski
  • Goose Island – Juliet
  • Three Floyds – Vanilla Bean Barrel-aged Dark Lord
  • Free State – Lemon Grass Rye
  • White Winter – Plum Mead and Blueberry Yum

It’s taken me days to get this post up, so I don’t imagine I’ll find time to talk about the Surly event we attended at Alchemy (brought to us by The Beer Spot) or the Bell’s event at Maduro, but I may find time to talk about the trip home…


One response

  1. You mentioned cheese curds.

    If they came from the “Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin” at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery – then you had the BEST! The Governor of Wisconsin gave them that title! They are so FRESH and squeaky good, plus they are made from rBST free milk!

    Look at their web site about all the ways to enjoy cheese curds! And don’t forget to microwave for 15 seconds to restore the squeaky freshness – plus the flavors burst when they are warm! YUM!

    Their premium 100% All Natural Cheddar Cheese Curds are the color of fresh milk: White.
    Question: “Did you ever drink a glass of orange milk?”
    Look for the white cheddar morsels!

    They sold 104,000 pounds of cheese curds to the Minnesota State Fair last year and sell to state and county fairs nationwide. If you are at Miller Park in Milwaukee for a Brewers Home Game – you have to try the fried cheese curds! Or at an A&W Restaurant! They even have a very simple four-ingredient recipe on the back of their FRESH cheese curd packages for battering cheese curds. Bringing the State Fair right into your home! They have more recipes on their web site if you are unable to get Ellsworth Cheese Curds in your grocery stores (Deli), or convenience stores.

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