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…


Cask Ales at General Sutter

On Friday, I enjoyed my fourth and fifth firkins for the 2008 Nugget Nectar season, thanks to Paul at the General Sutter Inn.  The last event there was such a success that nearly 40 people were still in line when the Nectar kicked, so not only did he do it again, but he got two firkins!

The ballroom was a wonderful location for the event. There was room for everyone and it didn’t take long to go through the first of the two firkins of Nugget Nectar.  As always, this was of the gods…  This ultra-hoppy amber is piney and cirtusy; it finishes bitter, but the bitterness does not linger. On cask, this is a perfect pint.

The Ridgeway Oxfordshire Blue, also on cask, was nothing to scoff at either.  It had light flavors of toasted malt and an earthy hop dryness in the finish (I can say with conviction that I did not taste hamster bedding, as described by a bottle drinker in Suffolk!)

I’m glad the minor snowstorm held off long enough for us to enjoy cask ale night at General Sutter!

Firkin Friday (trying again) at SGB

Well, I don’t know what happened to the text of “Firkin Friday and One Guy Saturday,” so I’ve tried to recreate the post and will break it up into two posts.  We’ll see what happens.

Firkin Friday at Selin’s Grove Brewing Company was the impetus for traveling north on Friday. I was looking forward to an evening at the pub with fresh beer off the firkin (even though they didn’t announce what it would be until that day…I knew it would be great!) Unfortunately, I got out of work late and almost missed my chance at this wonderful tasting opportunity. The weather was just terrible in central Pennsylvania – heavily pouring freezing rain made the world miserable, so I couldn’t wait to get inside the cozy confines of SGB and enjoy some fresh Organic Baltic Porter.

Friends Brandi and Jeff got there first, and when I approached their table, they exclaimed that the firkin had kicked – behind me I saw guys tipping it forward to get the last drips into a glass and my spirits just fell. Jeff offered me a taste from his glass, but I thought I should speed up to the bar just to be sure it was gone. At the bar, I found my good friend in beer, Jeff Reed, who was finishing one of several glasses he had of the porter, and saint that he is, he offered me the single, full glass he still had in front of him.

The Organic Baltic Porter was served in a tulip glass, and had absolutely no head and no lacing.  The appearance was that of unfiltered apple cider. Light filtered through the very top edges of the beverage, and the rest of the glass had a muddy thickness to it (in my head, I was thinking “is this Mudpuppy Brown?!?!”) Coming from the firkin, it was the perfect temperature and drank like a breakfast juice, with a smooth, light mouthfeel.

The flavor was atypical for a Baltic Porter. There were no hints of smokiness, roastiness, or coffee. It was fruity and spicy, with flavors of plum, caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla…maybe a little sweet chocolate from the alcohol in the start, but finished with a sour fruit and yeasty flavor. Many of the flavors took me back to fall and the SGB Pumpkin Ale.

I didn’t ask this year, but the December 1, 2006 firkin tapping of Baltic Porter at SGB contained 100% Amarillo hops. I can’t confirm this year was the same, but the light hoppiness that was present in the taste was really pleasant – not bitter, but complimentary to the fruit/spice tones.  Hopefully this will show up on the hand pump in the near future and I can ask more questions!

In addition to the porter, I enjoyed a “shorty Frosty” (Olde Frosty IPA is still on…yum, yum!) and a glass of Razzmerry, and even more, I enjoyed hanging out and talking to other enthusiasts.  Despite the weather, the place was generally crowded – a table of ten from Harrisburg, many of the regular firkin enthusiasts, and a steady flow of traffic.  A special thanks to my parents who showed up unexpectedly and let me impose on them for a ride home!

Two Generals, an Elk, and a Dog in a Cog

I know the title of this post sounds a little bit like one of those Rozerem commercials, but it describes a great bit of the time I spent this weekend. Thanks to Andy & Emily for entertaining our four-legged friend so we could be free to run and entertain.

General Sutter Inn

Friday night we made it out to Lititz for the Cask Ale Friday event at General Sutter Inn. There wasn’t an extra seat to be had, and the line wrapped all around the Sutter Cafe as people waited for Ridgeway Oxfordshire Blue and Tröegs Nugget Nectar Ale.

Ridgeway Bitter is the flagship ale for the Ridgeway Brewing in Oxford, and it was a terrific example of a session beer. Low in alcohol with a crisp hop bitterness, this was a very nice treat. But I was glad that I stuck to a small glass, because the Nugget Nectar blew me away! The piney nose, the grapefruit coating and the explosive hop flavor of this imperial amber ale is always very exciting, but from the firkin it was PERFECTION.

It was a great time at the General Sutter, and once the Nectar kicked, Paul brought out some great bottle selections, including Hook Norton Double Stout. We stayed for dinner, which was also quite tasty, and then enjoyed the rest of the night hanging out with friends (which I may or may not post about later…so much to write about, so little time!)

General Lafayette Inn and Brewery

On Saturday, we attended a superb event at the General Lafayette– the 2nd Annual Stone Soup Gathering was an awesome opportunity to meet lots of BA folks, and to both share and try beers from the collections of people who appreciate beer as much as we do.

The selection was amazing, but I was most pleased during the first five minutes when DarkerTheBetter (Ed) broke out Surly Darkness. After reading the forums and watching the videos (yes, videos – these are just two of them), I never expected I’d get to try this – ever – so I was really thankful to try it first, while my palate was still clean and I had all of my sensibilities.

From 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, we tasted and talked beer.  No tasting notes, just tasting. I had more than 33 beers in 3 hours…that’s just crazy.  There was so much to try that I had to  record it all in photos. And much of it, I appreciated. Here is what I tasted (you’ll notice they are in no particular order), and later I’ll post photos of the “dead soldiers” so you can see what else I missed out on.

  • Surly Darkness (bottles numbered in the mid-100’s)
  • Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra (2003?)
  • Bar Harbor Brewing Cadillac Mountain Stout
  • Goulden CarolusGrand Cru of the Emperor (2000)
  • New Glarus Raspberry Tart
  • Three Floyd’s DarkLord (2007)
  • Westvleteren 12
  • Traquair House Ale (1982)
  • Ithaca Brewing Co. Kaffinator Double Espresso Bock (bottle #1164 of the June 2007 batch)
  • Three Floyd’s Behemoth Barleywine
  • Stone Vertical Epic (05-05-05)
  • Unibroue Terrible (2004)
  • Allagash White (Batch 9)
  • Brouwerij De Ranke Kriek
  • Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
  • Left Hand Smoked Goosinator
  • Highland Brewing Imperial Gaelic Ale (limited edition 2006) *
  • Allagash Dubble Reserve Belgian Style Ale
  • Firestone Walker Firestone 10
  • Allagash Tripel Reserve Belgian Style Ale
  • Alesmith Speedway Stout
  • Olfabrikken Wit Hvedeol
  • Hoppin’ Frog Mean Manalishi Double IPA
  • Frank’s 12-year old Spruce Ale (very nice homebrew, and we got a bottle to take home…thanks Frank!)
  • Konings Hoeven Triple Trappist
  • Alesmith Decadence
  • Selin’s Grove Brewing Olde Frosty IPA *
  • Magic Hat Thumbsucker (2000)
  • Bullfrog Brewing 10th Anniversary Bourbon-Aged Tripel *
  • Alaskan Smoked Porter (2006)

Stone Soup Line Up #1Stone Soup Line Up #2

Stone Soup Line Up #3Stone Soup Line Up #4

Luckily we had time to enjoy a nice dinner at the General Lafayette, and afterward, the five in our vehicle all did the pocket breathalyzer test. Kim won (or lost) at .02 and got to do the driving. I so very much appreciated her ability to do that!

No one was out of hand drunk, but as “Officer Sassy”, I took the responsibility to get everyone home safely quite seriously. And I knew I wasn’t the one to do it.  (PS – Ev, if you’re reading this, thanks for the hat!)

Officer Sassy     What’s that?!?!     The Carnage

* We brought the three starred items in the list. D kept promising something “no one has ever had,” which was mostly true. Above is a photo of our friend Frank showing his emotions over the Bullfrog 10th Anniversary Ale…

An Elk, and a Dog in a Cog

Sunday morning I had to transport a friend from the hospital in Harrisburg to her home approximately 70 miles to the north. While she thought it was an inconvenience, we looked at it as an opportunity to get D up to Elk Creek Cafe & Ale Works in Millheim. And brunch was a great time to go! We picked up my parents and headed out Rt. 45. With the fresh blanket of snow covering the mountain forest and the farmland of Penns Valley, it was a beautiful drive. We were really surprised that the owner, Tim, recognized us when we came in the door, and D enjoyed chatting with him for the first time.

At Elk Creek, we were pleased with the breakfast and lunch selections on the menu, and the addition of a seasonal beer (Olde Millheim Strong Ale) to the regular line-up. I thoroughly enjoyed the scrambled tofu, which wasn’t a fake, crunchy type of fake egg, but rather soft tofu morsels sautéed with spinach and caramelized onions. It was served with the crispiest, most lovely (and probably most fattening, but no complaints here!) potatoes and vegan bacon. D had the beef and bean chili, Pop had the cherry tomato omelet, and Fran had the eggs and bacon platter. Everyone was really loving the food, and we had an array of hand-crafted beverages: Strong Ale, Poe Paddy Porter, Elk Creek Copper Aleand Great Blue Heron Pale Ale.

Elk Creek Cafe

As I exclaimed in my last post, where else can you enjoy great beer and watch the horse-and-buggies go by? I watched 7  during the course of our lunch. We had a great waitress, the place was adequately filled with patrons and it looks like things are going really well for them. D picked up a growler of Porter to share, and we headed out with hopes of returning soon.

We dropped my parents off at home, and headed to Selin’s Grove to fill a growler with Olde Frosty for Adam, who had it at the Stone Soup event and was looking to score some more (it is that good!) Naturally we had to spend a little time there waiting for the fill and talking to friends – me with a glass of Razz Merry, and D with a glass of blended Razz Merry (1/3) and Stout (2/3). It looks like Steve has been doing well keeping the taps active – just about everything was on today, including barleywine on the handpump.

I had planned to go to a concert in the very late afternoon, but I just couldn’t sit in a car for one more mile after the weekend we just had. It was a terrific time, but I’m glad to be home with my dog and a cup of hot cinnamon spice tea.

Countdown to Christmas – Week 3

The third 7 days on the Advent Calendar of Beer

Dec. 15Old Fezziwig® Ale  (Samuel Adams) – Winter Warmer

Dec. 16 – Carolina Winter Porter (Carolina Brewing Company) – an American Porter created with Simcoe hops.

Dec. 17 – Christmas Ale (Corsendonk) – Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Dec. 18 – Winter Ale (Wyerbacher)

Dec. 19Cherry Vanilla Maple Porter (Brutal Deluxe Brewing) – our 2006 homebrew Christmas beer.

Dec. 20 – Anise Spruce Ale (Brutal Deluxe Brewing) This the second of two Christmas beers we brewed in 2007, and it’s possible there is a better name and I just don’t know it.  We were really looking forward to the spruce essence, but the star anise completely overpowers it – a bit reminiscent of NyQuil, unfortunately.  Hopefully it will mellow with time, but not in time for Christmas.

Dec. 21Gray’s Wassail (Gray’s Brewing Company); Olde Frosty IPA from the Firkin  and Solstice Dubbel (Selin’s Grove Brewing Company) – yes, it was a busy day of beer drinking on Friday. D had the Gray’s Wassail at home because he had to work, while I took the afternoon off and camped out at Selin’s Grove for six hours. 

I can’t speak for his Wassail, but I thoroughly enjoyed Olde Frosty IPA from the firkin! It was tapped at 3:30 PM, and kicked in 1.5 hours.  I had the honor of finishing off the last 1/2 pint! It had a piney hop character with hints of caramel sweetness, and the flavors of the wood really came through (apparently it was only in there for 4 days.) This is a beer I’ve looked forward to tasting all year, and I wasn’t disappointed. I brought home a growler of Olde Frosty on CO2 for D to try, and it will be interesting to compare.

Also, Selin’s Grove brought out the Solstice Dubbel on this special day, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Pumpkin Ale was still on (but I bet it isn’t any longer), so I had a 1/2 pint of that, as well as a glass of Razz Merry.  My holiday favorites – all in one place!

Countdown to Christmas – Introduction

Give it to D to find a creative way to clear out some of the inventory…  How about a new and/or different beer each day between December 1 and 25?  He calls it his Advent Calendar of Beer.

Instead of little candies, we get little beer surprises each day.  I’m not exactly sure what the rules are – perhaps he’s making them up as we go along – but it’s been fun trying.

We kicked it off with a weekend away on December 1 and 2, joining up with friends and traveling the “golden triangle of PA beer,” which includes Otto’s Pub & Brewery in State College, The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, and Selin’s Grove Brewing Co. in Selinsgrove. 

In addition the the three brewpubs, we enjoyed several additional stops including Zeno’s Pub in State College (where I picked up my St. Nicholaus Brewer’s Reserve in the pretty velvet bag!), a private tasting with the Ferry’s, and an extra visit to Bullfrog for Sunday Brunch (yummmm – beer and eggs – the last time I did that was at Holy Cow in Las Vegas.)

Over the course of the trip, we consumed the brews below.  I know the list looks long, but remember that there were 4 of us traveling, 8 of us at the tasting, and the three brewpubs all offered half-pints. 

At Otto’s – they had 10 beers on tap plus 2 on the handpump

  • Arthur’s Amarillo Pale Ale on cask
  • Mom’s Elderberry Stout
  • Ottonator Doppelbock
  • Apricot Wheat
  • Jolly Roger Russian Imperial Stout on cask

At Zeno’s – so many taps and bottles, we can’t count that high…3 cask beers (there is a good reason this place was placed in the Top 50 Places to Have a Beer (#41))

  • Arthur’s Amarillo Pale Ale on cask (again!)
  • St. Nick Bock – Penn Brewing
  • Gouden Carolus Ambrio
  • Bell’s Two Hearted – featured on the TODAY show this week
  • St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – this is the first year available in US in bottles, and was the honorary first beer on the Advent Calendar.

At Bullfrog – they had 12 of their own (2 on cask) and two guest taps; unfortunately the Hop Harvest kicked the previous day.

  • Blue Collar Brown on cask
  • Wolfsblood Scotch Ale
  • Lights Out Imperial Stout
  • Edgar IPA
  • Inspiration Red

In bottles at the Ferry’s house (I think more were consumed – these were just for the tasting; many more were not consumed!)

  • Strawberry Creme Ale – Brutal Deluxe Brewery (our homebrew)
  • Mount Desert Island Ginger Beer – Atlantic Brewing Co.
  • Black Raspberry Reserve – Sly Fox
  • Christmas Ale – Great Lakes Brewing Co.
  • Old Man Winter – Southern Tier Brewing
  • Scratch Beer #4 – Troegs Brewing
  • Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2006 – Anchor Brewing Co.
  • 2007 Smoked Porter – Alaskan Brewing Co.
  • Hibernation Ale – Great Divide Brewing Co.
  • Old Abominable Barrel Aged/Bottle Conditioned Barleywine – Stout’s Brewing Co.

At Selin’s Grove – there were 8 beers on tap and 2 on the hand-pump

  • Pumpkin Ale on nitrogen
  • Mud Puppy Organic Brown Ale on cask
  • Mud Puppy Organic Brown Ale on nitrogen
  • India Pale Ale
  • St. Fillian’s Scotch Style Barleywine on cask; the second beer on the Advent Calendar

Thanks to Heath and Kim for keeping a great pictorial diary of the trip (most of the photos I’ll use in this post are his…they still need to be edited before they get added…)  It was great fun to travel with them. 

Dave and Pascha went out of their way to make our trip complete by hosting the tasting, providing a nice assortment of finger foods, and allowing us to sleep over (and Pascha sent me home with a great reading list!)  Thanks SO much to them, and their entertaining children. 

Mary and Steve were delightful company for the tasting, plus I got to see Mary’s Galapagos program, which was cool.  It was really fun to see them again.

What a nice way to kick off the month!

Real Ale Fest at Zeno’s

I’m blogging from Zeno’s in State College where we are in the midst of a Brew Fest celebrating Real Ale.  Dave brought in a total of 10 real ales – two served up last night, and eight today.

The two from last night (Mt. Nittany Pale Ale from Otto’s and Troeg’sPale Ale) were in firkins and went on at 8 PM and kicked at 1:55 AM. 

Today, starting at 3 PM and continuing until 8 PM you can purchase a goofy wristband for $25 and get ten 10oz tasters of the real ales, and dinner (no idea at this time what that means exactly.)  Five of the ales are in firkins and three are on handpumps.  My guess is that anything still here after 8 PM can be purchased by the glass.

Here is what’s on for Saturday night:

  • Victory Donnybrook Stout
  • Legacy Pale Ale (pretty good for a Legacy product)
  • Otto’s Double D IPA (WOW WEE!)
  • Troeg’s Hopback Amber (on handpump)
  • Sly Fox Red (very malty)
  • Lancaster Hog’s Milk (a rare treat)
  • Otto’s Imperial Stout (on handpump)
  • Victory Hopdevil (on handpump)

D will likely rate these on Beer Advocate, but I wanted to make sure a list got posted. 

It’s always a great time at Zeno’s – great beer selection (on tap and in bottles), but this is a special treat AND it’s not a home game weekend.  Super time to be here.

Happy Anniversary, Selin’s Grove!

The week was busy, and I didn’t get to Selin’s Grove as soon as I wanted to (like, in time be one of the first 120 beverage buyers and get an etched glass), but I did get there on the evening of the 23rd to fill growlers and enjoy a piece of anniversary cake!

The Razz Merry was on tap – it was tart and tasty, but there were a few other appealing beers that overshadowed it for me.  The X Solstice Dubbel Ale was the anniversary beverage – a blend of the ’03 and ’06 Dubbels.  The Chipolte Porter was back – I didn’t ask questions, but suspect they found some sitting around?  The Barleywine continues to be on tap (really nice as a blend with Razz Merry and the Triple!) 

But my new favorite Selin’s Grove beer is the Old Frosty IPA.  It’s a darker, higher alcohol IPA than what they usually serve.  The hop flavor and aroma were so intense and earthy.  Intuition tells me the Old Frosty is what was left after the firkin was filled…

Girly Beer

With respect, I admit I haven’t heard this podcast yet, but the title of this episode already turns me off…  Admittedly, I like my Framboise, but given the choice, I’ll take a strong ale over fruit any day.  (I found a great article on on Real Women who drink real beer, so I know I’m not alone!)

I will certainly be listening to this on Friday to see what he has to say about Fruity Girly Beers while I drive to the Hop Off Championship @ Union Jack’s Inn featuring beers REAL WOMEN drink (Russian River Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Damnation, Deification; Weyerbacher Eleven Triple IPA; Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial IPA; Union Jack’s Hoptimus Prime by Legacy.)