Friday, August 20, 2010

The Great Taste of the Midwest 2010

As we mentioned here, each year the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild holds a beer festival called The Great Taste of the Midwest ("GT"). Breweries are generally limited to the Midwest (although this year I saw two from Kentucky; I'm not sure if that's technically the Midwest), so it's not just a clever name.

The GT is held on the second Sunday of August at Olin-Turville Park on the shores of Lake Monona. The park setting is ideal, and the view of Wisconsin's capital is magnificent. There may be some more impressive locations for beer festivals (Breckenridge), but the GT is definitely towards the top of the list. I could live the rest of my life without going to another beer fest in a parking lot.

2010 was the 24th year of the festival and this year's fest featured some modifications that really improved the experience.

First, the "Real Ale Tent" was moved to the front of the fest for easy access. The Real Ale Tent is certainly one of the highlights, and deserves its spot at the front. The tent features cask-conditioned beer served directly from the firkin. This year's Real Ale Tent had notable offerings from Surly, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin, and Flat Earth Brewery, amongst others.

Second, instead of having three giant tents, the fest now has five smaller tents. This allows traffic to flow much smoother. More time enjoying the beers and the park; less time standing in line for beer.

Included in the entry fee for the GT is a $1 taxi ride to anywhere in the county. Every beer fest in America should offer something similar. Period. This year we chose to walk, but it's nice to know the option is there. Chug Responsibly.

On to the highlights...

Some of this year's notable brews were:

Surly Cedar-aged Cynic. Wow. What more can I say? This one was available in the Real Ale Tent, and the cask-conditioning treated this beer exceptionally well. Lemony, with pine notes, and a slight banana smell. Cynic on its own is an exceptional saison; the cedar aging kicks it up a notch.

Surly Darkness. Surly's elusive Russian Imperial Stout was also available in the Real Ale Tent. You've had it; it's awesome. Guess what, it's awesome out of the firkin too.

Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout/Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Canadian is aged in maple barrels, Kentucky in bourbon barrels. I preferred the Canadian, but they were both exceptional. You can't really go wrong with Founder's Breakfast Stout as your building block. Coffee notes, chocolate hints, a roasty malt backbone. The breakfast of champions.

Fathead IPA. From Fathead's brewpub in Ohio. I have to say I was rather impressed. You don't usually find a brewpub that competes with the West Coast big boys (Minneapolis' own Town Hall notwithstanding), but Fatheads holds its own. In fact, Fathead's Headhunter IPA won first place at the 2009 West Coast IPA festival. Very bitter with nice floral hop notes. If you're at the Cleveland airport, it's not too far away.

Central Waters Illumination. A double-IPA with Galena, Chinook, Simcoe and
Centennial hops. Flowery and crisp. Tasted great as the day was getting hot.

Sam Adams Utopia. Ok, it wasn't really the best beer in the world. It has a really nice maple flavor, but it's more like drinking a liqueur than a beer. Maybe because it's 20% ABV? From the perspective of novelty, it was very cool that they offered this on tap.

Flat Earth Tripel. They don't brew this beer enough. Don't let the very light blond color fool you, this has an exceptional taste to back it up. Honey sweetness with hints of peach and apricot. Smooth big mouthfeel.

Keg Man! "A friend of Lakefront Brewery" in his own words, this guy was walking around the fest with a corny keg strapped to his back. Inside? Lakefront's Pumpkin lager. It's not the best pumpkin beer in the world, but neither is it the worst. I had to have some, once again, for the sake of novelty. More brewers should do this! After all, when I'm walking from one beer sampling station to another, I could use a beer.

The Bell's Tent. If your microbrewery has been around for 25 years, you deserve your own tent. Bell's really went all out, offering about 18 beers, including Hop Slam, 25th Anniversary Ale, Batch 9000, Eccentric Ale 2008, and many more. Not only did Bell's have their own tent, but they had a great location near the lake. Here's to another 25!

The Schell's Bus! If you're impressed that Bell's has been around for 25 years, you'll be astounded to know that the August Schell brewery of New Ulm, Minnesota, has been around for 150! I can't say I'm a huge fan of their beers, but hey, that bus is awesome!

Needless to say, after doing our beer fest duty and sampling the rarest high-gravity ales the Midwest has to offer, the day started to deteriorate amidst the rising heat, large pours, and bourbon-barrel everything. Somebody had been feeding alcohol to these animals! As a matter of fact, I believe we reached our beer fest zenith after chugging a few Bourbon Barrel Stouts. At that point it was either us of the bourbon barrels. We did what we had to do.

Looking forward to 2011! The 25th Anniversary of the Great Taste!

(Special Shout-Out to Colin & Cathy for the tickets!)

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