At 10am on Saturday morning, I dropped off Mrs. MBR and drove off to park the car downtown. There was a light rain and it was 61 degrees. I started walking back to the event in a light drizzle, by the time I got there at 10:35am it was pouring rain and shaping up to be a miserable, wet, muddy day. It was amazing to think that within 3 hours it would be 30 degrees warmer and sunny. A beautiful, if muggy, day to taste some beer. The view from the "other shore" of Lake Monona was fantastic with its gauzy, sunny sky and sprawling skyline of Madison.
It was a warm, muggy, summer day - perfect for session beers. And while Surly and Founders and Three Floyds and Bells and Great Lakes and New Holland all had their big beefy, burly, beers, to me the day was won by the lighter fare.
Mrs. MBR and I were standing near the monstrous Bells "M*A*S*H"-themed outpost and noticed the small, unassuming brewpub from Mineral Point, WI called "Brewery Creek". I've talked about Brewery Creek here before and professed my love for their shandy. A shandy is a part-beer (typically a light, sessionable, lager) and part lemonade (or ginger beer). Leinie's sells a shandy that is entirely too sweet, but Brewery Creek's, as I've said before, is made with real lemonade and would have been perfect on a day like Saturday. A quick glance revealed nothing on their table that looked like the shandy and we were crushed. I meandered over in any event just to see what they did have and, lo and behold, three different shandy.
The first shandy we tried was called "The Bride of Frankenshandy" and it was a shandy based on their Kolsch mixed with what tasted like grapefruit juice and ginger beer. It was spritely and refreshing, but always was a beer first. The second shandy was called "Return of Frankenshandy" and was a porter with pomegranate and lemonade. While the tartness mixed with the porter was a little bizarre, it worked. But the creme de la creme of the bunch was the "Shandy from the Black Lagoon" - a stout shandy. A freaking stout shandy. The smokiness and roastiness of the stout carried the lemonade perfectly; the lemonade cut the body and provided a wonderful tartness to quench a summer thirst. I kid you not when I tell you that a stout shandy was not only the biggest surprise of the day, but was, honestly, the best beer I drank all day. Yeah. Seriously.
Following in the shandy theme was Flossmoor Station's Apsession. A light-bodied, 3% ABV American Mild, a golden version of the British Mild, made with apricot juice. The apricots aren't terribly tart, but provide a refreshing, different sort of sweetness. Like cranberries, apricots can be hard to work with in a brewhouse - too much doesn't taste right and too little isn't strong enough to notice. But Flossmoor managed to get it just right in a tasty, lightweight brew that you could drink all day and never feel its effects.
A more traditional session beer, Schlafly's Dortmunder, was a nice light (compared to typical American craft ales) flavorful German lager. The Dortmunder weights in a 5.5% ABV, so it's a little beefy for a session beer but its full flavor, but not overbearing body won the day with a nice balance of delicate pale German malts and noble spicy and somewhat floral hops.
Finally, two beers from Brugge Brasserie in Indianapolis were refreshing, if not a little bigger. The Voyager is a Belgian-American Pale Ale with a muscular 75 IBU and 6% ABV. It is definitely hop-forward but the dry Belgian yeast keeps it from dragging on too long. There is a nice sweetness that comes through before it finishes and makes for an absurdly fresh beer for as big as it is. A "secret" beer from Brugge Brasserie was the Shonone (I think I've got that right?). You had to ask for it by name and it wasn't listed on their table; but, if you knew it was there (and I got word from a little birdie to ask for the "Shoshone" - which apparently caused the fine folks pouring beer much amusement) they would pour a wonderfully sour and refreshing dark Flanders Red.
Finally, some beers that deserve some special mention: First, the New Glarus Golden Ale and Olde English Porter. The former is the first R&D Series beer from New Glarus - a glorious Belgian Abbey-style Blonde that is hoppy, crisp and dry and about as perfect a Belgian beer as can be had anywhere in the world - Belgium included. The Olde English Porter is, indeed, made to an exacting historical recipe that sees the light-bodied porter split after the boil into two batches - one of which is "soured" the other of which is fermented in a more normal fashion. These two split batches are then recombined into one batch again and conditioned in toasted oak barrels to create a strangely sour, but otherwise thoroughly typical, if not lighter-bodied, version of an English porter. Second is the Bluegrass Brewing Company's Rye 75 IPA - a solidly made IPA with a hefty 75 IBU and a big portion of rye malt in the grain bill. Other breweries make rye IPAs, but this one deserves some notice as the equal of Founder's Red's Rye and Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye - the two best of the style that I've had.
Two new traditions were also continued this year at The Great Taste of the Midwest. One was the "real ale" tent dedicated to finely carbonated, cask-conditioned beer. While really rare in the real world here in the United States, real ale is a real treat when done right. I didn't get to try much here because, really, I didn't want to spend my whole day in this tent - which I'm sure would have been entirely possible. I picked and choosed and ended up with a dense, creamy, uber-hoppy Founders Cask Double Dry Hopped Centennial IPA, a dark, roasty and rich Schlafly Cask Imperial Brown Ale, and a surprisingly tasty 4.2% ABV Pub Ale Golden Mild from Duluth, Minnesota's Fitger's Inn.
Another tradition that was expanded was the educational seminars that at least attempted to teach the drunken masses something about beer and food pairings. This year's talks were about grilling with beer with Lucy Saunders and Free State Brewing Company, beer and chocolate with Gail Ambrosius, and beer and cheese with the fine folks from Fromagination. The talks were great and tastings were provided for each of the subjects. In subsequent years, I can only hope that the folks with The Great Taste will spend a little more time to get this tent a little more organized and publicized - and perhaps a bit more sound-baffling from the real ale tent next door that makes it much too loud to actually hear the speakers at times.
This post is getting entirely too long, so I'll tell you about my conversation with Gorst Valley Hops' James Altweis later this week. But, lastly and certainly not leastly, thanks to the folks that put together The Great Taste of the Midwest - it went off wonderfully, was well-organized, well-attended and well-run. Everyone had a blast and the $1 cab rides and numerous shuttles ensured that nobody had to drive home afterwards. So, thank you.
1. New Glarus Olde English Porter. As Beer Talk Today notes in the comments, I think I was sloppy in my explanation. The recipe itself is not historical, but rather the recipe is made to mimic the historical, sour, style.
2. The Brugge Brasserie "Shonone" was actually "Shannone". Apparently "Shannon" is the wife of the brewmaster, so "Shannone" was the password to get the beer which was actually the "Diamond King".