What did I like? I thought the organization, again, was fantastic - especially given the sheer number of people involved in putting this event together. Whether it runs like a greased pig or not (I'm not sure that's the right metaphor), it certainly seems to evade falling apart. This year, the entrance line was cleared in record time - down from almost (over?) an hour last year, to under 20 minutes. Event staff and volunteers did their jobs, were accessible, and friendly. The brewers seemed to know what they were doing, where they were going, what time to be there, and all of their needs seemed to be getting met. Significantly, I did not hear a single brewer, volunteer, or even attendee complaint.
What Did I Really Like? The week encompassing the Great Taste has turned Madison into a week long celebration of craft beer for the entire Midwest. Philly, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Portland, all have beer weeks. But few celebrate the beer of their particular REGION as well as Madison does. It makes a statement that not only is Madison one of the premier beer destinations in the entire Midwest, but it is a leader in Regionalism and emphasis on local food. Beer tastings and beer dinners all week, and a Kegs and Eggs Breakfast at Old Fashioned on Sunday really showed the amazing things that can be accomplished in the entirety of the food industry when everyone is focused on local. Without the Great Taste of the Midwest, this celebration would not be possible; with the Great Taste, this celebration makes Madison the epicenter of Midwestern beer for an entire week.
Room for Improvement? I've gotta say that this year's glassware was definitely a big miss; it was entirely too large and I felt like I was dumping a lot of beer. Others were clearly taking advantage of the generous pours. While I like the traveling minstrel idea with the music, it often gets lost - so either dump it entirely, or make it more of a focus.
Not Good: Like Travis and Matt both pointed out, this year's losers were mediocre to poor sour beers, of which there entirely too many. I thought Kuhnhenn's Cask Geuze was a perfect example: watery, thin and one-note, it didn't really add anything to the style. Also a big loser was spirit-barrel aged beer. A Port-Barrel Aged Rauchbier from New Albanian was strange and unenjoyable (although the next tap-handle to the right, the Bourbon Barrel Sour Brown was fantastic).
Good: Good sour beers: Jolly Pumpkin's Biere de Mars, DeStihl's (Normal, IL) Sour Brown and Sour Strawberry (!?) were excellent, and Travis' winner the Brugge Brasserie (Indianapolis, IN) Pooka a sour beer aged with boysenberries was excellent. Speaking of weird fruit...while Minneapolis Town Hall's Mango IPA did not work, and Old Hat's (Lawton, MI) Peanut Butter Stout wasn't as bad as you might thing a beer brewed with peanut butter would be, the aforementioned Brugge Brasserie (boysenberry) and DeStihl (strawberry), in addition to Dave's BrewFarm's Bumbled honey pale-ale, O'so's Big O Cranberry and Short's Imperial Spruce India Pilsner (almost a top-3, despite "Imperial India Pilsner" making no sense at all) made great use of "adjuncts".
My Top 3: while my tastes are different from yours and there's no possible way to try everything, of the things that I had, these are my Top 3 from the 2010 Great Taste of the Midwest:
Honorable Mention: Revolution Brewing Company's Coup D'Etat Saison. Revolution is a new craft brewery in the heart of hipper-than-thou Logan Square in Chicago. Revolution brought an impressive range of beers from the big (Sodom, an Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with Three Floyds) to the small (Gomorrah, a small beer made from the second runnings of the Sodom). But my favorite was the Coup D'Etat Saison, a dry, spicy, grassy, peppery saison that is surprisingly strong (7.5%) for a summer day.
Number 3: Vintage Brewing Company's Sahti. Making use of an antiquated Finnish style of beer that uses juniper instead of hops, and an ecclectic mix of grains Brewer Scott Manning has produced a crisp, fresh summer beer that weighs in at only 5.3% ABV. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for gin, so the fresh and interesting fruity pine-notes from juniper is a pleasant experience. It is a wonderfully different sort of beer that is available right here in Madison.
Number 2: Surly Tea Bag Furious. Take one of my favorite beers on the planet, the over-hopped amber Furious, double-dry-hop it for an huge complex hop aroma, and age it in a cask to get some awesome subtle wood undertones? Come on, it rarely gets better than that.
Number 1: Schlafly/O'Fallon/New Albanian C3. St. Louis Brewing Company, better known as Schlafly, was on my list last year with a refreshing Dortmunder. This year, Schlafly has teamed up with O'Fallon and New Albanian for a whole series of "session beers with a unique twist." C1 was an Oak Aged Dry Hopped Smoked Rye Pale Ale and C2 is a Smoked Belgian Dark Strong Ale. New Albanian explains the C3 thusly:
C3 is extreme in its restraint, in our collective ability to resist the abundant urges to add more and explore more ideas in a single beer. By dialing in our collective vision, we have struck out in a new direction with C3.The C3 is an amazingly complex, yet easy-to-drink beer. Hops were used in every portion of the brewing process, except the boil so there is very little hop bitterness, but huge flavor and aroma from the funky, musty, citra hop. This funkiness combines with the clean, but complex malt flavors to produce a beer that tastes like it should be three times its size, but manages to weigh in at a palty 4% ABV. FOUR PERCENT ABV SHOULD NOT TASTE THIS AWESOME.
Based on the classic English Mild, C3 features Marris Otter, Munich, Brown and Carafa malts.
After much debate the collective again went with the theme of restraint, and a single hop was the choice: Citra.