Monday, August 16, 2010

Matt's Great Taste of the Midwest 2010 Recap

Good – Gotta give my boys in the Madison Homewbrewers and Tasters Guild big props on organization once again. Everything ran smoothly, and giving out the programs and glasses early made entrance into the park extra smooth. The Real Ale tent was also a highlight. I particularly enjoyed the cask offerings from Surly, which included the hard-to-acquire Darkness imperial stout and a great Cedar-aged Cynic saison.
Bad – Glassware. I might be totally out on a limb on this one, and I know it’s weird to bitch about too much beer, but the glass was to too big. While they are very nice mini-steins that will make a great addition to my collection, they were literally twice as large as last years (I tested it out once I got home). This being a tasting event, larger pours make it harder to try as many beers. I know that you can dump something out if you don’t like it, but if I do like it I feel a kind of “don’t waste good beer” obligation and have to finish my whole sample. After a few four ounce pours of oak aged Imperial stout, the speed with which I went around the rest of the festival was significantly hindered.
What Got Me Excited – As much as I might say I love session beer and try to oppose “extreme beer” as a trend, I have to admit it is the extreme beers that get me excited at this festival. The bourbon barrel aged beers came out again this year, as they always do, and while anyone can throw a beer in a barrel, the ones that do it well can be fabulous. I made sure to show up for the special tapping of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (their stellar coffee and oatmeal stout aged in bourbon barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup) and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout, both of which were as good as advertised. I also waited with an enthusiastic crowd at Pearl Street, where the folks working at the booth led us all in a chant of “Dankenstein! Dankenstein!” as they got ready to tap the Imperial IPA. I also got to check a beer off my bucket list when I was able to try Sam Adams Utopias, the highest ABV non-distilled beverage in the history of man, or something like that. The 27 percent ABV beer was more like a cordial or strong port wine than a beer, but was certainly an experience.
What Just Didn't WorkShort’s Brewing out of Michigan had a list of very interesting sounding beers, such as the Agave Peach Wheat, Nice Spice, and Blood Orange Wheat Wine. The only problem was, none of them were any good, with way too much spice and fruit, and a strange off flavor in the wheat wine.
Favorite Beer – Another big trend we’ve seen in craft beer has been a big explosion in sour beers. As more consumers are beginning to appreciate these styles, more and more craft brewers are experimenting with them. For some breweries this just means tossing some bacterial cultures into a beer to see what happens, or worse yet, labeling an infected batch “Belgian” or “experimental sour” and passing it off as intentional. But for others this trend has brought out great amounts of creativity and led to some extremely sophisticated and delicious beers. This year I particularly enjoyed the Pooka from Brugge Brasserie, a bright pink boysenberry sour, and Jolly Pumpkin’s mildly sour and delicious Biere de Mars. But the best beer I had all day was a Gueuze from New Glarus. Pale golden in color, refreshingly tart and complex, the beer was as good as any Belgian Gueuze I’ve had. A really astonishing accomplishment.


  1. That big tasting glass surprised more than you, Matt! At least if you dropped it, odds are it didn't break! My good: The beer gods did smile on the event, as the rain quit before Sat. morning, so there was some time to dry out (unlike the mud pits last year). Also, it is so cool that the event has blossomed into a week-long celebration, with beer dinners, special releases, etc. The Friday night "Great Waste" is always a blast, especially when the brewers show up to talk about their craft. A tip of the hat to the Old-Fashioned Friday night, with RedEye's Kevin E. releasing "El Tormento" and Dave's Brew Farm represented (bottle/can some of your other beers, Dave!). And, Catfish Stephenson played his signature steel guitar blues! My bad: am I getting too old, jaded or has the event gotten too big? The MHTG does a great job (as noted in Matt's post), but lines have progressively gotten longer, brewers run out of "standard" beer samples, and it is just tougher to get around. I love the event, but is it time for A) a new venue (it's so nice at Olin Park), B) reducing the number of tickets, or C) breaking the tasting into two sessions (ala the Michigan Beer Fest in Ypsilanti)? My top five brews, in no particular order: RedEye's El Tormento, Dave's Brew Farm Mocha Diablo, Half Acre's Freedom '78 (the guava collaboration with Short's and Piece; I was skeptical, but so tasty!), Founder's Nemesis, and the always-excellent Three Floyd's Dark Lord. A special shout-out to the real ale tent (again, crowded), and to the Bell's 25th Anniversay tent (what about Sprecher's 25th anniversary, too?). Thanks for all the work leading up to the event, MHTG! Cheers!

  2. I had a great time this year but struggled to continue to find beers that would blow me away. The sour beers most breweries are starting to play with taste just about how a homebrew comes out if you pitch some commercial wild yeast cultures and let it sit for a year. The New Glarus Gueze was the exception and definitely my beer of the day. Great complexity and not so one dimensional.

    I noticed a lot of spiced and fruited beers, but most of them were unbalanced like the Short's beer you mentioned. I did however like the Shorts spruce tip beer!

  3. Count me among "old and jaded".
    There were too many people this year. A far cry from the abundant pleasantness of years past. I heard they upped the number of tickets sold from 5000 to 7000 this year. Quite a leap. Having the extra 2000 people there sucked. Longish lines (some were ridiculous) and overcrowded conditions on a sweaty August day. I've attended GTOTM for many years and now I'm really considering passing on it next year. I'd hope the organizers recognize that bigger does not always equal better.
    Surly was indeed great beer.

  4. I agree about the glasses being too big. People with moderate alcohol tolerance like good beer, too!
    On the other hand, the weather was wonderful!

  5. I thought the Great Taste was fairly good this year. There were for too many "grassy areas". This messed with traffic flow. I also thought the corner booths were pretty bad with creativity. Even Bells was very undewhelming and New Glarus. I thought that Central Waters and Sand Creek combined for a fun interesting bowling booth. My friend bowled three straight and won a shirt...


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