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 Work – Short’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.