Memphis craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer Nate Nowak, the newest contributor to FuzzyBrew, traveled to the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival on Aug. 11 and shares his insights below. Look for more posts from Nate soon!
Friends and I recently made our annual pilgrimage to Madison, Wisc., for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild has been hosting this event for 26 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend the last four years. This year’s event was the largest yet, featuring over 500 beers from more than 100 breweries. This makes it one of the largest regional beer festivals in the country, with invitations going to breweries from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska.
If you can’t buy tickets in person at various outlets in Madison, then you have to try your luck at getting one of the 3,000 available by mail in a lottery. We managed to procure five this year, so it was that four seasoned veterans and one rookie arrived in Olin Park a couple of hours before the 1 p.m. start time for the festival. Part of the fun each year is getting in line early to hang out, eat lunch and talk to friends while ensuring that we are one of the first few hundred folks to enter the festival. While there may be 500 beers and over 6,000 people packed into the small festival grounds, things always seem to go smoothly even after everyone has had a few beers (it must be that famous Midwestern politeness…)!
Our first stop was at New Glarus Brewing, one of my favorites, but difficult to get as their beer is not sold outside Wisconsin. While they were pouring many of their standbys such as Moon Man, Spotted Cow and Totally Naked, we had come for their first special release of the day, a Kriek that had been aging in bourbon barrels for two years. This was a fantastic beer to kick off the festival with — just slightly sour, with a nice, dry cherry flavor that stood up well to the bourbon and oak flavors of the barrel. We kept the sour theme going for a time, hitting the Jolly Pumpkin booth next (La Roja!) and moving on to Distihl Brewing from Illinois, where we had a very good Gose, a sour wheat beer brewed with coriander and salt.
Our thirst for sour beers slaked, we moved through the festival hitting many of our favorite breweries along with a few new ones. I made sure I introduced my friends to a couple of brews close to Memphis by swinging by Urban Chestnut and Perennial Artisan Ales, both relatively new breweries out of St. Louis (though Perennial brewer Phil Wymore is well known to the Chicago crowd due to his time at Goose Island and Half Acre). Notable beers were Perennial’s Fantastic Voyage, a milk stout brewed with coconut (which gave it a flavor almost like it had been barrel aged) and Urban Chestnut’s Sertaozinho Weiss, a Bavarian wheat brewed with Brazilian coffee! Contrary to what you would think, the beer was golden yellow of a Weiss, but had a bright coffee flavor that came through the traditional clove and banana of the style, a delicious and interesting beer!
As with all beer festivals, after a while your notes on each beer get shorter and you begin to quit “analyzing” and start just “tasting.” We spent the rest of the festival going by a few of our old favorites such as Founders, Bell’s, and Three Floyds, along with some new places like Fat Head’s and Vintage Brewing (which had some very interesting takes on old styles such as a Sahti and a Gratzer).
With the festival winding down to a close, we left the park and headed to The Old Fashioned for dinner, feasting on such Wisconsin staples as Bratwurst and cheese curds (washing it all down with local Wisconsin craft beer of course!). We wrapped up the night with pints of Two Hearted Ale and a game of Euchre (what could be more Midwestern than that!) while already planning next year’s trip.