Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Apparently alarmed at the recurrent references to stopping by the liquor store for the weekly beer tasting, my Mom shot me an e-mail asking if My Darling B and I were on the cusp of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Well, guess what, Mom? We both spent yesterday afternoon (from one o’clock until six, to be absolutely accurate) drinking beer! Lots of it! We were limited to drinking it three ounces at a time, but Olbrich Park was lousy with brewers from all over America, hundreds of them, giving away all the beer we asked for!

I might add they even gave it away to people who were so inebriated they were no longer capable of asking for it in any recognizable language, but I stopped long before I got to that point. Last year I drank a bit too much, so this year I ate lots of pretzels and drank lots of water and that gave me the presence of mind to stop with the beer before my head started spinning. I still enjoy a mild beer buzz, but I’m long past the age where I can handle being cross-eyed drunk.

It was the Great Taste of the Midwest beer fest, and the idea is to taste the many different kinds of beers from small breweries all over the country, not necessarily to get drunk, although I would guess it typically ends up that way for nine out of ten people. And, unfortunately, there is that fraction of the crowd that came specifically to get good and ripped, like the guys killing off the six-pack of Guinness as they waited right in front of us in the line to get in who wouldn’t stop howling, “BEER!” when the gates finally opened.

My Darling B and I, ever the picture of responsibility, called for a cab to get to the event. The Union Cab Company is one of the events sponsors and promises dollar cab rides home afterwards, but it’s about ten or fifteen bucks to get there. “Did you make a reservation?” the dispatcher asked B when she called.
“Oh. No, I didn’t,” she answered, physically shrinking in her seat.

“And I suppose you want to leave as soon as possible,” he continued with a certain air of reservation in his voice. This was apparently a demand he’d been hearing a lot today.

“No, actually, we’d like to leave about noon,” B said, which surprised the hell out of him. It was ten when she called. Were there really people standing in line already?

As it turned out, there almost certainly were. By the time we got there, shortly after noon, a line of several hundred people snaked down the hill to the playing field where they could begin to zig-zag back and forth as the line got really long. From our spot in line we could see people up on the hill in little camps, their chairs set up around folding tables under umbrellas, enjoying a light lunch and quaffing cool, refreshing beverages that the law of averages would tend to indicate was beer.

B and I arrived at exactly the right time: Our spot in line ended up right under a tree, where we could sit on the grass and pass the time by reading the program, picking out the beers we wanted to try and marking the map to make sure we got there. Right away, B marked Hops Haven, a brewery in Sheboygan that brought a Cherry Stout she tried last year and loved so much she hasn’t stopped talking about it. I liked it too, but she doesn’t normally like stout at all, yet this was the beer she’d been looking forward to. Although most of the other brewers listed the beers they planned to bring to the festival, Hops Haven apparently didn’t get their choices in by press time because the program didn’t say what they’d have on tap. When the gates opened and we finally got in, B made a beeline for the Hops Haven table and as soon as we were within eyeshot she pointed and squealed like a teenager in the grip of Beetlemania. She even trampled several other festival goers to get to the tap.

Our first taster out of the way, we moved along to the end of the tent trying several other beers we marked on our map. I resolved this year to make a diary of all the beers I tried so that we would know, for example, that the cherry stout we really liked came from the Hops Haven brewery, but that idea went out the window almost instantly. For one thing, I’d need three hands to hold my beer, my program and a pen all at the same time, and I sure wasn’t going to put my beer down. And besides, B was marking her program. She used little happy faces for the beers she liked, grim faces for the ones that were so-so, and frowny faces for the ones she poured on the ground. We didn’t try the same beers, but I figured what she didn’t mark this year I’d have to try again next year.

A surprising number of beers were not really all that good. It wasn’t a large number, maybe only five or six, but these guys come a long way to show off their beers. I have to believe they bring their very best, so it’s surprising when one is bad enough to make me want to dump it. And it wasn’t just me: B found almost as many bad beers as I did, and she was staying away from the hoppy or dark beers she knew she wouldn’t like.

And next year we’ll have to plan to bring our camp chairs and a cooler with food and water, as other people did. It seemed like a silly idea when I first saw them setting up their little camps here and there around the fence line, but I felt a lot different about it later when I needed a place to take a breather and suck down some water.

GTMW08 roundup | 6:52 am CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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