Saturday, August 8th, 2009

GTMW09We’re just back from the Great Taste of the Midwest, the pre-eminent beer festival in the nation, where we sampled fifty different beers from thirty-five different breweries in Wisconsin and surrounding states, although some of the brewers came from as far away as Kentucky. There were quite a few brewers from Kentucky, actually. I wonder what’s up with that?

I’ll have a lot more to say about the GTOMW when I’m rested and rehydrated, but for now it’s enough to say that we had a great time, we were much more careful about chosing the beers we wanted to sample, and we came home in much better shape than ever before. Which is not to say we didn’t get loopy. That’s sort of a given.

We weren’t sure we were going to have such a good time at the Great Taste this year. I think we would always have a pretty good time no matter what, but when we got up this morning it was raining, and it kept on raining all through the morning, harder and harder, until it rained more than an inch in six hours. It was still raining at eleven-thirty and I was pretty sure we were going to be drinking beer in the rain, but then at about noon it stopped, and fifteen or twenty minutes later the skies cleared, and by the time we were standing in line waiting to get into the beer fest it was scorching hot and muggy as hell and our only worry was whether or not we’d brought enough water with us. We had, as it turned out, but only just.

Big thanks go out again to our magnificent son Tim who not only drove us to the Great Taste but came back after it was over to pick us up, sparing us the agony of waiting hours in line for a cab. He could’ve just not picked up the phone and we would’ve had to find our own way home, but he didn’t, and for that he’s once again reinforced his mother’s belief that childbirth was well worth the trip to the hospital.

img not availableFrom this glass My Darling B and I tasted fifty of the finest beers in the Midwest. Or slightly less than fifty, really. We poured several of them on the ground, so they weren’t all the finest beers. Some of them were considerably less than fine. There aren’t a lot of beers we will pour on the ground. But in the notes I scribbled in the margins of this year’s program, and by “notes” I mean little emoticon faces, I was mostly happy with the beer, drawing only a half-dozen frowny faces, or faces sticking their tongues out, or puking. These notes are mostly criticism for our own sake, so we don’t drink the same crap beer two years in a row. Life’s too short, you know?

This isn’t a full-sized glass, by the way; it’s no more than five inches tall. Filled to the lip, it holds about three ounces. Most of the vendors would fill it about halfway or slightly more, a very few would fill it almost, but not quite, all the way to the top. Drinking a full glass, even if it was only three ounces, would be squandering a great opportunity anyway. The whole point of the Great Taste is to present a huge assortment of beers for you to sample, which you really can’t do very well if you’re drunk as a lord.

Not that I didn’t get drunk. WPR radio host Jean Faraca asked one of the organizers, “How do you keep from getting sloshed?” and they laughed at her before they answered, “You don’t.” I’ve never seen anyone sample beer the way the wine snots do, by swishing it around in their mouths and spitting it out. It’s just not done. Beer drinkers have far too much couth for that. I think that’s the right way to say it.

Our first sample has for the past three years always been a Black Cherry Porter from Hops Haven, a brewer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We picked it more or less at random the first year we attended and we both loved it so much that we head straight for the Hops Haven tap first thing every year. This year they were almost smack-dab in the middle of the festival, so that’s where we started.

Our strategy for tasting beers this year was more carefully planned than the past two years. Previously, we would just barge up to the closest vendor with our glasses held at arm’s length. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, really, except that the next day I can’t recall what I drank and whether or not it was any good. All the beers have blurred together in my memory by then, and now that I know a little more about beer I want to be able to remember these things.

So this time as we approached each vendor we had a look at the beers they were offering, figured out which of their brews we wanted to try, and then each of us would ask for a pour of a different brew. Then we’d retire to the edge of the tent where we could sip each other’s beers and draw little happy faces, or pukey faces, in the margins of our programs. It worked out pretty well. And instead of drinking as many beers as we could, we brought lawn chairs this time and went back to sit down every so often to reflect on the beers we had tasted, compare notes, and cleanse our palates with water. We brought lots of water with us this time. Drank every drop of it, too.

It was a wonderful day out, and doubly so because we weren’t sure it was even going to happen when we watched rain pour down out of a sky so steely dark that it reminded us of afternoons spent hiding in the basement from tornadoes. Then, magically, the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and in the hour or so before the gate opened at the festival the day was hot and sunny straight through until evening. The grounds were a little muddy, but not nearly as bad as I was afraid they might be, and after a few beers who’s gonna notice?

This year, I visited all but six of the brewers in the 400 tent and about half the brewers in the 500 tent. We made quick forays into the other tents to make sure we sampled an old favorite or try a brew we liked the sound of, but really there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the beers we decided to try, other than we were just trying to relax and enjoy what they had to offer.

From America’s Brewing Company in Aurora, Illinois, I gave a big smiley face to Dirty Summer Blonde Chocolate Beer.

From Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their Extra Special Bitter, but a frowney face to their Roggen Berry.

From Barley John’s Brew Pub in New Brighton, Minnesota, I gave smiley faces to their Hefeweizen and their Wild Brunette.

From Belle’s Brewery in Galesburg, Michigan, I gave smiley faces to both their Two Hearted Ale and Oarsman.

From the Blind Tiger Brewery in Topeka, Kansas, I gave a big-eyed smiley face to their Smokey the Beer.

From the Blue Cat Brew Pub in Rock Island, Illinois, I gave a smiley face to their Coriancer & Orange, an American wheat beer.

From Brownings Brewery and Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, I gave a smiley face to their unnamed Wit beer.

From Cumberland Brews in Louisville, Kentucky, I gave a smiley face to their Sting Like A Bee American style wheat beer.

From Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their unnamed stout and a shocked O-face to their Smells Like Weed hopped-to-the-extreme beer.

From Delafield Brewhaus in Delafield, Wisconsin, I gave a pukey face to their Blackberry weiss beer.

From Dells Brewing Company in South Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, I gave smiley faces to their Apricot Ale and their Dells Chief Amber Ale.

From Detroit Rivertown Brewing Company in Detroit, Michigan, I gave smiley faces to their Vanilla Java Porter and their Dirty Blonde Ale.

From Flossmoor Station Brewing Company in Flossmoor, Illinois, I gave an eh face to their Apsession summer seasonal beer, and a frowney face to their White Lady Imperial wit beer.

From Free State Brewing Company in St Lawrence, Kansas, I gave a howling face of surprise to their bourbon-aged Oatmeal Stout.

From Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio, I gave a satisfied face to their Hoppy Prohibition pils.

From Hops Haven Brewhaus in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I gave a happy face to their Black Cherry Porter, our favorite and the first beer we drink when we start our tour of the tents at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

From Hub City Brewing Company in Stanley, Iowa, I gave smiley faces to their Brown Ale and their Olde Browne Porter.

From Lake Louie Brewing in Arena, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Prairie Moon Belgian style farmhouse ale, and a frowney face to their Warped Speed scotch ale (which is weird, because I’ve had Warp Speed before and liked it).

From Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville, Illinois, I gave a sad face to their Wee Heavy scottish ale. Maybe I was just off scottish ales that day.

From Millstream Brewing Company in Amana, Iowa, I gave a happy face to their Schildbrau, and a very happy face to their Colony oatmeal stout.

From Milwaukee Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I gave an eh face to their Louie’s Demise Immortale amber ale, and a happy face to their Pull Chain Pail Ale. That’s not a typo.

From Muskie Capital Brewery in Hayward, Wisconsin (where else?), I gave a smiley face to their Red Lager.

From Nebraska Brewing Company in Papillion, Nebraska, I gave a happy face to their Cardinal Pale Ale.

From Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, Ohio, I gave a very unhappy face to their super-hoppy Alt-Ernative Amber Ale, but a happy face to their Maple Porter.

From Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Downtown Brown, and a very happy face to their That’s What I’m Talkin’ ’Bout Organic Rolled Oat Stout.

From Potosi Brewing Company in Potosi, Wisconsin, I gave a very unhappy face to their Holiday Bock.

From Sherwood Brewing Company in Shelby Township, Michigan, I gave a smiley face to their Hemp Ale.

From Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, Michigan, I gave a nice smiley face to their Nicie Spicie Abv wheat ale, but a howling face of shock for their Golden Rule, an insanely overhopped beer that I couldn’t take more than two sips from.

From South Shore Brewery in Ashland, Wisconsin, I gave a smiley face to their Bourbon Barrel Coffee Mint Stout. Very smooth.

From Stone Cellar Brew Pub in Appleton, Wisconsin, big smiley faces for both the Vanilla Stout and the Smokin Porter.

From Stonefly Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a frowney face for their Imperial Star Destroyer Stout, a special treat they were just tapping as I strolled up but way too rich for my taste.

From The Saint Louis Brewery, Inc., in St Louis, Missouri, an emphatic frowney face for their Grand Cru Belgian ale.

From Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, Wisconsin, a big happy face for their Burntwood Black Ale3, very tasty. I could have down two more.

From Titletown Brewing Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, big smiley faces for both their Loose Caboose Summer Ale and their Dark Helmeet Schwartzbier.

From Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, a smiley face for their Benji’s Imperial Chipotle Porter, and another smiley face for their Chocolate Imperial Porter.

From Water Street Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a smiley face for their Irish stout.

GTMW09 | 6:34 am CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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