Saturday, May 7th, 2016

For the first time in six years (seven?), B and I will not be going to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We got up early, got dressed, got in the car and, after several fuckups, got underway, but we were only a block from home when B thought to ask herself, out loud, whether the Great Taste feel on the same weekend as the Shakesperience, a three-day event in August we signed up for last week. A quick Google search proceed that it was, and that ea the end of our trip to buy tickets last weekend.

It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, we drove all the way to Cork & Barrel, the liquor store where the tickets were sold, as we debated whether or not to go ahead and buy the tickets anyway. In the end, we knew that the Great Taste wouldn’t be much different this year than it was last year, that it would be there next year, and that there would be so many other beer fests going on this summer that we would not want for craft beer in an outdoor setting, if we should develop a sudden jonesing for one.

Just for yucks, we drove past Cork & Barrel and Star Liquor to see how long the lines were. The line to Cork & Barrel wrapped around the front of the block this year, instead of going around the back, so we were momentarily gobsmacked when we drove up and saw no line where we expected to see dozens and dozens of people. And oh, did they look miserable. A few had tents or umbrellas or some kind of cover, but quite a few only had blankets. It wasn’t raining hard, but it had been raining all night and temps were in the forties, so they all had to be chilled to the bone.

bailing out | 12:40 pm CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest
Comments Off on bailing out

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Got up at five this morning to get in line for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. Actually got in line at about five forty-five. There are only 300 tickets for sale at this location, and each person is allowed to buy two. At about eight o’clock, they started handing out numbered wrist bands. I got 148. B got 149. Couldn’t have cut it much closer than that. Looks like we’ll have to get up at four next year.

GTOM tickets | 8:50 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTOM tickets

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

So they do the ticket sales a little different at the Cork & Barrel. The guy from the guild came by at eight to give us a little slip of paper with numbers 104 and 105, marking our place in line. That’s the way it’s always been before, but then he ran through the rules of engagement:two tickets per person, cash only, line re-forms at quarter til twelve.

Wait, what? We can leave?

Turns out that yes, we can leave and come back! Such a deal!

Not ones to waste an opportunity, we packed up our camp chairs and drove over to Stalzy’s Deli for breakfast. Beats sitting in line all morning long.

interregnum | 9:42 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on interregnum

This is going to sound crazy, but we got out of bed at five o’clock this morning in order to buy tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We’ve gotten up early before but, if memory serves (and I’m not saying it does) this is the earliest we’ve rolled out of bed to get these tickets. (“That must be some good beer!” said the woman out for a smoke on her front porch after I told her why all these people were lined up on the sidewalk in front of her house.) And this is the first time we lined up somewhere other than outside Star Liquor. We’ve always had good luck there in the past, but they always had 600 tickets before; they were allotted just 400 this year and the line was just as long, so we drove on to try our luck at Cork & Barrel. Our chances looked much better there; B counted about 120 people and empty chairs in line ahead of us.

And we discovered we’re not nearly as hardcore as we thought: the people in line behind us drove three hours from central Illinois to get tickets! Talking to them, we felt pretty sure we would get tickets; they said they usually ended up further down the line and still got in before, so we hunkered down and started counting the hours…

Update: We got 104 &105!

lined up | 7:18 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on lined up

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Sean and Nikki, dancing fools, at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

image of Sean and Nikki dancing

mosh pit | 6:19 am CST
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
Comments Off on mosh pit

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

attending the Great Taste of the MidwestTime once again for the Great Taste of the Midwest, the very best beer fest anywhere in the world, as if that has to be said. We’ve been going to the Great Taste every year for seven years now but this time around there were two significantly different changes to the way we attended.

The first and most amazingly fun change we made was that we invited Sean and Nikki, his significant other, to the event. We snagged a few extra tickets and were trying to figure out how best to spread them out amongst our friends and acquaintances when My Darling B hit on the idea. To sweeten the pot, she bought the plane tickets for them, too, and we offered to put them up in our guest room while they were here. Not too surprisingly, they snapped at the offer, arriving the Friday night before the festival.

The other big difference is that last winter I became a member of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, the group that organizes the Great Taste, mostly because I’ve really wanted to help out at the event and I’d heard that I’d stand a better chance of being allowed to volunteer my time if I was a member, so I paid my dues, waited for the call for volunteers and raised my hand high in the air when it came. And you know what? Not only did they give me a chance by letting me help the vendors set up, they let me in with the rest of the members an hour before the gates opened! Now My Darling B wants to be a member and volunteer, too. I can provide her with a good character reference if she needs it.

At the Great Taste of the MidwestI think Nikki and Sean enjoyed it more than we did, as hard as that might be to believe, although B had a pretty darned good time this year as well, disappearing into the crowds with Nikki to look for more delicious beer whenever Sean and I got distracted by bacon on a stick or an appearance by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. Then we’d all meet up again by texting each other on our cell phones or, later in the day when our eye-hand coordination had deteriorated to the point where some of our text messages became mostly nonsense (and here I’m thinking of the already-legendary “BACON MEAT IN OUR MOUTHS!”), by agreeing that we should all meet at the picnic blanket if we got split up.

When the taps ran dry and the people began to make their way home, the two youngest members of the tribe, still full of energy and just getting their weekend started, caught a downtown shuttle to join a dance party on the roof of the Children’s Museum where one of Nikki’s friends was DJing. Wow. I probably could’ve done that when I was thirty, but we’ll never know now. The two older members of the O-Folks headed home via the taxi queue where we waited in line for the better part of an hour before being packed tightly into a Toyota Prius with two other people headed back to their hotel room in Monona. We were practically sober by the time we returned to Our Humble O’Bode and ordered the customary after-fest pizza.

Many, many thank-yous go out from Drivel HQ to Nikki and Sean for coming all the way to Madison to make our visit to the fest this year extra-special.

Great Taste 2013 | 2:42 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
Comments Off on Great Taste 2013

Monday, May 6th, 2013

There is no better way to spend Sunday morning than camping out on a sidewalk in downtown Madison at six o’clock and waiting for the stroke of noon, when tickets go on sale for the Great Taste of the Midwest.

This is the fourth time we’ve bought tickets this way, if memory serves. The first time we casually got out of bed at whatever time, drank some coffee, ate some breakfast, showered, shaved and dressed, and at about nine o’clock we finally got in the car to head into town. So at about nine-fifteen we joined the lineup of people waiting to get into Star Liquor and scoffed at the stories from the people who had been there since four o’clock that morning.

But it turned out that we got there just in the nick of time: Around mid-morning they hand out placeholder tickets, and we got numbers 264 and 265. That meant that we were guaranteed at least two of the 600 tickets on sale (each person can buy two tickets). To make sure we didn’t sneak in so close to the end next year, we resolved to get out of bed an hour earlier.

Which we did. And ended up with numbers 258 and 259 – almost exactly the same place in line.

So last year we got up early enough to join the line at seven o’clock. I got number 252 that time. Geeze Louise!

This year, we did what we said we would never, ever be caught dead doing: We got up at five o’clock – we even set our alarms to make sure we got up! – and joined the line by six. And where did we end up? Hands up, everyone who said “Same place as last time?” To add to the frustration, we were in exactly the same place as last year: I got placeholder ticket 252, and B got 253.

At this rate, in five more years we’ll have to get up at midnight just to keep the same place in line. I like beer and I really like the Great Taste, but I think I’m done when it gets to that point.

252 again | 5:52 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on 252 again

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

It’s the Great Taste of the Midwest! (I’m typing this entry now because I’ll be far too toasted to hit the right keys in the right order after we come home from the event.)

My Darling B and I went out to Crema Cafe for a pre-tasting breakfast so we’d have a solid cushion of food in our bellies. B went with the biscuits and gravy, always a good choice, while I opted for the breakfast sammie – absolutely scrumptious!

At eleven, Tim will pick us up at our front stoop and deliver us to Olin-Turville Park, where we’ll wait in line until the gates open at one. We’re going that early because the line will already be snaking around the soccer field by that time. A surprising number of people will be warming up already while they wait; I’ve seen people put away two or three beers before the gates open. That’s just plain crazy. We’ll use that time to study the program so we can get some idea which of the 150 brewers to visit in such a short time.

great! | 10:44 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
Comments Off on great!

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

This weekend marked the beginning of Madison Craft Beer Week, and we started it by passing on the fish fries that were going on everywhere and heading for The Malt House for Red Eye Happy Hour, where the Red Eye Breweryfrom Wausau had about a half-dozen of their beers on tap. My Darling B ordered up a glass of Cart Ride To Mexico, a malty red ale, and I ordered their saison, which I forget the name of now, and we shared them. I liked the saison best, but they were both very tasty. Then, just to round out the visit, we ordered a draw of Common Thread, a beer brewed at Capital Brewery through the collaboration of brew masters from The Great Dane, Vintage Brewing Company, Lake Louie Brewing, The Grumpy Troll, and House of Brews. It had the unusual quality of tasting like a small-batch home brewed beer.

Before heading home, we stopped off at Dexter’s Pub, where the theme of East Coast, West Coast, No Coast split the 15 taps evenly between North Coast Brewing in California, Oskar Blues in Colorado and Southern Tier Brewing in New York state. From North Coast, we sampled Brother Thelonius, a Belgian style abbey ale, and Lemerle, a saison; from Southern Tier, we tried the Mokah, a stout again, and Creme Brulee – I’m not sure what I’d call that, maybe a novelty beer? They were all delicious, although the Creme Brulee was a little too much like candy for my taste. Somehow, we overlooked ordering a draw of anything from Oskar Blues.

Saturday found us back at The Malt House again to try the hop rockets they were supposed to have hooked up to a couple of brews from Tallgrass Brewing: they were infusing a little chili zing to a stout called Grizzly Sweat, and an extra hop kick to an IPA called 8-Bit. The experiment went disastrously wrong, though, when the IPA stubbornly refused to out of the taps as anything but foam. After fiddling with the plumbing for about twenty minutes they did manage to get the stout flowing, and they even served about a dozen glasses of the IPA by filling pitchers with foam and letting it settle, but after a huge crowd had waited almost an hour for the IPA (myself included), the disappointment was crushing.

Not part of Craft Beer Week but significantly related to beer, we spent all this morning waiting in line outside Star Liquor to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. We lined up at nine o’clock the first year we bought tickets, and because we were so close to the cutoff at the end of the line to buy tickets we showed up at eight o’clock last year – and still ended up near the end of the line! So this year we showed up at seven o’clock, and ended up in almost exactly the same place that we did the previous two years. I see a disturbing trend.

As the first few pattering drops of rain fell on the crowd, the beginnings of what turned out to be an enduring thunderstorm, Page Buchanan ran down the line advising everyone with a number to come back at 11:30, saving us from almost two hours of standing vigil in the pouring rain. When the crowd regrouped later, nearly everyone was holding an umbrella or wearing rain gear of one type or another. Tickets went on sale at noon, and we slowly shuffled our way around the block, and then around the parking of Star Liquor, until a little over an hour later we finally had two tickets to the hottest brewing event in the Midwest.

And then home to nap. Weekends can be so stressful.

suds | 4:36 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison Craft Beer Week, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , ,
Comments Off on suds

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Beer: I drank lots of it at The Great Taste of the Midwest yesterday, but – and this is key – not as much of it as I have in the past. And especially not as much as last year, thank goodness. I was hoping to remain upright and not spill as much beer this year, a feat I managed to accomplish by sticking to our plan of taking a break every hour or so to sit down and drink lots of water.

This is our fifth year going to the Great Taste. My Darling B got way into it this year. She keeps notes in her programs, with little happy faces next to the beers she really liked, “meh” faces next to the beers that were just okay, and sad faces next to the beers she didn’t like. She keeps all the old programs in a secret vault that not even I know the location of. Then, when The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild uploads the latest program to the interwebs just two or three days ahead of the event, she pulls it up on her computer and makes a list of all the beers that sound most interesting to her, then compares it to her list of beers that got a meh or a sad face to make sure she won’t be wasting time on beers she’s already tried and didn’t like. It took her two days of careful study to finish all her homework this year.

Is this the perfect woman, or what? She does all the work and all I have to do to end up drinking delicious beer is follow her around.

Of course, it rained before the show. It rained the night before, and it rained the morning of. It’s rained right before the show every year that we’ve gone to it. It could almost be considered a tradition, if they could credibly claim to have any control over the weather. Since they don’t, I believe they would have to consider this kind of invariably bad weather a curse. And this year, just to reinforce the curse, I guess, the skies clouded over and it rained again at about five o’clock, an hour before the end of the show. Not that anybody cared. By that time pretty much every one of us was weatherproof.

Speaking of curses and pandemoneum, at about four o’clock, B went off to use the porta-potty while I listened to the music of Mama Digdown’s Brass Band. When B caught up with me, she was in a panic, patting down all her pockets. “I can’t find my program!” Her attack plan, her record of all the beers she tasted, her list of frowny-face beers, everything but her copious hand-written list of beers she wanted to try was in that program. Lost. Her only consolation was that I tasted most of the same beers she drank, so she’ll probably be able to figure it out when she does her homework before the Great Taste next year.

A big thank-you goes out to the T-dawg, who gave us a lift to the event and was waiting to take us home as we slogged our way out the front gate in the rain after it closed down. We really appreciate it, especially the part about waiting in the rain and letting us get into your car dripping wet. Props to you.

great | 4:29 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
1 Comment | Add a comment

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Note to future self: When attending Great Taste of the Midwest Pre-Party, do not attempt to eat a hamburger that’s bigger than your head. Really, that thing must have weighed a half-pound at least, and they piled cheese, onion rings and two strips of bacon on top of it. Realizing my mistake, I ate just half of it and still my stomach was dispatching complaints as thick as phone books to the admin department of my brain all night long. Next year we’ll get a salad at the co-op and eat it in the car on the way to the party.

After much consultation, we decided to try out the party hosted by The Beer Spot at The Brickhouse BBQ because they had managed to pull in Central Waters, one of our favorite brewers. We visited their brewery just a month ago, as a matter of fact, to enjoy a few brews and a Cajun band that was playing among the fermenting tanks. Along with Central Waters, the party also included three breweries we weren’t familiar with: Short’s Brewing from Michigan brought ten different brews, Nebraska Brewing Company from, um, Nebraska brought eight, and Lift Bridge from Minnesota brought two. We weren’t hoping to try anywhere near that many, and a good thing, too, because there was a crazy big crowd there and the bar was busier than a swarm of bees.

I started with the hoppy beers, because I knew I’d be drinking them all by myself. They were serving 4-ounce tasters, so no problem there. Hop God, a Belgian IPA from Nebraska, was satisfyingly hoppy, but Dan’s Pink Skirt, an American IPA from Short’s, was insanely hoppy, like having Andre the Giant stuff fistfuls of hops right up my nose. I finished them both anyway. I love hoppy, and I had plenty of water on hand. Also, hamburger.

After dinner, we wandered upstairs to try out some of the other brews on offer. Of the brews from Short’s, I wanted to try Bludgeon Yer Eye PA, a Black IPA, but somehow we didn’t get around to it, but they’ll have it at the Great Taste so I’ll try to catch up with them later this afternoon. We did get to try Smoked Apple Ale, a Rauchbier with a distinct apple flavor (and I swear I tasted cinnamon, too); Chocolate Wheat, a porter with chocolate malt that B liked quite a bit; and Nicie Spicie, an American Wheat beer brewed with peppercorns, which would have gone exceptionally well with the giant-sized burger I could still taste.

The only other brew from Nebraska that we tried was the Summer Rye, which I liked quite a lot but B couldn’t abide the aroma. We also tried both beers from Lift Bridge: Farm Girl, a saison that would ideally be served ice-cold on a hot day at the beach; and Chestnut Hill, a Brown Ale that was a little bland.

The rain that had been coming down all the while we were at Brickhouse let up just long enough for us to walk back to the car. How great is that?

pre-GTOTMW | 8:26 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
Comments Off on pre-GTOTMW

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

I froze my ass off today. Really. I have no ass.

I sat in line with My Darling B – stood, for a while, but mostly sat, so I’m defaulting to that – for five hours this morning to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest. The skies were clear, the day was sunny, the temps were in the low fifties. Wouldn’t have been a bad day at all to sit in a lawn chair all morning reading or playing cards or otherwise whiling away the time as we waited for the doors to open. When the wind wasn’t blowing it wasn’t a bad day, but the wind was blowing more than it wasn’t, and it was blowing hard. No gentle breeze, this wind made reading a book difficult, reading the Sunday paper impossible (I still haven’t gotten around to reading it), and the only card game we might have played would have been Fifty-Two Pickup. We could have played that game just once. And it sapped every bit of warmth, right down to the marrow of my bones, out of me and My Darling B in just an hour, maybe less, so the other four hours we were technically cold enough to be dead, had anybody with medical training checked, which thankfully never happened or I’d be in a body bag at the morgue right now.

Why would we wait in line for so long, risking death by hypothermia, for tickets to a beerfest? Ah, this is no mere beerfest. This is the beerfest, the Great Taste of the Midwest, tickets for which only the blessed and the saved can get hold of. The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild want to keep the festival to a manageable size, so they sell just 6,000 tickets to the event each year, 3,000 by mail and 3,000 at various retail outlets across Madison. The manner by which they sell the tickets is so arcane that the uninitiated have almost no chance of getting in.

The mail-order tickets, for instance, are sold by lottery. You must mail in your request on a certain date. Requests that are postmarked on any other day are sent back. They sell just two tickets to each person. The orders that are postmarked on the correct day are thrown into a hat (the biggest hat in the world, I’m told; a fedora, in case anybody’s asking) and 1,500 letters are drawn at random. The rest are sent back to the unlucky ones who then scour Craigslist hoping that someone will have a change of plans or who bought an extra for a friend who can no longer make it. There may be a few scalpers among ticket buyers to the Great Taste, but I’ll bet a six-pack of my favorite Hinterland brew there are darned few.

The sale of 600 tickets at Star Liquor on Willy Street opens at twelve o’clock promptly, and people start lining up to buy them the night before. No, really. People camp out overnight to get hold of a couple tickets to this event, that’s how devout they are about this enterprise. We are not that devout. We didn’t get in line the night before, or even before sunrise this morning; we showed up at about eight o’clock, an hour earlier than we did last year because we just barely got there under the cutoff. How did we know we cut it so close? Because there’s a guy at the end of the line helpfully counting noses. Anybody in line after Standee Number Three-Hundred was hoping against hope that at least some of the people ahead of them were not buying two tickets each. That’s got to be a nail-biter.

This year, getting in line an hour earlier, we were just under the wire again. I guess that means next year we’ll have to show up at seven. *sigh*

To make the wait as pleasant as possible we brought along camp chairs, a couple of books (I brought along a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, a novel I’d started only the day before, figuring it would keep me plenty busy; little did I know. In two hours I managed to bull my way through twelve pages, so dense was the text. At this rate, I won’t finish until Christmas) and lunch. We did not bring winter sleeping bags. If only the day had not appeared to be so warm and inviting, we might have wrapped ourselves in thick, quilted flannel and kept ourselves toasty warm. But no. That would not have been consonant with the wishes of The Great Cosmic F.U.

To stave off complete and total conversion to human Pop-sicles we took turns walking to a local grocery store. I made two trips to a bakery, first to get scones, then to refill my coffee mug. It helped a bit, especially the hot coffee, but eventually I was completely numb from the tips of my fingers all the way up to the wrist. My lips were numb and I thought they were probably corpse-blue, too, but nobody said anything so maybe they weren’t.

I started packing up the camp chairs about twenty minutes before twelve and, not two minutes later, the line lurched forward in the first of many accordion-like compressions that eventually took us all the way to within a few paces of the corner of Few Street and Willy Street. If anything, I felt even colder from here to the very doorstep of Star Liquor. Most of the wait was in the shade, and there was some kind of freak weather pattern whipping the wind up to near-tornadic strength in the parking lot next to Star Liquor where the line snaked up to the side entrance. B kept pressing herself close against me so I can only assume she felt at least as cold as I did. My lips were too numb for me to form intelligible words, so I couldn’t ask her.

A few minutes past one o’clock we finally walked out of the store with tickets in hand, grinning like idiots. Once home, I made a big pot of hot coffee at the request of My Darling B, who curled up on the sofa with a steaming hot mug o’ java, wrapped up in quilts, where she stayed for at least an hour, slowing thawing out.

Hypothermic | 5:30 pm CST
Category: beer, books, coffee, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
Comments Off on Hypothermic

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

image of happy beer loversWhile I was looking through the photos I shot at the Great Taste of the Midwest yesterday, the first thought that came to mind when I saw this one was, Who are these people? My brain was still a little fogged from imbibing a bit too enthusiastically at the Great Taste this year.

I’m usually a lot more careful about how much I drink at the Great Taste because, the first year we went, we had no plan at all. We just wandered from one tap to the next, drinking as much beer as we wanted, like kids in a candy store. We never stopped to take a break and never drank anything but beer. Not surprisingly, we were so drunk by the time they stopped serving that we could hardly prop each other up long enough to make it to the taxi stand.

The year after that near-catastrophe, we came up with a plan: We brought a cooler filled with ice-cold bottled water, stuffed our backpacks with snacks, and took the trouble to bring a couple camp chairs. They passed out programs while we waited in line at the entrance, so we planned to sample about a dozen or so beers all in the same tent, then retire to our camp chairs, eat some snacks and drink loads of water while we thumbed through the program, planning the next round of beers we’d like to drink. That worked so well we did it again the next year.

This year, though, I was enjoying myself so much I sort of fell off the wagon. We ran into quite a few people we knew, so we never seemed to get the chance to wander back to our camp to rest and rehydrate. I drank the bottle of water that was in my pocket, and I’m pretty sure that’s all the water I drank until about five o’clock when I started to get headspins. I hate headspins. I shuffled off in desperate search of our camp, where I plopped my ass down in a seat and drank all the bottled water I could hold. My Darling B found me there at about five-thirty. She told me later I looked awful.

So I won’t be doing it that way again. Must stick to the plan. I got this really good photo out of it, though.

Great Taste | 5:33 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
Comments Off on Great Taste

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

beer, brewing, Star Liquor, Great Taste of the MidwestThis is where it all starts: People waiting in line (in this case, at Star Liquor on Willy Street) to buy their tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, which is quickly becoming the biggest celebration of craft beer in the nation, to say nothing of it being the most sought-after ticket in town.

Last year we got tickets by mail. They have a lottery every year, but the odds aren’t very good: There are only one-thousand tickets available, you must send your check in on one particular date, and about a gojillion people write in. We were flat-out amazed when our check was cashed and still flat-out amazed when the tickets arrived in our mailbox a week later.

The two years before that, we got our tickets through the generosity of a guy My Darling B works with. He always bought four tickets, because they let you do that back then (you can only buy two apiece now) and because he figured he would run into somebody who would like to go as much as he did. And lucky us, he asked B if she wanted a couple tickets after it turned out all his other buddies had something else going on that weekend.

How do you forget the biggest beer festival is going on and plan something else that weekend? It’s beyond me, but I can’t say I spend a whole lot of time wondering about it.

This year, we didn’t want to impose on anybody and we didn’t want to rely on being lucky enough to win the lottery two years in a row. And last year, our friends at Star Liquor said that everyone who got in line for tickets went home happy. Some of them were so dedicated, they got in line at five o’clock in the morning. We weren’t as gung-ho as that. We jump in the car and head over didn’t head over there until nine and got into line at maybe nine-fifteen. By then, the line stretched around the corner, down the street, around the next corner and halfway down the back side of the block.

A couple of guys from The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild were selling the tickets, and they had just six hundred to sell at Star. You could get tickets and two or three other liquor stores in town, but Star Liquor had more than anybody else. And they’re our buddies. We wouldn’t shop for our liquor anywhere else. *schmooze, schmooze* When B and I got in line we were handed slips of paper with “264” and “265” on them, guaranteeing us a couple tickets each, so we got there just in the nick of time, although next year we’ll probably have to leave the house at eight o’clock if we want to get tickets.

My Darling B, Great Taste of the MidwestEven though they were handing out numbers, at least one of us still had to stand in line. They strongly suggested it would be bad form for us to leave our lawn chairs to hold our spots while we went to breakfast, shopped for groceries, went home to get a nap and then came back, but we’d planned to stand in line all morning, anyway. I had a couple books in my backpack, and B had plenty of reading material to help her while away the hours, too.

To make the morning even better, B won the raffle for a 1/6 barrel of Furthermore beer! That’s really good beer, in case you’ve never had any. And she didn’t even have to buy the ticket! They were handing them out free to everyone as a way of saying, ‘thanks for waiting in line all morning!’ Then, at around eleven-thirty, a great cheer arose from the direction of the liquor store as the winning ticket was drawn, and shortly thereafter one of the guys from the store came walking down the line holding up a sign with the winning raffle ticket number magic-markered on it.

I checked my ticket. “Damn! One number off!”

“That’s because it’s my number!” My Darling B said, and held her ticket up in the air.
Here’s the lucky girl with her winning ticket. We’ll let you know when we pick out the date for the patio party at Our Humble O’Bode!

Next stop: The Great Taste of the Midwest!

tickets | 6:27 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags:
Comments Off on tickets

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 CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW09

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 CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW08 roundup

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Yesterday we took a break from grilling our dinner by stopping at the Harmony Bar on the way home and chowing down on wonderfully greasy, cheese-covered hamburgers, but since we were home for dinner tonight I went right back out to the Weber and started a fire big, hot fire to grill the very same spicy weenies I had planned to cook for guy night. And that satisfies the burning desire I had to find a way to work the phrase “spicy weenies” into a daily drivel post.

We didn’t go straight home, but stopped on Willy Street to buy some potato chips to eat with our weenies (My Darling B requires that we have a vegetable with every meal, no matter how poorly it may fit the definition) and see if Star Liquor was hosting one of their semiregular Friday evening beer tastings. They weren’t, but that didn’t stop us from grabbing a six-pack of Furthermore Proper to take home with us, just the kind of refreshing beverage that goes ever so perfectly with grilled sausages.

Speaking of beer, I hope I’m not bragging when I say that My Darling B is the most awesome wife in the whole wide world, but if I am, tough darts. She came home from work today with two tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, arguably the beer festival that more beer lovers try to get into than any other. They don’t only come from miles around, they come from the other side of the planet. Tickets were sold out the minute they went on sale because people camp overnight on the pavement outside the places that sell them, and the odds of winning the tiny fraction of tickets held back for the mail-order lottery have shrunk to chances so astronomically small they make winning a quarter billion dollars on Powerball look easy.

But My Darling B, who is the most wonderful girl anywhere on earth, in case I haven’t made that clear, knows a guy who knows a guy … it usually comes down to that, doesn’t it? Not that she cultivates herself as a woman who wields enormous influence by virtue of being well-connected, but, okay, she is. When you can score tickets to The Great Taste of the Midwest, you are by definition amazingly well-connected.
Funnily enough, she wasn’t even looking for tickets because she figured there simply wouldn’t be any available ever. Then one of her coworkers dropped by her cubicle and asked if she was still thinking she’d like to go, and she affected an air of casual interest coyly answered, “Well, HELL YES!” And now we’re going.

GTMW08 score tickets | 6:48 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW08 score tickets

Monday, August 13th, 2007

The good people who brew beer for a living have a tradition of dreaming up the goofiest names possible for their potions. Featured at this year’s Great Taste of the Midwest were brews such as Dirty Helen Ale, Discombobulation Celebration, and Under the Kilt Heavy. For the people who like to drink beer, giving them an opportunity to say, “Let me wet my lips on Dirty Helen!” is like throwing gasoline on a fire. No doubt it encourages a lot of newbies, too, but it can put the kibosh on others, such as My Darling B, who wouldn’t go near the ale called “Moustache Ride” because she couldn’t bring herself to ask for it. “Just point,” I suggested, but she didn’t dare to go even that far. She’s ever so reserved.

GTMW07 names | 6:57 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW07 names

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

It’s beer day! I probably won’t be in any shape to write about it tonight, so I thought I’d mention it now. After lunch, Barb and I will head for the Great Taste of the Midwest, an annual festival of microbrewers who converge on Olin park, bringing tuns filled with their wares so we can spend the afternoon “sampling” them. My constitution is no longer chemically able to withstand the kind of pollution five hours of drinking carefully fermented alcohol would normally inflict on it, so I’ll have to go easy this afternoon — no gulping. Still, I plan to get my money’s worth, so although I don’t intend to get mindlessly blotto, I have a funny feeling I’ll end up somewhere north of there. No doubt I’ll have to stay up late guzzling one pint glass after another of ice water in an effort to avoid that dream where I clamp my lips around the nozzle of a gushing fire hose. So you might hear from me later, after all.

GTMW07 preview | 6:56 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW07 preview

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

My Darling B got hold of two tickets to the 2007 Great Taste of the Midwest craft beer festival, sponsored by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Tickets have been sold out since early May, so this was no small feat. I keep saying she’s magical, but this proved it once and for all.

GTMW07 score | 6:55 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
Comments Off on GTMW07 score