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 CDT
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest
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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 CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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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 CDT
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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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 CDT
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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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 CDT
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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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 CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, Seanster
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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 CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, play
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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 CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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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 CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison Craft Beer Week, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , ,
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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 CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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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 CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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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 CDT
Category: beer, books, coffee, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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