This weekend an elite foursome headed to Madison to join another half dozen our our cronies who were lucky enough to get tickets to one of the finest beer events in the country, the Great Taste of the Midwest. The event is held under the live oaks in Olin-Turville Park on Lake Monona in Madison, WI. Unlike other beer festivals I've attended this one always comes off like clockwork. The buses transporting folks to and from the venue are efficient, there are plenty of Porta-potties, there are several tents for the brewers which disperses the crowd and makes getting your beer sample easier, and they managed to get 6,000 people in the gate in around 15 minutes. Six thousand out of the roughly 25,000 that applied for tickets.
We had two rookies and a number of grizzled veterans in the group. We always bring folding chairs and set up a small enclave under an oak tree that serves as a base camp. Every year the plan is refined a bit and this year we decided to set up as close to the Real Ale tent as humanly possible. Out of the 125 or so breweries, three or four beers apiece, there were roughly 60 cask conditioned ales and this is where the brunt of our groups attention was focused. One of our rookie members managed to take notes for a couple hours and also had a mental beer progression from the bitters to the IPA's, and then on to the brown ales, porters and stouts. We warned him that this might fall by the wayside and sure enough, hedonistic and indiscriminate beer tasting without a single note began to occur a couple hours after the gates opened. It was hotter than hell and more humid than a Florida swamp but since this event is a well oiled machine, plenty of drinking water was available and taken advantage of. I ran into Mark Stutrud, the man behind Summit Brewing Co, and we discussed the fact that on year two of this event, roughly 1986 or so, they were so busy brewing with their 4 man crew that they sent me down to the event with a lone half barrel of Great Northern Porter in my trunk. It was held at the old Fess Hotel, current site of excellent Great Dane brewpub, one of the few spots where cask ale is always available. I seem to remember about 6 or 8 breweries there, including Summit, Sprecher, Schells, and the sadly defunct Hibernia from my hometown of Eau Claire, WI.
The people watching was great. Everything from the humorous to the erotic to the bizarre was represented as these three humorous, erotic, and bizarre images illustrate. The cops even love working this event because, as one told me, 'nothing really happens and no one gets out of hand...its like free money'. We did notice that there was a significantly greater amount of singing, yellling, and smart assed commenting on the bus ride back to the Weary Traveler than there was on the way over. And my seat companion did fall off the seat and into the aisle when we rounded a corner, and never did get back up into the seat. It was the usual fine event although it may cost me some money. I invested in a merino wool T-shirt at Midwest Mountaineering's Outdoor Retailer of the Year party on Thursday. To show their appreciation for the award they had free Summit beer and brats in their parking lot, a sure winner in my book. I wore the T shirt in the steam bath that was last Saturday in Madison, with a cotton collared shirt over it. While saying I was cool would be a bold faced lie, I was very comfortable and not a bit clammy as I would be when my cotton T shirt became soaked through with sweat. Damn it, I may need to pick up another one and they ain't cheap.
I always feel slightly guilty 'burning' a weekend with no paddling, biking, or other activities but I think this is on the annual list to stay, at least as long as we keep getting lucky with the tickets. My top five beers by the way, were all real (cask) ales: Barley John's Bitter, the Great Dane bitter, New Albanian Beak's Best, the rare Summit cask EPA, and Surly's Teabag Bitter. Did I mention that ESB, Extra Special Bitter, is my favorite beer style? I thought so. I hope you enjoy the post as much as I liked the beer.