There is a lot going on in the Wisconsin sports world these days with football starting in 23 days, football recruiting going on all the damn time and potentially the best basketball recruiting class in school history either happening or falling apart (depending on the day). I think now is a good time to take a step back, regroup, and then drink a trough full of amazing beer!
The 28th annual Great Taste of the Midwest, put on by the entirely volunteer Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, is the best beer festival in the Midwest and I don't really care what you clowns in Michigan say about whatever stupid beer festivals you have. Saturday at 1 p.m., thousands of craft beer nerds -- and don't let them tell you otherwise... they are nerds -- will descend on Olin Park in Madison to drink some of the rarest beers Midwest breweries have to offer.
Tickets have been sold out since the day they went on sale in May. People camp out overnight at various beer retailers in and around the Madison area for the chance to buy their two tickets, and as someone who got there six hours before tickets went on sale, and was well over 100-people deep in line, I consider that crazy. However, for those of you who didn't snag tickets, Friday night -- affectionately known as Great Taste Eve -- contains myriad awesome tap takeovers around Madison from breweries that often don't distribute to Wisconsin. So, you don't really have an excuse to not try some awesome beers this weekend unless you aren't in Madison or don't like beer... weirdo.
This year there will be 160-plus breweries with over 1,000 beers to sample and I intend on telling you which ones you need to try, if you're attending, or ones you need to be jealous that I'm trying, if you aren't going. First of all, here is the program for you to peruse before Saturday afternoon and believe me, making a plan of attack is important. There are too many beers for you to try and go in blind, and it becomes a bit of a sensory overload when you walk in.
Breweries to try
The great thing -- well, one of the great things -- about the Great Taste is that it gives Wisconsin residents the chance to try beers they normally can't get their hands on. Despite ending that last sentence with a preposition, please take my advice on these four breweries to try if you have the chance on Saturday.
Fat Head's Brewing just outside of Cleveland is not one to miss. Having a logo that looks like the one uncle that everyone in Wisconsin has will make you feel right at home whilst sipping their brews. I stopped by their facility in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, a few weeks ago and came away extremely impressed with their beer and the giant pretzel (complete with Head Hunter wasabi stoneground mustard) they serve there. Head Hunter IPA is their flagship beer, and biases be damned, one I have in my fridge right now! It's a West Coast-style IPA, meaning it socks you in the jaw with hoppiness and grapefruit/citrus flavors. They will be pouring beers at booth 205 on Saturday.
Short's Brewing is what I like to call Michigan's New Glarus. It's produced in Bellaire, Michigan (NW part of the mitten), and is probably the only reason you should set foot in that God-forsaken state. Here in Chicago, I'm "lucky" to have a few friends from Michigan that are nice enough to share their Short's with me after they visit their parents. My favorite is Huma Lupa Licious, a hoppy, citrusy IPA that has a solid malt backbone to balance out the beer. I've also enjoyed the India Spruce Pilsner (which has distinct gin qualities) and Strawberry Short's Cake (brewed with fresh strawberries and milk sugar). Obviously because the world is out to get me, none of these beers appear on Short's docket for the Great Taste this year. They are bringing something called Imperial Peaches and Creme however, and if my love for 112 has taught us anything, it's that I'll drink any beer named after a song of theirs.
DryHop Brewers is my local brewery here in Chicago. It is a short bus ride away from my apartment and the bartenders occasionally recognize me. Needless to say it is the greatest spot in the city. Shark Meets Hipster, a wheat IPA, is their flagship beer and they will be pouring that all day Saturday. The one I recommend trying, however, is the 3Peat (imperial stout). It is named after the great Michael Jordan Bulls teams of the 90s and if the kids have taught me anything it is that the 90s are in right now.
Surly Brewing is the last one to check out. They are a superior outfit out of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, that only distributes to the land of a bunch of lakes and Chicago (woo!). Many of you beer nerds have probably already tried Surly Furious, an aggressively hopped APA, but trust me, there is way more to sample here. Surly Pentagram is a dark, sour beer that is aged in wine barrels and uses the ever popular Brettanomyces yeast strain to add a serious funk to the beer. Sour beers are the new IPA if you're trying to impress some idiot that says they only drink "barrel-aged special release beers."
Beers to try
Besides those four breweries that you can't miss, here are a couple of beers you should definitely wait in line for... after you've waited in line to get a ticket and then waited in line to get into the festival.
Four Hands Passion Fruit Prussia Berliner Weisse
This is another sour beer, but one that is low in alcohol content. In case you couldn't figure it out, this style of beer hails from Berlin. In Germany. Most often across the pond, the beer is served with a flavoring syrup, hence the passion fruit part of Four Hands' name.
Bell's Black Note
My favorite imperial stout that I tried at FOBAB (Festival of Barrel Aged Beers) here in Chicago two years ago. Chocolate, espresso and bourbon come through in this rich, velvety beer. Please to enjoy.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout aged in Weller Barrels
Goose Island's Bourbon County series has been one of the most popular special releases that any brewery in the country does. Aging it in Weller barrels that previously housed a special Manhattan cocktail served at The Violet Hour (a premier cocktail bar in Chicago)? That's some next-level ish right there.
O'So Brewing Coffee Sour
Wisconsin's own O'So is bringing a coffee sour beer to the festival. I have no idea what that is and I must have it.
So, folks, there you have it. A bunch of beer geeks are descending on our fair college town this weekend so please don't beat anybody up that is talking about the original gravity of a barrel-aged porter. They're just in town for the Great Taste. Hit me up in the comments if you're going this weekend -- I'll buy you a beer between 1 and 6 p.m. at Olin Park.