The Great Taste of the Midwest

“We Only Have Five Hours to Drink!”

This was deemed the quote of the day after it was sarcastically shouted towards the many festival attendees that rushed towards the entrance of The Great Taste of the Midwest this past Saturday at 1PM sharp. I was fortunate enough to attend this festival for the very first time this year, which also happened to be the event’s 25th Anniversary, making the Great Taste the second longest running beer festival in the country. I didn’t even make it to half of the breweries I wanted to but I hope this little recap will allow you to get a tiny glimpse at the sheer awesomeness that is The Great Taste of the Midwest.

The fest is held in beautiful Olin Park, Madison, Wisconsin, situated on Lake Monona overlooking the Wisconsin State Capitol. The weather cooperated for the most part; there was a torrential downpour that began with one hour of drinking time remaining (hey, there are worse things in the world than to be trapped in a tent with unlimited beer samples while waiting for a storm to pass). As always, I traveled with my Beer Partner in Crime, my hubby. We didn’t really have a plan as to what breweries we wanted to hit up and I think this was to our detriment. If we attend next year, we definitely need to spend a few days scouring the map, iPhone app, and website to ensure we know which breweries to go to and which special releases are a must. We tried to hit up the more obscure breweries that do not distribute to Chicago although we visited a few of our long-time local favorites as well.

Speaking of local favorites, the entrance to Great Taste was right by the tent that housed Metropolitan Brewing so I decided to have Iron Works Alt be my first beer of the fest. I love this beer; it is one of my favorite go-to, everyday beers right now. And not only is this one of my favorite breweries, but they had the BEST tap handles at the fest. There were two robots (a man and a woman, I assume to symbolize the husband/wife team of Doug and Tracy Hurst) and the arms acted as dispensers for their four flagship beers: Iron Works Alt, Krankshaft Kolsch, Flywheel Bright Lager, and Dynamo Copper Lager. So cool!

While at the Metropolitan tent, I ran into Josh Deth, owner and “Chairman of the Party” of Revolution Brewing. We clinked glasses and wished each other a great Great Taste.

The hubby and I decided to try Fitger’s Brewhouse from Duluth, MN which was located next to Metropolitan.

The hubby loved their Black Solstice Saison, a black saison brewed with spices such as peppercorns. Hubby loved it so much that he neglected to save me a sip. Thanks, honey. I had the Decadence, an Imperial Stout brewed with raspberries and cocoa nibs. This beer had a fantastic aroma with fresh raspberries on the nose. It had a cocoa flavor at first sip but a slightly sour finish thanks to the raspberries.

Next we hit up Ale Asylum. After the malty beers I had sampled thus far, I was craving hops. I didn’t see an IPA available at the Ale Asylum booth so I chose to taste the Hopalicious, an American Pale Ale. It was dry with a mild hop flavor but not as hoppy as I thought it was going to be. Next I tried the IPA from Illinois Brewing in Bloomington, IL. I think something might be wrong with the tap lines; the aroma was of cheese and the flavors were a little off, almost like tap water.

New Holland Brewing didn’t disappoint. I had the 2008 Pilgrim’s Dole Wheat Wine which was intense, sweet and delicious, although I couldn’t pick out any nuance offered by the wheat; it tasted like a regular barleywine to me. Hubby had the Mutinous Battle Chai which had a tea-like aroma and a spicy, pumpkin ale-esque flavor.

You can’t go to a Wisconsin beer festival without hitting up New Glarus. I had the Black Top Black IPA which is a new beer in the New Glarus family. This had an awesome floral hop aroma thanks to healthy doses of Amarillo hops. It was hop-forward without the roastiness from the black malts. My only criticism was that the color wasn’t quite there; it was more of a brown than a black. Hubby had ABT which had the aroma of a standard amber ale but it had a spicy nutmeg, cinnamon taste.

I was excited to see Amalgamated Brewery Co. from St. Louis there as they have a female head brewer. I tried the IPA which had a slight hop nose but wasn’t a hop monster as many other IPAs are. I’m not going to lie, this was not my favorite IPA but I can see how this could be a gateway IPA for those not accustomed to hoppy beers. The description of this beer is a “session IPA” which definitely goes along with my interpretation. The hubby had the Munich Helles which I preferred to the IPA. It was crisp, light, and bready.

Hinterland Brewery is out of Green Bay, WI and I sampled their Oktoberfest. It was light with a slight Marzen taste but it wasn’t as forward as some other Oktoberfests. Buffalo Brewing out of St. Louis had my favorite chili beer of the day. I typically have not been a fan of chili beers but this one was refreshing yet spicy at the same time. They take their golden blonde ale and then “dry-hop” with various types of peppers. This allowed the beer to be crisp on the start with a lingering heat that cascades down your throat. I also had the Rye IPA which smelled gorgeous. It had a dry mouthfeel with hop flavor on the front end and a bitter finish.

Out of all of the breweries in attendance, Vintage Brewing had the best set-up. They had a lounge, complete with couches, a fuse-ball table, and an aquarium behind the tap line. They also had the largest number of taps out of any brewery in attendance at the Great Taste with a total of 36. Not bad for an establishment that has only been brewing for two years. I had the Wheaty Peaty which had a bready, malt nose and Marzen-like malty taste. Hubby had 30 Point Bock, a Dunkles Bock Lager. Both were quite tasty. I have passed this establishment many times driving through Madison but have never stopped in. I definitely will make this a destination when I am in Madison again!

After all of this beer, we decided to grab some food. I was actually pretty impressed with the food selections here. And sitting at the picnic tables allowed for a chance to speak with some of our fellow beer lovers. I overheard one young man talking about a beer he tried called Pablo Picasso which he thought was one of the best beers he had sampled that day. Knowing it was a limited release from Revolution, I immediately began speaking with him about this dark Belgian ale aged for 13 months in Cabernet barrels with sour cherries. I think I may have made an impact on this young man, as I kept running into him throughout the day and he kept giving me tastes of whatever was in his glass, including Surly Four (an Iced Double Espresso Milk Stout that tasted like a coffee milkshake) and Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Rare. I also met Tal, an IT guy who is developing an app that is going to put Untapped to shame. Keep an eye out for Dingus!

OK, back to the beer. At the Great Dane booth, I had the Bourbon Barleywine, which was very good but the alcohol overpowered it a little; it could use a bit more aging. I also had the Imperial IPA which had an intense hop aroma and a bitter taste. This definitely filled my craving for hops. This was a dangerous beer; I wanted 50 of them!

I was disappointed with the selection at the Broad Ripple Brewpub tent. I went to the brewpub when I was last in Indianapolis and was very impressed, especially with a heavily Amarillo-hopped lager. I couldn’t wait for the hubby to try this brewpub’s beer but they only had two offerings at the fest, one of which ran out before we got there.

Sprecher tends to excel at traditional styles of beer and their Oktoberfest was no different. This was a perfect example of the style and my preferred Oktoberfest of the day.

I couldn’t pass up beer from a brewery called Thirsty Pagan. I had the Chill’Axen American IPA which had a huge hop aroma and tasted exactly like it smelled. At New Albanian Brewing Co, I had the Hoptimus Imperial IPA which was aggressively hopped (100 IBUs!) with high alpha acid Nugget and Cascade, and dry hopped with whole cone Cascade. Hubby had Elector Imperial Red which was clean, metallic and you feel the 7.5% ABV rather than taste the alcohol.

At Schlafly I had the pumpkin ale which was spicy with malt on the nose and tasted of pumpkin bread. I am a huge fan of pumpkin beer but this one was a little too sweet for me. At O’so Brewing, we had the Dank Imperial Red which definitely wins the Imperial Red category for the day. The essence of an Irish Red ale is there but it was stronger and had hints of alcohol thanks to the aging in brandy barrels. While we were at the tent, they released the Night Train with Tobacco, an American Porter aged for 5 months in bourbon barrels with aged tobacco leaves. This was truly something special. The tobacco added a subtle sweetness with a beautiful nose and dry, tobacco undertones.

Next, we hit up the Real Ale Tent where many of the Great Taste participating breweries provided a firkin of real ale, meaning that it was fermented within the serving vessel with only gravity moving beer to glass (e.g., no gas is added).

I sampled from the firkin provided by Free State Brewing which was their Imperial Black IPA. This beer wasn’t quite black but the flavor was hoppy and delicious with a gorgeous aroma.

When the rain started, we found ourselves in the tent that housed Destihl Brewing. I had the Hoperation Overload which was amber-hued and had a floral hop character. I also sampled the Deadhead Double Red Ale which was hoppy and tasty as well, and added warmth that shielded me from the cool rain.

The rain subsided just as the festival was ending. This day absolutely flew by and, like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t get to visit half of the breweries we wanted to. As a means of concluding the day, I decided to come full circle and finish the day the way I started: with a lovely glass of Iron Works Alt.


I'm just a girl... Who likes beer. I typically share my reviews and write-ups on the blog but am ecstatic to have the opportunity to write for Chicago Beer Geeks. Send me a shout out on Twitter @grlslikebeertoo. Cheers!


  1. Great write-up. Wish I could have attended. After reading it reminded me I haven’t had a hopalicious in awhile. Love that stuff

  2. Pingback: He Said… She Said…Goose Island Belgian Fest 2011

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