Tuesday, August 23, 2011

25th Annual Great Taste of the Midwest

Editor's note:  this is the first guest post the Michigan Beer Blog has done:  guest bloggers Jake Berglin and Beth Bennett traveled to Madison, WI, in order to bring you the experience of Michigan Beer at the Great Taste of the Midwest.

As any craft beer lover living in Michigan knows, we are fortunate to have one of the best craft beer scenes in the US. Still, it is nice to sometimes venture outside of the state to other breweries and festivals. This allows individuals the chance to see how Michigan breweries fare outside of the state and even try a few beers from outside Michigan.

Through the generosity of Shakespeare’s Pub and Short’s Brewing, Beth and I made the five-or-so-hour trek to Madison, Wisconsin to attend the 25th Annual Great Taste of the Midwest. As the name implies, the festival showcases beer in the Midwest, with breweries from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri bringing the best of their beers to be sampled by 6000 beer lovers.

Our day started off at the Short’s tent, where we donned our volunteer t-shirts and began pouring for the brewers and their guests before the festival officially began. However, calling Short’s area a “tent” is perhaps a mistake – Short’s brought the full arsenal to Madison, a beach-themed double bar comprised of a surfboard sawed in two. To be honest, there were almost as many comments about the booth (and the view of beautiful Lake Monona) as there were for the beer!

The Booth...

and the view!

Short’s came to the Great Taste prepared, with ten of their beers on tap. The experimental Carrot Cake and Bloody Beer were crowd favorites, as I expect attendees scanned the program for something “different.” Collaboration beers like the Captain Fantasy (pear saison) with Half Acre out of Chicago and the Cornholio (a dark lager with horehound and popcorn) with Dogfish Head upped Short’s “street cred” a bit. After all, surely two well-known breweries attached to a beer is better than one!

Pouring was only part of the reason we drove all the way to Madison, so we quickly set out with our own souvenir glasses to check in on the other Michigan breweries.  Many Michigan breweries were present at the Great Taste, each with their own take on presenting themselves. We began our journey at Kuhnhenn Brewing from Warren. They brought, among other beers, their sour series; they took a base sour beer (“A Play in the Hay,” delicious in its own right) and then augment it with flavors such as Blueberry, Cherry and Tangerine. The beers were well-received, an encouraging feat as sour beers still seem to be finding their place in the craft beer scene.

Dark Horse Brewery from Marshall used a wall of fruit to attract customers and set themselves apart from those around them. Attendees were encouraged to grab a watermelon, orange, pineapple or lemon from the side booth as they sampled the Dark Horse beer. They offered some of their better known beers (Crooked Tree IPA, Raspberry Ale, Sapient Trip Ale, Boffo Brown) as well as the Red Hot Shocker (brewed with jalapenos and red hot candies, and surprisingly delicious, given that I don’t prefer spicy foods) and the “Smells Like Weed” IPA, tapped at -- you guessed it – 4:20pm. While this was not quite the same as their gigantic six booth setup at Summer Beer Fest in Ypsilanti, Dark Horse certainly made a strong showing.

Equally strong was the presentation from New Holland Brewing. They listed sixteen beers in their section on the program, with many beers being offered in different forms throughout the day. The Pilgrim’s Dole Wheat Wine, for instance, was offered in a Rum Aged form at one point, then again in a 2008 legacy bottle later in the day. As if the panoply of beers wasn’t enough, the New Holland staff came dressed in a Wizard of Oz theme, with Dorothy pouring beer out of their signature Elvis tapper which was dressed as Tin Man. Seeing Fred (New Holland’s “Beervangelist”) decked out as the Cowardly Lion, pouring Pilgrim’s Dole out of a giant Magnum bottle was certainly reason enough to pull you to the New Holland booth, and the delicious beer did its best to keep you there!

Fred from New Holland, finding his Courage

My favorite beer of the day was the Black Note from Bell’s. A 50/50 mix of the Expedition Stout and the Cream Stout, this beer is aged in bourbon barrels for 12 months and it is knock-your-socks-off good, on par with the Three Floyd's Dark Lord and Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout -- to my palate, even a bit better. Perhaps it was the rain pouring outside the tent, allowing Beth and I to just stand there and sip pour after pour of this amazing beer, but it won the day and capped off an amazing event!

Pouring was not something that Beth and I have experienced before, but it is definitely something we would love to do again. Being able to interact with fellow beer lovers (and to give them delicious beer!) was awesome, and it was an honor to have our first pouring experience be for a brewery we love and respect. It was great to see such an amazing turnout, especially since several of these Michigan breweries -- including Short’s -- don't even distribute to Wisconsin. 

Cheers!  Thanks to Short's Brewing, Shakespeare's of Kalamazoo, and the Michigan Beer Blog!


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