100 brewers gather along the shore of Lake Monona to share their wares and enjoy the camaraderie. Joining them are 6000 highly appreciative fans, lining up before noon for the 1 p.m. start of this five-hour, 400 beers experience. This is the 14th Annual Great Taste of the Midwest, and the location is Olin-Turville Park just south of downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Organized with precision and dedication by the Madison Homebrewers & Tasters Guild, this year's event was completely sold out one week prior to the fest date.
The 80-degree temperature, low humidity, and intense sunshine all combined to encourage the sampling crowd to take their time and wander from tent to tent, receiving a friendly pour into their commemorative glass boot at each stop. The $20 admission price entitled lucky ticket holders to unlimited tastes of Midwest pride. States represented included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. To accommodate the Minnesota brewpubs that are otherwise precluded by their state's law from serving off-premise, the festival is host to the Great Taste of 10,000 Lakes tasting competition. Overall, each brewery strived to bring its more full-flavored beers. Most poured from kegs but a few, such as Sherlock's Home, featured firkin-fresh "real ale." The ales on hand were proud of their hops, while the lagers were not afraid to assert a big body along with noticeable alcoholic strength. Numerous Belgian-style ales and Bavarian-style wheats met with wide acceptance.
Rounding out the attractions were other tents housing vendors with cheese (no surprise there), nuts, brats, t-shirts, glassware, and beer publications. A centrally located, large, continuous running rinse station kept the "boots" clean while the plentiful Port-a-Potties accommodated those whose approach to the summer heat was to "drink plenty of fluids." After the event, the city's hospitality drew participants to the nearby brewpubs, taprooms, and restaurants that all featured great local beers. After witnessing the behind-the-scenes efforts required to put on such a well-respected events, then sampling the fruits of the volunteers' labor, it's easy to understand why the Great Taste of the Midwest stands apart from other national and regional beer festivals. Its reputation as a solid favorite with craft brewers and their appreciative customers is certainly well deserved. Next pouring - August 11, 2001.
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri -