People sometimes ask questions that we cannot answer, like, what’s your favorite beer? or, what’s your favorite bar or brewpub? We simply don’t have a single favorite. However, when asked what beer festival we would most like to attend, we don’t hesitate to answer, The Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, WI.
It was loud, it was rowdy and not everybody was stone cold sober.
We don’t make it there every year, but we circle the date in red on our calendar and look for an excuse to be in the neighborhood come early August.
This is the time of year to scribble the names of other beer gatherings on the calendar, just in case. Delightful events are held somewhere in the United States every week of the year. Some are big and well known―like the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and Oregon Brewers Festival. Some are pretty good sized and not so well known―such as the Peoria International Beer Festival each March. Some are small and for locals―most particularly, beer dinners and tastings at brewpubs and taverns.
We love the Great Taste because it is big (about 100 breweries) and intimate at the same time. The beer choices cover the spectrum, brewers are on hand to pour and talk about their beer (and often bring special beers), and the setting―beside Lake Monona with downtown Madison in the background―is beautiful. Most important, everybody has fun.
We aren’t the only ones who have noticed. Breweries and homebrew clubs across the Midwest organize bus trips to the festival. Many festival goers bring blankets and lawn chairs to Olin Turville Park, then hook up with friends to set up staging areas. Five thousand tickets go on sale each year on May 1 and are gone long before the second Saturday in August (August 10 this year).
In 1999 we bumped into Chris Black, publican of Denver’s well-known Falling Rock Tap House, at the festival. He had the same excited look in his eye that beer lovers get when they have a fabulous new beer for the first time. “Colorado doesn’t have anything like this,” he said, reeling off a list of new beers he had tried and brewers he had met.