Sunday, August 09, 2009

What I Great Tasted up in Madison...

Yesterday was the Great Taste of the Midwest up in Madison, WI. For those who have never been there, it's one of the top beer festivals in the U.S. (if not the world) and while it only features breweries from the Midwest, well, we have some damn good breweries in the Midwest. I didn't take copious notes of every beer I tried or anything like that, but I had enough noteworthy brews that I figured I'd post a quick recap. Oh, and I discovered when I got up there that my old point-and-shoot camera doesn't work so sorry, no pictures.

I guess I should start out with an Altbier report because, well, if you know me then you know I love my Alts. I often complain that American brewers don't know what Altbier is supposed to taste like, but last year I was pleasantly surprised to find three good Alts at the Taste. This year, there were again three Alts in the program and I was curious to see if more American brewers were "getting" what Alt's all about. The first one I had was from the Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, which to be honest I had never heard of before. Much to my surprise, it very well might have been the best traditional Düsseldorf-style Alt I've had in the States. It had an assertive but clean bitterness with a nice malt background. Oddly enough, the pourer informed me that they stopped filtering it a while ago (and it was indeed cloudy) and they thought it really improved the flavor. Whatever they're doing, they should keep on doing it.

The next one I had was from Gordon Biersch in Bolingbrook, IL. I've talked with their brewmaster, Kevin, about Alts before and I know that he understands Altbier so it wasn't a surprise that his was excellent. Unlike the Ohio Brewing Alt, his was sort of a tweener between a traditional Alt and a Sticke (at 6% it would certainly qualify as a Sticke by German standards) so it was a little more malty with the hops being a tad less assertive. I tend to go back and forth about whether I like regular Alts or Sticke Alts better, and Kevin's Alt definitely represented a happy medium that I could drink all afternoon.

Unfortunately, I never got around to trying the third Alt, a Sticke from Destihl in Bloomington, IL. Every time I went to their booth they told me they would be tapping it soon but by 4pm they still hadn't and, well, by the end I just forgot. Fortunately, I did try one thing at Destihl that blew my mind... a blonde ale infused with fresh strawberries. Now let me first note that, if you randomly asked how interested I would be in trying a strawberry blonde ale I would answer not very. However, they had their keg hooked up to a filter housing unit filled with fresh strawberries (much like Dogfish Head's Randall, only with strawberries instead of hops). I just had to try it, and boy am I glad I did. It had tons of fresh strawberry flavor and aroma, but it wasn't remotely sweet. It was awesome. Since I recently purchased a filter system to filter my beer, I could actually just pull out the filter and use the housing unit to do the same thing with my beer. I'm thinking a strawberry Kölsch would be awesome for next summer (and since it's after the beer is brewed, it's even Reinheitsgebot-compliant!).

Overall, I skipped a lot of the bigger brewers and tried to sample a lot from smaller brewers I hadn't come across before. The one hyped-up beer that I was really excited to try--Founders' Canadian Breakfast Stout--was actually a disappointment as I didn't really pick up much maple (the whole reason I was excited about it). And while many focus on the barrel-aged, 12% ABV ales, I found a couple great session beers: Capital's Supper Club pre-prohibition pilsner and Schell's Roggenbier. I had a couple crazy things that didn't really work for me (like Short's Strawberry Shortcake and some place pouring a shandy made with a dark, smoky beer) but it's a great opportunity to try those experiments without anything to lose. Not as many beers stuck out to me as they did last year, but it was still an awesome time.

Afterwards I went out for dinner at the Great Dane with the folks from Metropolitan Brewing and Steve and Jamie from the Drinking and Writing Brewery. I had heard a lot about the Great Dane and they didn't disappoint. I had a great Pilsner and an awesome ESB, along with some great meatloaf. And, despite the fact that it was predictably crowded post-Taste, the owner or manager or brewmaster (I've already forgotten his name and what his exact title is ... hey, it was a long day of drinking at that point!) was both very hospitable AND very generous. After dinner, we headed to another bar for a nightcap (had a tasty Central Waters IPA) before heading back to the hotel. Great beer and great company... an appropriate end to an awesome day.


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