Every summer, hundreds of beer lovers emerge from all corners of the country to partake in beer festivals - such as the Great Taste of the Midwest, where they have access to more beer than a person can really comprehend. This may sound dangerous to those sorry beerfest virgins who envision hoards of drunk people stumbling over themselves and raising havoc, but really, that's just half the fun.
A little about the Great Taste of the Midwest.
Sponsored by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, The Great Taste occurs in Madison's Olin Park each August and features over 150 craft beer vendors, most of which are from the Midwest, as the event's name suggests.
It is the second longest-running craft beer fest in the country (in line behind the Great American Beer Festival, which takes place each fall in Denver, Colo.). This year being the 27th annual Great Taste, it was bigger than ever, with over 1,000 beers to choose from. Also, each year has its own sample glass style emlazoned with the current year's GTMW logo. This year's sample glass was a super cute mini stout glass.
The only downside is that it's impossible to drink all of in the span of five hours. Don't even try. The lines are too long.
What it's like from the other side of the tap.
From personal observation, beerfests are the happiest, safest places on earth, and one of the few remaining vestiges of public inebriation.
It's almost as much fun to volunteer or work at a beerfest as it is attending one as a patron. Sure, there's hard work to do (kegs are not light, people!) and a slurring mob of beer loving gentlefolk to tend to, but if there is another job out there that allows copious amounts of beer consumption "on the clock," well, please point it my way.
There's also the fact that She Who Pours The Beer Has The Power.
The Giver of Beer is the beerfest god(dess). Those working the taps have the opportunity to make lifelong friends at these events. What a smart boost in confidence!
Being around like-minded individuals for a common purpose is always invigorating. Easily strike up conversations with strangers in the waiting line, give on-the-spot beer tasting reviews and compare results, and try small batch beer not found anywhere else. This is the definition of bliss to a beer connoisseur.
Towards the end of the event, "festies" display all levels of drunkitude. Once last call has happened, the drunkest of them are plodding down the line looking for the last vendor willing to serve. Yes, there are some messes, but I've been lucky to not witness someone forcefully making room for the next beer. And then the throngs of drunk festies herd along like cattle to the exits, some to continue the party in Madison's bars or selective after-fest house parties. The smart ones rent out group campsites with their friends and bring along their own favorite craft or home brews.
Just make sure to have a sober ride home. And riding your bicycle home doesn't count - that's just cheating.
What you will see at the Great Taste of the Midwest
- Scalpers just outside the beerfest gates (in case you missed out on buying tickets online before they sold out in like fifteen minutes).
- Funny hats.
- Unique tap handles.
- Endless beer tents. Like, the most daunting succession of canvass tops you'll ever see. With only five hours to drink, you're on your feet and running around frantically searching for the next worthy beer in hopes you will be able to Taste Them All. Resign yourself to the knowledge that you cannot possibly do this.
- Water troughs. (Stay hydrated, it's hot and sunny!)
- Special kegs, firkins and pins of single batch beers brewed especially for the fest. Some of these beers are barrel aged, infused with interesting/delicious ingredients, or unique styles not readily available in the Midwest.
- Lines. Endless lines in front of Bell's brewery tent and the port-o-johns.
- Wandering minstrels and wobbly dancing.
- Roly-poly drunks who sat on the grass for a minute to rest and forgot how to rise gracefully.
The next Great Taste of the Midwest will be held at the same location on August 9th, 2014. Hope to see you there!