I have never been to the Great Taste of the Midwest. For those that are unfamiliar, the Great Taste is one of the largest, and frequently referred to as one the best, beer festivals in 1,000 miles. On one day each year brewers from around the country gather at Olin Park in Madison, Wisconsin to permit festival goers to taste their best selections. With over 500 beers available for tasting, the Great Taste offers one of the most comprehensive beer tasting experiences around and has developed a reputation as a standout event in the beer community. As a result, it is increasingly more difficult to get tickets to the event, which usually requires staking out a place in line up to 10 hours before they go on sale each spring. Despite these challenging circumstances, this year a stroke of luck and some help of some really great friends permitted me to get my hands on a ticket to the Great Taste for the first time. As a result, I set aside the afternoon to celebrate three months of my “I have never...” experience the best way possible, with some incredible beer and a crowd of amazing people.
I will start this story by saying this blog entry won’t be long. Over the years people have told me the Great Taste of the Midwest experience was so incredible it was hard to describe. While I usually would dismiss such remarks in the past, I can say now I totally get it. The experience of the surroundings, the people, the beer, and the memories is hard to describe in a way that would make sense to anyone that has never had attended the event. Stated plainly, I’ve never been among a more jubilant and accessible crowd of people. From the brewers to the first-time attendees, we were all there to revel in a unique experience and to take away what memories we could from a beautiful summer celebration of life and beer. We spent five hours in a perpetual state of bliss. It was more than I could have ever expected.
Sure, part of my amazing experience was due to the fact that I tagged along with some Great Taste veterans and beer experts, Nils, Anders, and Dan, that guided me to the best spots at the best times, and for that I’m grateful. That stated, I know I would have been equally delighted by the experience had I simply wandered the grounds, randomly talked to people, and sampled the beers I happened upon along the way. From the moment I took my place in the massive line outside the grounds to the sound of final call for the festival closing I was among likeminded and like-spirited people from all over the country. No one needed to say it, but we all knew; for that time at the Great Taste life was grand, and we intended to make the best of every moment.
Once the festival drew to a close, I found my way to Rachael, who graciously offered to be my designated driver on the ride home. The entire length of the drive home I gushed about the event and the amazing beers I was able to experience. I told her about Nils guiding me to special releases of rare imperial stouts, sours, and artisan beers. I did my best to explain the complex flavors of the Three Floyds Dark Lord stout, the Side Project Blueberry Flanders, and the Toppling Goliath Morning Delight (which is the best beer I have ever tasted... EVER.). I tried to walk her through the setup of the grounds, which contained props, a temporary skate park, a silent disco party, and a mock “mad scientist” laboratory. Perhaps it was my state of mind, but I struggled to find the words to put the whole experience in order. I just couldn’t do it. The Great Taste of the Midwest is just one of those things a person needs to see firsthand to truly understand the experience. As a result, I knew I wasn’t going to make the attempt to walk through the whole experience here either. Instead, I’ll just simply state anyone that loves beer, relaxation, and awesome people needs to make The Great Taste of the Midwest a priority. There is a reason people wait hours in line for tickets, and I can now say, without question, they are justified in their actions.