On tap in Madison: A festival for craft beer connoisseurs

Many in attendance at the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wis., don costumes to celebrate the craft beer festival in Madison. Brewers occupy fi ve large tents on the festival. (H-W Photo/Matt Hopf)
Posted: Aug. 26, 2012 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 29, 2014 12:16 am
Visitors to the Great Taste of the Midwest receive a commemorative glass to get various samples of beer. Brewers are only supposed to provide 2-ounce samples. (H-W Photo/Matt Hopf)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

MADISON, Wis. -- Under the Kilt Wee Heavy. Deadhead Double Read Ale. Spicy Blonde. Notorious BIP. Peanut Butter Stout.

These are just five beers of hundreds to sample at the Great Taste of the Midwest, one of the premier craft beer tasting festivals in the country.

People lined up in anticipation to try many of the more than 500 brews from 142 brewers at the 26th annual Great Taste of the Midwest on Aug. 11 in Olin Park, which overlooks Lake Monona. Brewers come from across the Midwest.

The annual event hosted by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild gives a large portion of its proceeds to Community Radio WORT-FM and other local organizations.

When the gates open at 1 p.m. to the sound of a horn, thousands of people entered -- some even running -- ready to taste different craft brews, which many usually refer to as microbrews.

Taste Chairman Mark Garthwaite said he realized how big the festival had become when he saw a man in his 70s running with his glass ready to taste.

He said patrons should expect to see a whole lot of things they have never seen before, including brewers dressed with mullets and beers that "push the envelope.

"They will find one of the most festive, happy and cooperative groups of people you would ever find at a beer event," Garthwaite said.

Many people bring in lawn chairs and coolers with water and food and find a location off the beaten path to relax. Local musicians are scattered throughout the festival, keeping the mood upbeat.

The purpose of the Great Taste of the Midwest is to celebrate the craft of brewing beers.

"(Brewers) really are our rock stars," Garthwaite said. "They take this opportunity to let loose. They know they have a very targeted audience right here."

Each year, brewers work hard to catch the eye of patrons. They bring signs and displays.

Meanwhile, some patrons make sure they catch attention with capes or coats covered in vintage beer patches.

"Everybody here is trying to catch some extra attention," Garthwaite said. "You're going to see people in weird outfits that are not acting stupid. They are genuinely having fun and celebrating beer brewing."

Those in attendance receive a commemorative tasting glass, which they take to the different brewers to receive a 2-ounce sample.

Rinsing stations are provided throughout the park. The stations are necessary to keep the glass clean, especially after a heavy or sweet beer.

Beers of all varieties are available including stouts, ales, pale ales and wheat beers.

"You're going to find stuff that you've never heard of before or ideas you've never heard of," Garthwaite said.

The brewers are located in five large colorful tents spread out across the park. Some people go tent to tent trying different beers, while others look at the program and map out a course of action.

Garthwaite thinks the festival gives many people a sneak peak at beer trends coming in the future.

"The bourbon-barrel-aged beer craze is a really good example," he said. "I think we probably saw some of the first bourbon-barrel-aged beers at this event years ago."

One component of the festival features brewers offering special tappings. Depending on the popularity of the brewery, some people may wait more than 30 minutes to get their sample at the tappings. For example, Dark Lord, a beer from Three Floyds Brewing Co. of Munster, Ind., had a wait time of up to 45 minutes.

The New Glarus Brewing Co. also saw long waits for their special taps this year.

The guild is serious about its responsibility of keeping a safe environment for its patrons. It also makes sure people know to get home safely. There is no on-site parking for those in attendance, except for vendors. Free shuttle service is provided to numerous locations in Madison, and $1 cab rides are available to any home, hotel or campground in Dane County.

The 2013 Great Taste of the Midwest will take place Aug. 10, 2013.

For more information on the Great Taste of the Midwest and how to get tickets, visit




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