Great Taste of the Midwest 2016


When I'm not playing photographer, I spend my time behind the pine at Brickhouse Craft Burgers and Brews as their manager and beer director. I'm a Cicerone Certified Beer Server and self-proclaimed beer snob with an adventurous palate. Craft beer and photography are my two non-human/non-furry loves, and it's pretty awesome when those two things come together. Since I have some of the greatest beer reps in the world (thanks, Brett!), I was able to get tickets for my dad and I to attend Great Taste of the Midwest this past weekend. For those of you not familiar, Great Taste is one of the top beer festivals in the country and features over 150 breweries from the Midwest. I've been itching to go for a number of years, but the tickets are very hard to come by. For those of you that weren't able to attend this year, feel free to live vicariously through this post ;)

When you're going to be sampling a crap ton (that's a scientific measurement unit) of beer, you need to build up a good base to soak up those brews. We chose to stop a Brasserie V, a bright and warm French/Belgian inspired restaurant with an impressive beer list. Their lunch menu features a killer gazpacho, truffle frites (Belgian fries), and two rather impressive burgers, just to name a few items. Personally, I encourage a cocktail or two at lunch because life is hard and hey, you made it to the noon hour! The staff is incredibly knowledgeable on their beer list and were able to give us great recommendations. Our favorite from our lunch sampling was the Perennial Abraxus, an imperial stout monster brewed with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks.

Alas, we couldn't stay at Brasserie V all day and excitedly departed for the festival. We parked in a neighborhood about a mile from the festival grounds and got a $5 Uber ride to drop us right at the start of the entrance line. The festival was fantastically organized, and it only took us a few moments to get inside once the gates opened. Seated on the edge of Lake Monona, there was a lovely breeze cooling us down on this warm and sunny day. There were six large tents of breweries with a few satellite tents around the outside. I researched ahead of time the breweries we should visit so we didn't waste our time with less-than-stellar establishments. We knew that we didn't want to get drunk from sampling (shocking, I know), so we didn't swallow 99% of the beers we tried. We got some crazy looks and comments, but it was definitely worth not feeling like crap after. 

What I'm about to say may burst some people's pretty ideas of what these festivals are like, but I'm going to do it anyway. As much as I like trying new beers and breweries, I am discovering that I don't necessarily enjoy large consumer festivals such as this one. I'm the type of person that wants to talk with the brewery staff and dissect my beer and take notes. Settings like this one aren't conducive for these measures. Everyone is either really freaking busy, or about 20 beers in and slightly intoxicated. For someone that's in the business, I want high quality beer from everyone and great conversation where I can learn and better myself and grow my knowledge base. 

We tried to keep track of our favorite beers from the festival, and of the hundred or so we sampled, there were only a handful. Short's Brewing's Power of Love rosemary and raspberry shandy was incredibly refreshing and out of this world. Dangerous Man Brewing had two barrel-aged brews, one aged in tequila barrels and one aged in Buffalo Trace barrels, both of which had complex flavors and were delightful on the palate. Goose Island's Hombre Secreto Saison with Mango aged in Lunazul tequila barrels with mango and Brett was awesome and a surprising find from the Chicago-based brewery. There were a few more great additions to this list, and I will be keeping my eyes open to see if they make it to the Green Bay market.

Our humble lodgings for the evening were at the Crowne Plaza. We used Priceline to get us a great deal on the room, which I highly recommend every time you want to get a hotel room, no matter what. Our room was about $55 before tax. Without Priceline we would have paid $100 before tax for a not-as-nice hotel. The Crowne Plaza room was spacious, had two comfy beds, and a roomy enough bathroom. I was surprised there was no refrigerator in the room, but they made up for this by including a complimentary aromatherapy pack that I used every drop of at the end of the night!

We had a wonderful dinner at Pig in a Fur Coat, a quaint and eclectic restaurant with inventive dishes, community tables, and an awesome wine and beer list. We cozied up to the six stool bar and gorged ourselves on some killer dishes. The lamb carpaccio was one of the best I've ever had; perfectly seasoned, paper thin, and topped with a gooey egg yolk. I licked the plate clean, no shame. The ravioli small plate was very clever. Served as one large ravioli, the center was filled with a whole egg yolk and ricotta, and topped with bacon. It was perfectly prepared and mouth watering. Their scallop entree was perfectly cooked, although the pork belly that came with it was overcooked. One flaw isn't enough to keep me from coming back and doesn't overshadow everything that was right about the meal. 

We stopped at Cooper's Tavern for after-dinner drinks, a Capitol Square staple establishment. I was surprised that when we got there at roughly 10pm, all of the dinner tables were full and the bar was packed. Kudos to Cooper's Tavern, it's always great to be at successful spots that know what the heck they're doing.

We topped our Madison adventures off with brunch at Sardine, a bistro with high ceilings, a subway tile backed bar, and white tablecloth tables. Don't let those adjectives fool you, this spot isn't pretentious, it's simply well-put together and staffed with some incredibly personable and knowledgeable folks. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience noshing at the bar. Sardine has one of the best Bloody Marys I've ever had, I loved the pickled endive. They were incredibly busy, so I highly recommend getting reservations ahead of time if you want a table. I hope I can stop in again soon to try some of their oysters and evening entrees, I can imagine they will knock it out of the park.

Special shout out to Madison Sourdough for stocking our freezers with some of the best bread in Wisconsin and making our car smell nice and doughy on the way home. No visit to Madison is complete without grabbing a couple Madison Sourdough loaves to-go!

What are some of your favorite spots to visit in Madison? Did you attend Great Taste this year? What did you think? I want to hear from YOU so I get the inside scoop. An informed tourist is a savvy tourist :) Stay adventurous, friends!

Until next time,