Category: Beer

Great Taste of the Midwest

Last August Kiddo had an event in Madison, WI, and I was killing time by sightseeing around the city on a bike. As I passed Olin Park, I noticed hordes of folks with pretzel necklaces walking toward the park. Having been to the Great American Beer Festival, I knew exactly what those pretzels signified. I later learned it was the Great Taste of the Midwest, a beer festival hosted by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Further research found not only was it one of the premier beer festivals in the nation, it was an extremely hard ticket to get. Ticket sales occur each spring with a limited number sold at area beer destinations and the remainder via lottery. Ticket sales are limited to 6000 with over 2/3 of the lottery requests unfulfilled. At the time I made a mental note (but not a calendar reminder) to get in the lottery in the spring.

And then forgot.

However, was pleasantly surprised on Friday when hubby walked in the house saying he was offered two tickets including a bus shuttle from a brewpub not too far from home. Did I want to go?


The day began at Delafield BrewHaus with a Ketel One Bloody Mary and in typical Milwaukee fashion a side car of beer. This was their tasty Naga-wicked Pale Ale (Nagawicka is a lake close by), a bit of lunch and an hour bus ride west to Madison.


Again hordes of folks, lots of pretzel necklaces, some including salami and cheese. Yes, its Wisconsin. But a well organized system to get folks in quickly, ID’s checked, wristbands applied, sampler glass and programs in hand.

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I was surprised how well organized the entire event felt. Much more manageable than GABF, but still with more excellent beer than I’d be able to taste in one afternoon. Not just more manageable from a waiting in line for a sample perspective, but also the crowds a bit more behaved. Porta potties were ample. Water stations easy to find. Next year, tho’ think I’ll take a clue from folks I saw, and wear a camelbak. (Hydration is key to 5 hours of beer sampling!!) Lots of music and interesting entertainment – unsure if planned or buskers, either way great.


I tried to focus on trying things not generally available, special tappings and limited releases. I was on a quest for sours. Others in my group seemed to go for Porters and Stouts, hubby was trying a bit of everything. I’ve been hearing great things about the sours being made by Troy Casey, a brewer with AC Golden/ MillerCoors, and hoped some of his stuff was at the Tenth & Blake booth. Headed there first and was not disappointed! The Peche was wonderful, the Berliner Weisse with flavor bubbles tons of fun. But it was Barry White, an amazing barrel aged sour using Leinekugel BerryWeiss treated with lactobacillus and Brettanomyces then aged in oak bourbon barrels that really stood out becoming one of my favorite beers of the day. From there on a tip, we headed over the to Shorts Brewing booth to try their PB & Banana…and fell in love with their Ginger in the Rye.

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We bounced around from that point on, trying special releases things from breweries we knew, and discovering breweries we didn’t know. The Tripel Crown from Cumberland Brewery in Lousiville was another favorite of the day as was the Exodus from Central Waters in WI.


While food was obviously not the focus of the day, the bacon on a stick from Smoking Cantina was to die for. There was a small food court (pizza, italian beef, sub sandwiches) in addition to the Smoking Catina booth, and tons of picnic tables to stop and rest or eat a bite. (Oh look there’s Brook and Kyle! Thanks guys for the invite!!!!)

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Equally to die for were the views across Lake Monana. Madison is not only the home of the University of Wisconsin it is also the capital, and the Capitol is visible across the lake.


All in all a great day. Grabbed a nice full pour of Triple Crown from Cumberland (others in the group were raving about their Coconut Porter), and headed back to the bus.


And, yes, I have a reminder in my calendar for next year’s ticket sales…..

Flights are my fancy….

I write a lot on this blog about how I try to rent a bike whenever I can on my travels, or pop into a Botanic Garden, but there’s another destination I seek out on many of my trips. Brew Pubs. Sometimes it’s the brewpub connected with a known nationally distributed brand, others of a smaller regional player, and sometimes those that only sell their beers at their Brew Pubs. I love trying different brewers beers. Plus it gives me a chance to try new styles (hopefully, we don’t end up in a world where everyone only makes IPAs, how boring would that be). My very favorite thing to do on a first visit is do a flight of beers.

Many brewpubs offer the groupings of samples known as flights. Some define them, grouping  3oz samples of 4 -6 of their beers together. Others allow you to select from the beers currently on tap. While most brewpubs will give you tiny little pours as free samples, I prefer the flights. That bit more liquid allows a good AATMF of the beer. I try to give every new beer a true appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, finish tasting. Both helps me appreciate the beer and continue to develop my palate.

Here’s some of the brewpubs and flights I’ve had in the last year or so. All pictures should be able to be viewed bigger if you click on them. Unfortunately, I’ve not been good (understatement) at keeping a log of exactly what I tasted. But I at least know where I was….

While in Colorado, we made it by several places, Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder, Tommyknockers in Idaho Springs, Backcountry Brewery in Frisco. Was even able to do a flight on on tap beers at Cheeky Monk at Winter Park when we visited Trestle Bike Park.

Was able to enjoy a flight at Breckenridge Brewery. Visited both the BrewPub in Breckenridge and at the main brewery in Denver, CO.

On a trip to Washington, DC and Ocean City Maryland stopped first at Ramshead Shore House in Stevensville, MD. As a bonus there, my brother in laws band was performing, Kiddo’s beautiful sister stopped by along with my niece and her fiance.
Tho no visit by a beer fan to the Ocean City area would be complete without a detour to Rehobeth Beach, DE and a visit to Dogfish Head Brewery.
I make frequent trips to Grand Rapids, MI which has a thriving and ever growing beer culture. The first brewpub I discovered was Founders Brewing. That initial flight of samples is long forgotten, and the pictures buried deep in folders of files. Still I make a point of stopping by for a pint on most trips to the city. I love trying their limited releases or experimental brews on tap.
Newer to the scene are Grand Rapids Brewing and Brewery Vivant. Both offer samples, and have interesting food selections (you must have the Kale chips at Grand Rapids Brewing and the Truffle fries at Brewery Vivant!)  I fell instantly in love with Brewery Vivant with its Belgian theme. Located in an old church the atmosphere is incredible, and the beers equally so. I especially love how the flight is in small snifters which enhance these traditional Belgian style beers. It will become a staple of my Grand Rapids visits.
Bikes, beers, and Botanic gardens…my typical Yelp or google searches when visiting or researching a new city. These are a few of my favorite things…..

Wordless Wednesday: Bloody Marys – Milwaukee style

Love the beer side cars!

(A photo collection discovered on my phone: AJ Bombers, Sobelman’s, HoneyPie, in MKE airport, upgraded and at gate on AirTran)

The 3 C’s….we’re not talking diamonds, we’re talking beer

Cut, Complement and Contrast. The 3 C’s which make beer so great with food. Heck you could make it four, Carbonation, no, make that 5, add Cleanse. But those last two are really components of Cut.

Cut and Cleanse are basically the same thing….as in cleanse your palate; cut or remove the fat and oils on your tongue so that each bite of food tastes as good as the first. Beer’s low alcohol content, and carbonation both help to accomplish this. It is one of the great advantages beer has over other beverages when enjoyed with a meal.

Complement and Contrast refer to the taste profiles in the beer and in the food it is paired with. In some combinations the beer helps bring out qualities of the food because of the complementary or similar flavors between the beer and the food. In the case of roasted meats and baked breads, beer has a distinct advantage over most drinks due to the Maillard browning reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical change to the sugars  and amino acids in meats and grains when heated. Beer due to the malt (basically roasted barley) contains a similar caramelized flavor – complementing or bringing out the same flavors in food. Contrast is the opposite, different tastes that enhance the other. Berry Weiss with chocolate. Mild lagers with spicy foods.

But the best part of beer and food pairings is that there are no firm guidelines. No societal standards like white wine with fish or any of the other “rules” the wine world has defined. Increasingly chefs are cooking with beer. Experimenting with food and beer parings.

Had another work-related opportunity to attend a beer and food dinner. Formal 6 course. At the Merkat Restaurant in Chicago’s Blackhorse Hotel. A collaboration between Merkat’s chef, Jose Garces, along with Ryan Johnson and Grant Holtackers, trade brewers for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. With each course, the Chef and one of the brewers explained both the food and the beer.

 This was the third beer and food dinner I’d attended this year (other two written up here). As with the others, the meal began with Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4% abv, 17 IBU) paired with the salad course. The coriander and citrus in the Blue Moon make it great with both salads and seafood. Also learned that night that Blue Moon differs from Belgian tradition by using Valencia oranges in the recipe versus curacao oranges.

Chef Garces had used some of the Blue Moon in the dressing. Spicy almonds added a nice touch to the Serrano ham and figs.

A seafood course followed Halibut con Chorizo paired with Batch 19 (5.5% ABV, 26IBU), a beer brewed with a recently discovered pre-prohibition recipe. Hoppy, with a caramelized color and taste.

Our table was split on this course. Half thought this was their favorite course, for me, my least favorite of the food courses. A nice pairing, beer was quite good, as was the fish. I just enjoyed the other courses more.

The next course listed on the menu was a mystery on first read. Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown paired with Tocino con Cidre. Huh? Translated a yummy house cured pork belly w/ a parsnip puree and black truffle, apple, cabbage slaw. The Nut Brown (4.9% ABV, 13IBU) has a complex malt character with hints of roasted coffee, chocolate and hazelnut. Not surprising from the lower IBU little noticeable hop flavor.

Next up was a Black Angus hanger steak paired with Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.  Pilsner Urquell (4.4 ABV, 40IBU) is often considered one of the most influential if not one of the finest beers on the planet. It was the first golden beer, first pilsner style. Urquell means from the original source. Hoppy, bitter. Strong flavors to accompany this strong meat.

A cheese course followed, paired surprisingly with Guinness Stout. Not surprising from a food/beer pairing perspective, but because this is not a Tenth and Blake product. Guinness Stout is one of the world’s most respected beers. It was a nice treat to taste this beer once again. I don’t often drink beers from other brewers and companies (am making an effort to try other beers on a more regular basis, expand my beer palate so to speak) Each time I drink this beer I am fascinated by how the deep roast and malty-ness masks the high bitterness of the beer (40IBU). Great with the cheese. This and the pork belly course were my two favorites. More and more I love cheese courses with good artisan cheeses.

Last up was dessert. The classic chocolate and berry combination. Sheep’s cheese berry cheesecake with chocolate croquettes paired of course with Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Yummy finish.

Great dinner from the Merkat and Tenth and Blake folks. Thankfully after all that great food and great beer, all I needed to do was ride an elevator to my room. Far too stuffed and sated to do much else!

Rocky Mountain High or I’m only here for the beer………

Until now, Denver has only been a place I’ve passed through between airport and ski slope. While I’m pretty sure I visited the actual city as a child, I haven’t had an opportunity to explore the area as an adult. Recently returned from a work related trip out there which among other things included brewery tours and time at the Great American Beer Festival (yes, I do love my job).

First stop was the town of Golden, home of the Coors Brewery, the world’s largest brewing facility. Located just west of Denver along the foothills of the mountains, Golden has a charming little downtown with shops, cafes, and farmer’s market. The Colorado School of Mines is located in Golden – was a bit surprised by the size of the campus. 

I was taken with the biking culture evident here – and around the area. In a visit to a recently relocated colleague’s home on Lookout Mountain, I was impressed by the number (dozens, really, several dozen) of road cyclists we passed – climbing up the mountain. Also noticed a couple of large groups of mountain bikers on off-road trails along the way. This was a Wednesday night – these were not just casual weekend riders. This interest was reflected in a number of bike shops in town, numerous bike racks along the streets, and at least one manufacturer, Yeti, based there. An old poster in a  storefront caught my eye – looks like my kinda event!

Our group had a behind the scenes tour of the Coors brewery.

One thing I wasn’t aware of was that they malt their own barley here. I’ve visited several other breweries, but have never seen the malting process (first soaking, then basically sprouting, and finally baking the barley in a kiln to the desired toast).

Blue Moon lover that I am, I had a smile when our guide pointed out the cart of ingredients in the Brew House….the orange zest and coriander for the Blue Moon recipe. He said you don’t always see them brewing Blue Moon here…must have been doing it special in honor of my visit! 😉 Tasting the beer fresh from the tanks was also kinda cool.

The scenery all around the brewery and Golden was stunning. Though I apparently was too distracted by the beer, to get many landscape pictures.

All that touring works up an appetite, and The Buckhorn Exchange not only provided a tasty, filling lunch, but plenty of local charm. Originally opening in 1893, it holds Colorado state liquor license number 1. The original owner rode with Sitting Bull, learned to scout with Buffalo Bill Cody, and hunted with Teddy Roosevelt. Based on the decor, it appears he was an *avid* hunter, indeed.

Having toured the world’s largest brewery complex, it was time to visit a much smaller brewery – The Sandlot at Coors Field. Blue Moon originated here 15 years ago (did you know I love Blue Moon?) The GABF Brewers and Judges reception was taking place, allowing us full access to the facility (did I mention I love my job?)

And I thought tasting Coors Banquet fresh from the tanks was special…how about hanging in the basement of The Sandlot with the brewer tapping the tanks for us to enjoy. A pint from a batch of Blue Moon, a pint of their limited edition Oktoberfest style….. Unfortunately, Chardonnay Blonde, a gold medal winner at this year’s GABF wasn’t on tap, so to speak.

Of course, the highlight of the trip was the Great American Beer Festival. Attended two sessions, Thursday and Friday night. Enjoyed Thursday night the best. Seemed a bit more civil, folks actually there to taste the beer. Friday night was more like folks there to drink the beer. Thousands of varieties, hundred of brewers. 1oz samples. Which go down easy. Really easy. And are often higher alcohol content than what the average beer drinker is used to consuming. Let’s just say you see folks who didn’t take this factor into consideration. But for the most part, it’s a relaxed, casual gathering of beer lovers. My kinda event.

The silent disco was a scream. And if you dropped your tasting cup, the crowd gave you a scream. Every style of beer imaginable was represented – some really great ones, some really odd ones, a few average run of the mill ones, and some, well, not so great. But the majority a treat to try.

I was somewhat fascinated by this looooong line of folks. What beer were they waiting to try???? Hmm, let me follow the line to the front…Oh, food, the American Cheese Society. Got it. And if you didn’t know that beer went great with food, you might want to read my post on it.

In the midst of all the scrambling to find the best beers to try, this sign from Brew Dogs of Colorado made me stop and smile.
Denver’s downtown is a pedestrian friendly pleasure to visit. The 16th Avenue Mall is the center of activity. Found the pianos placed along the mall to be a fun touch (ah, the wonderful climate of little rain and no humidity makes things like this possible)

Did make it to one other spot on Saturday morning before flying home. One of the botanic gardens I’ve always wanted to visit. Took hundreds of pictures there (none of you are surprised, right?). Will cover that in a future post. We’ll leave this one focused on the beer. Speaking of which, all this writing has made me a tad thirsty. Anyone want to join me for a Blue Moon?

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