Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Great Taste Eve 2013 (Madison, WI)

Beer row: Maduro in foreground, The Rigby
and Argus.  Tipsy Cow to right. 
In August of 2007 on the Eve of Great Taste, my first three drafts of the night were Bell's 6000, 7000 and 8000 at Maduro in the heart of downtown Madison. Truly a top ten highlight of beer groupings I've done. Now, the Eve gatherings are all organized at the Great Taste website. In the old days, a beer geek had to hit the BeerAdvocate forums to find out what's where and when. The night before festivities have become legendary; my wife and I have even considered just doing the Friday night and head to Chicago for the weekend.

Sunset reflection on way to Brickhouse
For our first fest in 2001, we didn't go early at all.  For a few years we hit a single pub the night before like JT Whitney's (now closed) and The Great Dane. My database shows 2006 as the first multi-pub Friday night, which I continued each year until 2009 when I took a break from Great Taste. Over the years, a range of Madison bars have made the Friday crawl: Ale Asylum when it first opened, Wonder's for Dark Horse, Dexter's for two beers one year with friends, a vague recollection of late night pizza at Glass Nickel, Brasserie V for Stone's introduction to Wisconsin, Alchemy for two year old Surly Darkness once and a night of Dogfish Head at Jordan's Big Ten Pub, an unremembered stop that exists only in the database.

The Rigby: Lakefront drafts of Wisconinsite
and Maple Vanilla Doppelbock

Of the various bars, Maduro has been the start of nearly every Eve. The aforementioned "Night of 1000s" is partially responsible but also because they start a bit earlier than most of the other parties with their annual Bell's tap takeover. So this year, I brought my wife to Maduro for the first time. The only drawback of Maduro is that it is a cigar bar.  But the Bell's tap takeover rarely disappoints; however, tonight, the big name beers were out by the time we arrived around 4 pm. Maduro definitely isn't a secret anymore and it seems the time one needs to arrive has moved up. Gloria was happy with the Sparkleberry and a Wedding Ale, and I ended with the Deb's Red, which was malty with a strong and sweet caramel background and a floral hop nose that leads into a lingering bite off the back. 

Tipsy Cow

This tiny "Main" Street of Madison is a pub crawl all by itself.  Taking our free shuttle from the Best Western Inntowner, we hit (after Maduro) in the same block The Rigby for Lakefront, Argus for Three Floyd's and dinner, and then to the Tipsy Cow for New Holland. For all being in the same block, each was very different. While Maduro was packed with a friendly group of locals and beer geeks, The Rigby was a quiet bar with a younger crowd and basic bar food. My wife happily sipped on the Maple Vanilla Doppelbock. I enjoyed a Wisconsinitea summer weiss beer; Wisconsinite is an indigenous Wisconsin beer is made with all in-state ingredients, including locally harvested yeast: head fell immediately over a hazy orange ale; fruity and spice nose with a hint of sour; more sour on the tongue with fruitiness and a dry finish. I found the beer refreshing and an interesting balance of flavor. Looking at the reviews on BeerAdvocate, I seem to like the beer more than most; maybe a testament to drinking at the brewery's party and/or the Rigby's presentation.  
Six oz pour In the Name of Suffering

We had dinner at the Argus because of the more veggie friendly menu but were disappointed by the food, throngs of hopheads, extremely loud music and tiny full price pour of Three Floyd's In the Name of Suffering, a black ale that was excellent on site last June during my Chicago visit. On to a busy Tipsy Cow where the excellent service kept the New Holland taps flowing. Dragon's Milk on cask wasn't as amazing as I  hoped (based on a GT sample at the cask tent in 2007) but still excellent. However, the Barrel Aged Night Tripper was mind blowing: pitch black with no head; very hot alcoholic nose and sophisticated blend of chocolate, molasses, assertive roast and light hop spice to pull it together; nose follows to tongue with a sweetness, oak and hop bite. Sublime until it warms and the alcohol pushes it a bit out of balance. If earlier in the night or at home in the winter, it would be perfect. From here, we walked to Brickhouse BBQ, bumping into Pete and Mike of Town Hall fame on the way. We never made The Beer Spot party in the back of the Brickhouse because we ran into Jeff and Bonnie Luskey, MN homebrewers and Jeff is a brewer at the new U4ic Brewing, so we spent the rest of the evening chatting with drafts of Short's and Central Waters to end the night.

If you are lucky enough to get tickets for Great Taste, pony up for the extra night of hotel and plan your way around the heart of a very pretty downtown Madison. The bus system can be difficult to navigate but Google Maps gives pretty good directions from place to place on public transit.  Waiting for a bus the next morning, a college student said there are apps to help but, evidently, harder to find and for more local use at the moment compared to cities like Chicago and San Francisco that have readily downloadable metro apps. Usually, I've taken the bus from the hotel to downtown and then walk or take cabs from there. Cabs tend to be easy to get, fast and relatively cheap, especially with a group. Or, just stop in on Friday night before the fest and have funticket or no. Great Taste Eve is easily one of the best beer parties on the planet.

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