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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Greatest Taste Around: Day One

The following is an account of our trek to Madison, WI, for Great Taste of the Midwest, one of the biggest beer festivals in the country.  This would mark my sophomore visit to the festival, while it would be trip number FOUR for Brewslut (aaaah, the dreaded, self-imposed band schedules)!  Alas, how do you think I make all that money to travel in the name of beer?

We departed from Annville bright and early on the morning of August 7th at around 6:20am (at "the ass crack of dawn," according to Brewslut).  We hit Sheetz down the street for iced coffee, and we didn't stop until we reached another Sheetz in western PA for a piss break.  Our first beer destination of the day was Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, OH. I hadn't been there since our inaugural Thanksgiving beer-cation with Deuane and Carolyn back in 2008.  We landed at 12:15pm, only 15 minutes behind schedule.  We were both pretty hungry... and thirsty, of course.  Our first beers of the trip were Rye of the Tiger (a 7.5% rye IPA) for me and Truth, Justice and the American Ale (a 4.9% pale ale) for Brewslut.  For lunch, I enjoyed the summer chicken salad with strawberries, pine nuts and goat cheese, while Brewslut opted for the vegan burger.

Pleeps... poster monkey for The Pour Travelers!
 Beer number two was Engine 20, a hoppy American Pale Ale.  Brewslut went with the Gold Rush California Common, which she likened to "licking charcoal briquettes."  Leave it to Brewslut to equate a beer with something found inside a barbecue grill.  (Editor's Note: Brewslut has a penchant for describing beers in an odd manor.  If you don't believe me, check out the early Pour Travelers entry,  The Anomalous Olfactory Anecdotes of Brewslut).

Smaller brewing capacity than you'd think!
At any rate, Great Lakes makes some fantastic beers, most notably Edmund Fitzgerald, one of my favorite Porters in the country.  Overall, the brewpub has a very old-style English pub atmosphere, with lots of ornate wood and a vintage bar.  After lunch, we poked around the downstairs area, which wasn't really open (it is typically used for overflow on busy weekend nights or private functions).  We also checked out the store next door for official merchandise, and I picked up a cool tan visor.  Brewslut grabbed the first of many patches from this trip as well as a sticker.

Downstairs at Great Lakes
After leaving Great Lakes, we were off to Marshall, MI, to visit a favorite of mine, Dark Horse Brewing Company.  As with Great Lakes, I hadn't been there since 2008, and I was pleased to see that they expanded the brewpub quite a bit.  Most notably, they added an entire beer garden and second bar out back, complete with a stage for live entertainment.  It took quite a while to drive from Cleveland to Marshall, so it was pretty much time for dinner when we got there.  I had heard that the sandwiches were the way to go at Dark Horse, so I perused the menu and came across the "Reubenesque" - a sandwich with turkey, Asian slaw, cilantro sauce and cheese on a spent grain pretzel roll!  Sounded interesting to say the least.  It was delicious!  Brewslut got the Chocolate Thunder personal pizza, which had some spicy peppers among other ingredients.

One of the coolest Mug Clubs ever!
As for our beers, we both opted for brewery-only offerings.  I liked the sound of SC-7, an IPA brewed with seven hop varieties beginning with the letter "C" (we'll let you figure them all out).  Brewslut ordered the Belginator, a Belgian IPA.  We finished up our food and first beers, then headed outside with our second selections - me, one of my perennial favorites, Crooked Tree IPA, and Brewslut, the Black Bier.  The weather was nice so we sat outside and talked about the trip a bit.  There was a little kid passed out face-first on a picnic table outside.  Apparently, he was sleep-deprived and in dire need of a nap. 

Lots of pics from Dark Horse Brewing Company

After a pleasant visit at Dark Horse, we were off to our final stop for the day before arriving in Grand Rapids to stay with our good friend Kelly for a few days.  Bell's was yet another place we hadn't  been since that first trip to Michigan, so we were thrilled to be back, especially since we had a great time way back when. 

Outside Bell's in Kalamazoo, MI
Before visiting the bar, we hit up the merchandise area because they were soon closing.  I picked up an awesome Hopslam T-shirt.  Inside, we were able to procure seats at the bar, as it wasn't too busy this particular night.  There was a bourbon barrel-aged Best Brown on tap, which sounded mighty tasty, so I ordered that.  Brewslut also went with a brewpub-only offering called A Bit of Heat, a strong Pale Ale brewed with habanero peppers and dry hopped.  This particular beer was the result of a homebrew contest held by Bell's, in which the winner could have his beer brewed at Bell's.  Pretty cool, eh?  The habanero presence was mild and only accented the overall flavor.

We had plenty of time, and we were also enjoying a conversation with some patrons, so we ordered a sampler flight, which included the following beers: Roundhouse India Red Ale, Hopsolution DIPA, Java Stout, Expedition Stout, Lager of the Lakes, and La Batteur French Farmhouse Blonde Ale.  We shared the sampler tray, and by then it was time to hit the road.

Inside Bell's Eccentric Cafe
We arrived at Kelly's house a bit after 10pm, caught up and bit and then it was time to hit the sack.  We'd been on the road all day and were quite fatigued not to mention about two-and-a-half sheets from all of our imbibing throughout the day.  All in all, it was a productive first day, and I'm glad we were able to leave almost two days earlier than we had planned.  Otherwise, we probably wouldn't have had the time to visit Grand Rapids prior to the festival.  But we were back in the land of Founders, and we both couldn't wait to open that place tomorrow!  Stay tuned for Part Two of the Great Taste Caper... coming soon to a computer screen near you!

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The Pour Travelers thank you for reading about our beer travels!