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Monday, October 29, 2012

Great Taste... NOT Less Filling: Day Five

After a fun breakfast down in the hotel lobby with several of the Short's Brewing fellows, we decided to make good use of the little time we had before the festival began... and what better way to spend that time by visiting Steve's to purchase some beer to tote home with us to PA?  After the short drive, we arrived at Steve's, where we purchased a few bombers and mixed six-packs, as well as some Tyranena Scurvy (IPA brewed with orange peel) and Dirty Old Man (bottles of the Imperial Coffee Porter we had the night before at the brewery).  Then it was off to do a favor for Deuane: pick up a bowling shirt at Vintage Brewing Company.  Last time Deuane visited Great Taste, they didn't have his size in stock, and he was apparently smitten with said shirt.  Lucky for him, they had his size in stock (and he was indeed giddy when we delivered the shirt to him after we'd returned home).

On to the festival.  Now, let me preface what you are about to read with the following: If you've never been to a beer festival of this magnitude, then you can't imagine the amount of beer that is available.  We're talking five tents with thirty breweries each, plus an entire tent dedicated to nothing by cask ales!  Let me also point out that each brewery doesn't just show up with two or three of their flagship beers.  Every single brewery brings its "A Game!"  Most breweries bring six beers plus numerous special or rare beers that are poured at specific times throughout the day.  For example, Three Floyds poured Cognac barrel-aged Dark Lord.  You couldn't even get near to their tent all day.  Unless you wanted to stand in line for over half an hour to get three ounces of said beer, you were out of luck.  Honestly, it's not a bad idea to display some patience waiting for beers (as well as restraint from sampling too many beers). Unfortunately, I typically display neither at a beer festival.  I will say that Brewslut and I were, um, more well-behaved this time around.  Ultimately, it is quite an overwhelming festival to take in, even for seasoned beer aficionados such as ourselves.  So due to the reality of the situation, the forthcoming events will not be recounted in chronological order, but rather in the order that I can, well, remember it happening!

We stopped by Four Hands tent and the owner remembered us from the Monk's event during Philly Beer Week.  I want to say we sampled Contact High, their summer seasonal, which I had marked in my Great Taste program, but I could be mistaken.  Still, this is a hoppy wheat beer brewed with blood orange zest.  I'd love to get my hands on a few bottles of this!

We tried several times to hunt down "Coffee" from Ale Asylum, to whom we were delivering a case of Troegs Perpetual IPA direct from John Trogner.  Apparently, Coffee taught John a lot about brewing during John's formative years.  It must have paid off, because all of the folks at Ale Asylum are huge fans of Troegs.  I even heard that one of its flagship beers - Ambergeddon - is somewhat of a Nugget Nectar clone.  So I suppose that's a fitting tribute, eh?

Taking a break with Pleeps.
One of the "special tappings" we marked down in our programs to attend was Central Waters' Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout at 1:15pm.  Surprisingly, there was virtually no line when we arrived.  Even if there was, I would have been happy waiting for it, because it turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival!  It was similar to New Glarus' Cherry Stout but with a moderate bourbon presence.  The vanilla notes worked really well with the base beer, making this one a winner all around!  Unfortunately, they were not pouring the Brewhouse Coffee Stout, which is one of the best I've ever had.

Enjoying some Tyranena with the "dirty old man!"
While we didn't have enough time to stop at Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery, we did make plans to swing by its tent at around 3:20pm, because they were tapping a Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Pumpkin Lager.  This was quite an interesting treat by which they took their base pumpkin lager and aged it in Black Swan Cooperage barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Company, then added Madascar vanilla beans directly to the firkin. Can you say "Yum?"

We made a quick stop at Minneapolis Town Hall's tent for a sample of their fantastic Mango Mama, a mango version of their excellent Masala Mama IPA.  We had the opportunity to share a growler of this a while back (thanks Deuane!), so it was a pleasure to revisit this after a few years.  

Pleeps rode around in my pocket all day!
Since we didn't get to visit with Dr. Joel during our visit to New Holland, we made it a point to stop by their tent several times.  They had their tent decorated like a zombie Halloween party, which was kind of cool.  Dr. Joel was decked out in a zombie costume and pouring at the event, so he hooked us up with some of the "special" offerings prior to them actually tapping.  For example, we tried the Blue Sunday Barrel #16 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (glad I have the program to reference that one).  Back in 2009, they put some Blue Sunday into a French oak barrel.  Then in 2011, they inoculated the barrel with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis and let it work its magic.  The result was a sweet but tart cherry pie-like beer that Brewslut liked very much.  This one perhaps one of the rarest beers we were able to sample at the festival.

A "das boot" you don't want to drink out of!
Short's Brewing Company out of Bellaire, MI, is a perfect example of a brewery bringing its "A Game" to Great Taste.  In addition to a bunch of cool photo opportunity exhibits and a personable bunch of guys, they are always pouring interesting and unique beers. Case in point: Black Chai, a black India Cream Ale infused with Chai Tea.  We also enjoyed samples of Van Dammage, an IPA with American hops and Belgian yeast (and awesomely named); Grasshoppah, and American IPA brewed with chocolate mint; and Brewslut's favorite, Strawberry Short's Cake, a Golden Ale brewed with strawberries, milk sugar and biscuit malts.  Short's is always a must-stop, multi-stop tent at Great Taste.  It's a shame they are so far away, because the brewpub itself is an awesome beer destination. 

Another great stop is always at The Livery's tent.  They are always pouring the craziest of the crazy beers they produce.  For example, one of the best beers of the festival we sampled was Cherry Taxman, a mammoth 14.5% ABV Russian Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels with Michigan-grown cherries and cocoa nibs.  Good God, this was awesome!  One other beer that I remember trying was Impeche, a Belgian style Amber Ale aged in sour casks with locally grown Red Haven peaches and nectarines for twenty months.  While it wasn't as amazing as the Nectarine Tripel I sampled a few years prior, this was still a very good beer. 

While it doesn't seem like we sampled very much beer, these were simply some of the highlights of the day.  With that said, attending a five-hour beer festival as epic as Great Taste of the Midwest is over before you know it.  It really does go by in a flash and the whole day turns from a vivid memory into a smudgy blur.  The only thing there is to do after a day like this is retire to the hotel and take a nap, then wake up after four hours, realize you are still intoxicated and go back to bed... which is precisely what we did!

Cheers to Great Taste!

Friday, October 12, 2012

From Second City to Mad City: Day Four

After a good night's sleep in Tinley Park, IL, we were off to my inaugural visit to The Windy City.  I had driven through Chicago on numerous occasions, but never stopped for any particular reason... aside from the ridiculous traffic, that is!  Our first stop of the day was Piece, a pizzeria and brewpub located in downtown Chicago.  Brewslut had been there once before on her first trip to Great Taste, but this was my first time.  Piece had attained national attention when President Obama specifically requested its beer for an event at The White House not long after his election.

Pleeps poses at Piece
We parked right on the street about a block up from Piece.  Inside, the spacious brewpub offered multiple levels and seating options, including a long, curvy bar and plenty of tables.  We sat at the bar and ordered our first round.  I went with the Dysfunctionale IPA and Brewslut opted for the Flat Iron Stout.  We also ordered a personal pizza topped with chicken and banana peppers as a snack, which was mighty tasty!

Tap list at Piece
During our visit, Piece was in the midst of celebrating its 11th anniversary.  To celebrate, they released a beer named "It Goes to Eleven," which was an obvious nod to one of my favorite movies of all time, This Is Spinal Tap.  The anniversary beer was a highly hopped IPA with bold notes of citrus and pine.  We also sampled 3oz. pours of Golden Arm K├Âlsch and Top Heavy Hefe.

Piece tap handles
Being my first visit to Chicago proper, I had a fairly long list of places to hit.  Unfortunately, due to limited time, we had to make a decision between Revolution Brewing Company, which was in closer proximity to Piece, or Haymarket Pub & Brewery.  Based on my research, I was more interested in Haymarket, but logic outweighed curiosity this time around, so we set the controls for Revolution.  Haymarket would have to wait until next time.

Pleeps loves monkeying around!
When we got to Revolution, however, we were pleasantly surprised by the large lunch crowd and impressed with the decor.  The spacious brewpub boasted lots of seating, including a wrap-around bar and a separate upstairs room complete with additional tap handles.  It's also worth mentioning that the tap handles are pretty awesome (they were fist-shaped and different colors).

Octagonal fisting?!
I noticed a few hoppy selections on the draft menu, so we decided to go with samplers this time around.  I chose Iron Fist Pale Ale, Anti-Hero IPA and Double Fist DIPA.  Brewslut's choices were at the opposite end of the spectrum: Eugene Porter, Repo Man Rye Stout and Rosa, the latter of which was an ale brewed with hibiscus flowers.  My favorite of the lot was actually the straight-up Pale Ale, which was hoppy and nicely balanced, making it quite easy to drink.  The Rye Stout was also quite tasty.

Tap handles at Revolution
We got talking to one of the managers on duty, and he was nice enough to show me the upstairs room, which wasn't currently open during our visit.  I was quite impressed with the layout and atmosphere of Revolution.  The decor was modern yet had a distinct vintage feel.  Unique light fixtures adorned the tin-style ceiling.  The decorative brick walls complemented the distressed hardwood floorboards and the smooth, polished wainscoting.  We definitely could have stayed here much longer than we did.  The food looked great too.  We'll have to save it for next time we roll through Chicago.

Pleeps was in a silly mood on this particular day!
After visiting Revolution, it was off to Wisconsin, our furthest destination of the trip.  But first, a quick stop to the relatively small Tyranena Brewing Company in nearby Lake Mills, WI.  Brewslut and I rarely order the same beer, but the stars were aligned on this particular evening when we both ordered Dirty Old Man, a delicious barrel-aged Rye Porter.  We'd both had this beer on prior occasions and loved it.  Tonight was no different.  This is, simply put, a great beer!  We concluded our brief visit with a sample of Hop Whore DIPA, which was quite good, although I thought it smelled better than it tasted.

This one could be a postcard!
We finished up our long day with dinner at perennial favorite The Old Fashioned, one of our absolute favorite beer bars in the United States.  Boasting a tap list of around 52 (yes, fifty-two!) Wisconsin-only beers, you can always find something truly unique and hard-to-find, especially for us Pennsylvania folk.  There was about an hour wait for a table and the bar was completely packed, so we found a quiet corner and two chairs near the stairs in the very back of the establishment and waited for our table.  While we waited patiently, we enjoyed our first beers in Madison.  I ordered Templeton Rye from Potosi Brewing Company, a barrel-aged Oatmeal Stout.  Brewslut (wisely, I must add) opted for the New Glarus Cherry Stout.  Originally released as one of its Thumbprint Series beers (the bottles with the red foil around the necks), it was indeed a rarity to see it turn up on tap, especially since it was no longer being produced.  I had a sip of hers and it may very well be the best fruit stout I'd ever tasted.  It was like a stout version of New Glarus' amazing Wisconsin Red.  

We were eventually seated after a lengthy hour-long wait, so we rewarded ourselves with dinner and more beer.  I enjoyed a fish and chips plate with fresh, local perch, walleye, and cod.  Brewslut had tuna salad sandwich.  To wash it down, I went with the beer special of the night, which happened to be Wisconsinite Wheat from Lakefront Brewery out of Milwaukee.  Brewslut got Hinterland's Grand Cru, a barrel-aged Barleywine with Door County cherries.  While she enjoyed it, she'd wished she'd ordered another Cherry Stout.  Can't say I blame her for that!

Afterwards, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the Capital building, which was right up the street from The Old Fashioned.  We had planned on visiting Great Dane, but both agreed that we'd had enough for one day, so we retired to our home for the next two nights - Clarion Suites.  Lucky for us, we were able to secure a hotel within walking distance of the event grounds... because there was NO WAY we'd be in any shape to drive after this epic beer festival!

Stay tuned for Part Five, the final episode of our Great Taste Caper.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Return of the Mikie: Day Three

For our final day in Grand Rapids, I felt it necessary for us to return to Founders, if only for the possibility of us not getting to visit again for another four years!  So, we hit up Wolfgang's again for breakfast, then headed over to Founders for my final Dave's Not Here fix.  I think I have to go on record and say it was THE beer of the trip.  Brewslut went with the Founders Fest Wheat, a mildly hoppy American wheat beer.  On this particular visit to Founders, we spent A LOT of time talking shop with a variety of locals, several of whom recommended the nearby Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, MI, just near the Indiana border.  Even one of the Founders guys recommended Greenbush, so we knew it would be a legit establishment.

Inside Oddside.
But it would have to wait because we were off to a new place recommended by my beer mentor Deuane.  Oddside Ales is situated in an old piano factory in downtown Grand Haven, MI, and offers original hand-crafted beers in extremely small batches.  The brewpub has a distinctively vintage feel with weathered hardwood floors, unique light fixtures, and a variety of seating including benches, high-top tables, a cool glass-top bar filled with barley kernels, and even a comfy leather couch!

Close-up shot of the bar at Oddside Ales.
Deuane informed us ahead of time that they did not serve food, so we planned on eating at the Livery in Benton Harbor (coming up in a bit).  There were only a few patrons when we arrived, so we procured two seats at the bar.  We always prefer sitting at the bar because we can converse with the bartender, and typically the most interesting folks in the place sit at the bar.

Pleeps is ready to dig into the sampler tray!
During our inaugural visit, they boasted seven interesting looking taps, so we decided to go with a sampler, which consisted of the following beers: Citra Pale Ale, Orange Cream Stout, Weed Party IPA, Watermelon Wheat, Imperial Coffee Stout, Jackalope Amber, and Peach Tea Blonde.  I knew I was going to love the Weed Party IPA based solely on the name.  I was right.  This was a dank, hoppy IPA with a strong herbal character as well as citrusy notes.  I knew right away that one of my empty growlers was going to be filled with this brilliant brew!  The Citra Pale Ale was also a stand-out, as was the Imperial Coffee Stout.  The others were all solid beers, although I was a bit disappointed with the Orange Cream Stout as I was expecting more of a creamsicle.  Unfortunately, it was more like a plain old stout.

More of Oddside's interior.
We eventually started talking to the bartender, Chris, and found out that he emigrated from New Holland Brewing Company (where our friend Dr. Joel recently immigrated to).  We were initially on the fence about stopping by New Holland, but figured we ought to since we hadn't been there yet.

Not only do they brew great beer, but they're also good bowlers!
After a great visit to Oddside, we made the short drive to Holland, MI, for a quick stop to New Holland Brewing Company.  We arrived at an odd time, so there was plenty of room at the bar.  I ordered Envious, an ale aged in oak on a variety of fruit, while Brewslut chose the Mole Ocho, a Mexican spiced ale we had enjoyed at the Harrisburg Brewer's Fest a few years back.  Since this was a quick one-and-done visit, I was bummed when I found out that Dragon's Milk was on cask.  M'wah to the tenth power!  Still, I HAD to try it on cask, so we got a little sample size, and man does that beer deliver!  Simply delicious!  New Holland is quite a big brewpub, and we definitely could have spent more time there.  However, the bartenders weren't too talkative, and we were excited for our next stop.

Pleeps ready to rock some Mole Ocho!
That's right, we were off to the Livery, home of the fabled bartender Mikie.  Let me provide some back story.  When Brewslut first traveled to Madison, WI, for Great Taste of the Midwest, her entourage stopped at The Livery for a few beers.  Behind the bar was a very boisterous, opinionated bartender who reminded Brewslut of Garth Algar of Wayne's World fame.  When asked about  growler-filling policies, Mikie apparently went off on a lengthy rant and ridiculed other breweries for not filling up other breweries' growlers.  The rant was apparently so epic that Mikie achieved cult status amongst our drinking circle.  Well, when we arrived at the Livery, lo and behold, there was Mikie sitting at the bar, enjoying a beer and talking to some local patrons.  I really wanted to talk to him, but apparently I was star-struck and choked.  When I finally mustered up the courage to talk to him, he got up and left.  So I missed my opportunity to meet the man, the myth, the legend - Mikie!  What can I say... I suck at life.

Enjoying a beer at The Livery.
Missing my chance to finally meet Mikie, I retreated to our table to finish my beer and enjoy some food.  The beer, by the way, was Steel Wheels, a dry hopped Oat Stout.  Brewslut enjoyed Ginger Peach, a Pale Ale brewed with, not surprisingly, peaches and ginger.  For dinner I ordered a chicken Florentine sandwich with chips and a pickle, and Brewslut opted for the delicious-sounding habanero mac and cheese.  I felt I needed some protein; she didn't.  After dinner, we decided to share a goblet of Basket Case, an Imperial Chocolate Rye Oatmeal Stout.  Wow, that was a mouthful!  The Livery was definitely a no-frills establishment.  I felt like I was drinking at a college basement party.  It was sparsely decorated and very bare-bones.  But hey, they beer was great, so there you go!

Pleeps poses with the Imperial Chocolate Rye Oatmeal Stout at The Livery.
One final destination was in store for us on this particular day, and it was perhaps my most desired stop on the entire trip.  I first became enamored with Three Floyds Brewing Company when I sampled Alpha King Pale Ale several years ago.  By the time I had Dreadnaught for the first time, they had moved extremely high up my ladder of "favorite breweries in the United States", and Dreadnaught became my benchmark DIPA.  Well, last year when Brewslut procured a growler of fresh Zombie Dust (at the time, a brewery-only draft release), they sealed the deal.  Three Floyds just makes the kinds of beer I love.  Take a perfectly fine beer style and hop the shit out of it. 

Pleeps loves the die-cut coasters at FFF... and the Zombie Dust!
My line-up went like this - Alpha King > Zombie Dust > Gumballhead.  In retrospect, I probably should have started with the Gumballhead, a hoppy American Wheat beer.  Despite its hop character, it pales in comparison to the two other aforementioned beers.  I was also unfortunate enough to arrive right after Dreadnaught kicked.  It appears that I had pulled a Dain (inside joke I don't feel like explaining, but those of you who know will get a good chuckle).  As I was drinking one of my beers, I noticed a guy sitting at a table across the room that looked really familiar.  So I eventually went over a started talking to him.  Turns out we'd never met (at least to our knowledge), but we talked for a while.  He and his friend were from Ohio and on their way to Great Taste.  Brewslut had a lone Zombie Dust, because she graciously volunteered to drive back to the hotel, as she knew how excited I was to get back to FFF after several years.  My one complaint is that they were showing the Olympics and blasting industrial metal music through the speakers.  It was extremely difficult to talk where we were sitting.  Oh well, I coped with it.  Lucky for me, the beer was amazing.  Afterwards, we made our way to the Country Inn and Suites in Tinley Park, IL, where we were staying on this particular night.  Tomorrow, it was off to Chicago to visit a few more new places... for me, anyway.  Stay tuned for Part Four - A Piece of Old Fashioned Revolution with a side of Tyranena.