Mug Shots: Abreast of a great beer fest

Aug 7, 2007 at 5:26 pm

I’ve never been to Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, but that will change this weekend when I embark on an overdue visit to a city that has often been accused of being “The People’s Republic of Madison.”  
That’s encouragement enough to elicit warm and fuzzy pre-trip vibrations from me, but moreover, Saturday also is the occasion for the annual Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival.

The GTMW is the ideal craft brew dictatorship that purges dissent by offering hundreds of microbrewed treats available for scientific 2-ounce sampling, ranging across the spectrum of styles, and with nary an ounce of insipid light mass-market beer in sight.

It’s one of the top three beer celebrations in the great brewing nation that America has somehow become almost in spite of itself, standing alongside the Oregon Brewers Festival (Portland) and the Great American Beer Festival (Denver). Each year, GTMW tickets sell out months in advance, and thousands wait joyfully in line to enter the grounds adjacent to beautiful Lake Olin and revel in flavor, diversity and ingenuity.

More often than not, the breweries proudly displaying their wares at the GTMW have come about as the result of an all-American dream to do it yourself, and to do it better. “We brew beer, we drink beer, and we sell what’s left” is a common motto. I get goose pimples just thinking about it.

Big beer events like Madison’s have spawned a subculture of fest fanatics who attend numerous such tastings. An abnormally large number of these die-hards are attracted to the “extreme” end of the flavor spectrum, with its high-octane styles like Double India Pale Ale, Imperial Stout and Barley Wine — libations of complexity and octane, suitable for all weather conditions, and worth traveling long distances to seek out.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit for more beer.