Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 9, 2016

Beer Diary:

Great Taste Eve

Check out the burgeoning Madison beer scene the night before the best fest in country.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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Holy fuck balls (is that one word or two?), it’s already Great Taste of the Midwest week. In case you live under a rock on the moon with your head up your ass, the Great Taste is one of the largest and the best craft beer festivals in the country, if not the world. What makes it so damn great isn’t the ginormous selection of brews from across the Midwest, but it’s one of the few brew fests where you can interact directly with the actual brewers.

Yet even better than the fest itself is the night (and increasingly, nights, plural) prior, when taverns and restaurants around the city host pre-parties, usually in collaboration with one or two craft brewers. A lot of times this will include tappings of hard-to-find specialty brews or one-offs specifically for the Great Taste. Madison is a relatively small but vibrant beer town, and like most non-shithole cities in America, it’s craft beer scene is pretty much exploding. A few great new places have opened up in the past year or two, which you owe to yourself to visit if you’re in town for the Great Taste (or even just the pre-parties).

One can’t-miss stop is Parched Eagle, sitting in a quiet strip mall on the outskirts of town (technically speaking, it’s in the satellite village of Westport). The bar in this tiny space is made from pianos, but even more striking is the beer. They feature a small but eclectic lineup of tiny batch brews that sport a homebrewer’s attitude with a pro brewer’s execution. Their Hop-Bearer IPA is one of the best in the Midwest, and they’ve got some special releases ready for the run-up to the Great Taste.

Even newer to the Madison beer scene is Rockhound Brewing, just outside the heart of downtown. Their first few batches of beer were contract brewed at House of Brews while they were dialing in their recipes, but they’ve just recently starting mashing in on their own steel. The brews I had back in the spring were solid takes on traditional styles, with a few twists thrown in. You should stop in and see how their brews are coming along.

Speaking of House of Brews, if all those new glittering craft beer palaces of the industry’s power hitters make you sometimes long for the gritty roots of craft brewing, this is the place you should hang out. With a bare bones tasting room, House of Brews reminds me of the cozy but no-nonsense digs of Founders, Bell’s, and Three Floyds before they expanded (and expanded and expanded) into the stratoshphere. While House of Brews makes a handful of damn fine, malt-forward beers, they also handle contract brewing for seemingly every fledgling brewpub in south-central Wisconsin. Located in a maze-like industrial area, it’s worth seeking out.

You can check out a full list of places throwing shindigs for the Great Taste here. Just don’t drink any of Goose Island’s fucking sell-out juice.