A complete toolkit to making the most of the greatest beer festival in the Midwest.
Many more experienced Great Taste goers have shared their thoughts, impressions, and cultural expectations, but as a first year attendee, I only have my own humble experiences to draw on in order to prepare for my first entry into the beer-soaked breach. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the festival proper next week, but for those preparing for a weekend of pure beer nerd bliss, I humbly present a Tone-powered toolkit for making your Great Taste weekend great again.
Your Great Taste Eve Power Rankings
Great Taste Eve (and increasingly the days leading up to it) have an air of the cool kids coming back to town for a high school reunion and getting together at the local hangout one last time, if they all went to some weird beer brewing high school. There’s a ton going on tonight—some focused on local beer pride, others on rare finds on the isthmus—but here are some of the highlights along with what to expect out of staying out past your bedtime on the night before the big day.
Annual Toppling Goliath Great Taste Eve Party
Dexter’s Pub, 301 North Street
9 AM – 8 PM
Local Beer Booster Rating: I dunno, Decorah? That’s pretty close to Nebraska. Two mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Amazing beer is good; beer that is so popular that it’s cash only is better. Four and a half robust mustaches.
Drink This: Whatever the firkin tapping is, because you definitely already missed out on Morning Delight. The line for that started at 6 AM.
Great Lakes Brewing Co & Lakefront Brewery Collaboration Release
The Rigby, 119 E Main Street
10 AM – close
Local Beer Booster Rating: The beer so familiar that we all sometimes forget it’s brewed in Ohio, teaming up with a Milwaukee institution. Three and a half mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: An exclusive hefeweizen in the morning AND barrel aged rarities at 7 PM? Four curly mustaches.
Drink This: Black Friday Imperial Stout, which is normally only available to those who bail on Thanksgiving dinner to wait in line in front of Lakefront Brewery.
Central Waters Official Great Taste Pre-Party at Lucille
Lucille, 101 King Street
11:00 AM to close
Local Beer Booster Rating: Central Waters is known for greatness here, but remains a hidden gem beyond our borders. Celebrate Wisconsin greatness. Four and a half mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Brewer’s reserve select tappings, plus a litany of weird things offering a preview of what they’ll have on offer at the festival proper. Three and a half tightly coiled mustaches.
Drink This: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale, which I’ve never had personally but you will have to fight me for if you stop me from trying it.
Bourbon County Stout Proprietors Vertical Tapping
Madison’s, 119 N. King Street
2 PM – 7 PM
Local Beer Booster Rating: Fucking FIBs. One middle finger mitten.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Shut the fuck up, these people invented the bourbon barrel style, and this beer is normally exclusive to their home turf in Chicago. Five gloriously full mustaches.
Drink This: 2013 Proprieters, which seems to have mellowed out and become fuller compared to the later years on offer.
Great Taste Eve: Wisconsin Showcase
The Malt House, 2609 E Washington Avenue
4 PM to close
Local Beer Booster Rating: Too many great Madison and Milwaukee brewers to list, with a tap list packed with experiments as well as standby favorites. Three and a half mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Rare Central Waters, House of Brews and Lakefront tappings could make this a packed affair. Four and a half waxy, eager mustaches.
Drink This: Next Door Plumptuous, because I have a thing with scotch ales, okay? Plus, the name.
Furthermore at Natt Spil
Natt Spil, 211 King Street
5 PM – close
Local Beer Booster Rating: Local DJs plus Spring Green’s finest? Four mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Furthermore remains one of my favorite brewers in the state, but their status as a contract brewer has skipped the fest for a decade and counting.This is your only chance to taste Furthermore this weekend. Four and a half secretive mustaches. (UPDATE: Sand Creek will have Furthmore at their tent. Always read the beer list.
Drink This: “Coffee’d Up” Black Cloud.
Pre-Great Taste Sensation & WBC Staff Infestation
Wisconsin Brewing Tap Haus, 107 State Street
6 PM to close
Local Beer Booster Rating: Five mittens just for the chance of trying weird WBC brews served by Brewmaster Kirby himself.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: Raffling of barrel-aged bombers and merch could earn some cred at the fest. T-shirt could be for a more indie brewer on Saturday, but it couldn’t hurt to have more Wisconsin Brewing Company gear for the next Chicago beer festival. Three mustaches.
Drink This: Whatever “never-before-seen beers” seem the least likely to contain fish.
Brew City on Tap in Mad City
Next Door Brewing Company, 2439 Atwood Avenue
6 – 10 PM
Local Beer Booster Rating: A swath of lesser-known Milwaukee brewers, with a shuttle connection via Hophead Tours to several other smaller Madison brewpubs. Four mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: A bit labor intensive but worth it to hit some of the hipper, smaller brewpubs around the outskirts of downtown. Three droopy mustaches.
Drink This: Next Door will have “some surprises” in store, so keep an eye out for rarities on offer.
Tipsy Gets Surly
Tipsy Cow, 102 King Street
11 AM – close
Local Beer Booster Rating: 22 Minnesota taps means little space for local faves, but we can play nice for our Viking brewer neighbors. Three mittens.
Beer Nerd Cred Rating: New beers on the hour with nitro taps, old favorites and experimental tastes to try. Four rugged northern mustaches.
Drink This: Barrel-Aged Darkness 2015, a delight that won’t even require you to wait overnight in the rain on Darkness Day.
Saturday Sour Grapes
Didn’t get tickets this year? Been there. No worries, you still have options. If you’re not into salivating as you watch a live broadcast of the festivities, you can always attend one of these counter-programming events on Saturday to sate your GTMWFOMO.
New Glarus @ Off Broadway
Off Broadway Drafthouse, 5404 Raywood Road
7 AM – 9 PM
Likely overheard: “We were only going to drink Spotted Cow anyway, no big loss. Plus, there’s fish fry!”
Consolation prize: A full 12 tap selection of New Glarus beers, plus aforementioned Spotted Cow-battered fish.
Drink This: If you go in the morning before people head off to Great Taste on Saturday, you can order a Bloody Mary with a free Spotted Cow chaser. Take that, beer nerds!
Great Taste of the Brickhouse
Brickhouse BBQ, 408 W Gorham Street
Likely overheard: “Well, we missed out on the big event, and the big party at Lucille’s, but at least we have this place to ourselves, and it’s air-conditioned, right fellas?” ::weeps::
Consolation prize: Most of the Central Waters selection from Friday’s event at Lucille’s.
Drink This: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout or Bloody Sunrise, depending on if you want to go dark or light respectively.
I’ll be learning by doing at my first festival this year, but I’ve assembled a comprehensive Twitter list of all the brewers at this year’s Great Taste, embedded below. Trust the experts on this one. All I can tell you? Be safe in your transit arrangements: use buses, DDs, and dollar cabs.