I hope at this point everyone has recovered from the Great Taste of the Midwest last weekend. After hearing about GTMW for years this was the first year I was able to go and I finally scored tickets and made my way up. Getting tickets for the most part was pretty easy. The Chicago Beer Society each year gets a block of tickets that they sell to members. It costs $25 for individuals or $40 for couples a year to join the Chicago Beer Society and you get access to a number of great events including GTMW. The tickets for GTMW cost $60 through the Chicago Beer Society because this includes the price of the shuttle bus there and back. The tickets they get for GTMW do go fast so you have to respond quickly with your money.
Now, everyone will tell you that you need to go up to Madison on Friday before the festival and go to all the bars. Most of the breweries sponsor a different bar and put their beers on tap with special tappings, brewer meet-n-greets and other fun events. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, Maeve and I couldn’t go up early. When you get tickets from the Chicago Beer Society you need to ride the bus to Madison with them and they give you your ticket once you get up there. I’d say its a pretty good deal, you don’t have to try to figure out how you’re getting to Madison and since the bus takes you back to Chicago that night you don’t have to worry about booking a hotel, driving or bumming a ride back that night. A pretty good deal over all so if you live in Chicago or in the suburbs and you aren’t a Chicago Beer Society member, fix that right now.
Our bus left from Goose Island Clybourn around 9:30 (there’s a separate bus that leaves from the west suburbs) and we ended up at the festival at about 12:30. Doors / gates don’t open till 1:00 PM so you spend a little while waiting in line thumbing through the fest booklet they hand out that lists all the beers and brewery locations. This was the first time I had even seen the list for the day. The only thing I had heard about beforehand was what Ken mentioned that Goose Island had planned. Ken has been to GTMW for the last several years working the event and went up earlier in the week to help set up for the booth this year. These days I’m not one to plan much when I go to a beer festival. Planning might allow you to try some of those rare, hard to get beers but by not planning you may get to stumble on a new beer or brewery you’ve never heard of. And that’s how Maeve and I handled the festival. With over 1000 beers you’re going to find something new you’ve never heard of or tried before.
This wandering and lack of planning can often backfire which it did for us when we first walked in. We grabbed a couple of beers from a brewery we don’t often drink and instantly had to pour them out. First beers and they all got dumped, not a good start to the day. We quickly grabbed another beer we were familiar with and moved on. Making a quick stop at Goose Island to say hi to Ken and all the folks over there. Goose Island and Revolution Brewing both had some of the biggest and most elaborate set ups at the festival. Goose Island with their barrels all lined up helping guide people in a line and then Revolution Brewing with a halfpipe, skateboarders and a DJ out. Extremes for sure but pretty awesome to see how both these big names make a splash at the festival.
As Maeve and I wandered around we ran into a ton of great people like Gary Gulley of Panic Brewing, Mike Rybinski of ZwanzigZ Brewing (can someone do a video so we all know how to say this) Deb & Wil Turner of Revolution Brewing, Justin Maynard from the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, The crew from Haymarket, Tom Korder from Penrose Brewing, Jess from Revolution Brewing, Nik White of the Chicago Beer Geeks, Mike of Beer Genome Project and many of the Chicago brewers we’ve gotten to know over the years.
Walking around this park is crazy, in the 5 hours we were only able to do one big drunken circle. The thing is massive and overwhelming. If you did make a plan I don’t know how you kept it all straight, especially after a dozen beers. I would say I wish we had a couple other friends with us throughout the day so we could have tasted and shared more beers; it’s difficult with just the two of us. Walking around I noticed a ton of people with chairs and blankets laid out, they were just enjoying the day. Which to me seems like a waste, I mean come on people there is beer to drink, get moving. Ha!
Overall the day was fantastic and the Great Taste of the Midwest is a lot of fun. I know I had more than my fair share of great beer that day but that didn’t stop Maeve and I from stopping in at Goose Island Clybourn for some food and more beer after the Chicago Beer Society bus dropped us off. For all the hype of the Great Taste, it’s a lot of fun and it’s great to see so many people out supporting craft beer. The special tappings are good if you want to wait in line and the set ups Goose Island and Revolution Brewing do are cool to see. There’s a ton of great breweries at this fest but in the end its really just a big beer fest. Mostly it’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you’ve been to another beer festival. Be sure to go if you have the opportunity to but don’t beat yourself up about not being able to make it. It was a ton of fun but there’s a festival almost every weekend in the summer. I for one missed the Oak Park Micro Brew Review and I hear that’s good too.