"Beer here!" It's one of the quintessential sounds of summer - the vendor in the ballpark announcing his proximity and the promise of thirst soon to be slaked. This week, in Isthmus, it's alerting you to Robin Shepard's latest, a rundown of the revitalized brewing culture in and around Madison.
What occasions the report is this weekend's Great Taste of the Midwest, mounted by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild at Olin-Turville Park. This ticketed event is one of the largest in the country, outstripped only by the four-day Great American Beer Festival in Denver. And a Great Taste ticket is hard to come by. Like the Masters golf tournament, there's a lottery for the right to buy tickets. A limited number are released to the general public, and folks have taken to hanging out overnight in front of the venues that sell the tickets in order to get them.
Even Shepard, an acknowledged beer authority and winner of the Quill and Tankard Writing Award, presented by the North American Guild of Beer Writers, had to snag his ticket on eBay. Which is to say, don't show up at Olin-Turville expecting to get in if you don't already have a ticket.
Shepard won his award for his book Wisconsin's Best Breweries and Brew Pubs. He has since produced a companion volume on Illinois and is currently working on one about Minnesota. (A Bub's, anyone?) He also holds down the deliciously ironic position of associate professor of life sciences at the UW.
Brewing beer has been on the minds of folks around here since 1835, and over 170 years later the hopheads are going stronger than ever. The start-up and re-start brewery trend began a couple of decades ago and shows no signs of slowing down, with new labels popping up from brewpubs, micro-brewers and contract brewers all the time. Shepard gives us the history and a roundup of the present-day actors. He also provides a sidebar (no pun intended but always appreciated) on some of the brewers' favored watering holes.
You'll find even more online at TheDailyPage.com, including a calendar of beer festivals, a rundown of beer gardens and a list of who select brewers would choose to quaff with. So de-cap a tall boy or have your favorite barkeep draw a frosty pint and read while you enjoy. Prosit!