This last weekend was a weekend of firsts for me. I drove up to Madison, WI to attend The Great Taste of the Midwest (GTMW) with New Holland Brewing. It was my first, and hopefully not last, trip to Madison and the Taste (as it’s called among regular attendees).
As I pulled into Madison on Friday afternoon I was impressed with the layout of the city, its architecture and overall charm. You can tell, even in the middle of summer, that this is a college town mashed up with the state capitol. There is an impressive energy that comes from so much tradition and history blending together with the younger population that passes through every year.
I checked into my hotel and headed over to the Tipsy Cow on King Street. This would be New Holland’s base of operations for the evening. We were there to hang out with fellow brewers, GTMW attendees, and locals, promoting the New Holland brand while having a good time. We spent the entire evening out on the patio raising our glasses to new friends and old.
I woke up early Saturday morning with more excitement that I thought possible after the late evening. I packed my supplies and met up with a bunch of New Holland reps to carpool over the festival set-up area. There was a lot of work to be done in the next couple of hours.
When we first arrived in Olin Park, tents were being put up, delivery trucks were coming and going in every direction, and police and festival organizers were directing the still sleepy crowd of brewers who were just now gulping down their coffee. Thankfully the coffee available on site was brewed thick and strong.
Over the next two hours the New Holland trailer and tents became an impressive Hollywood-themed bar, theater, lounge and art gallery. The crew dressed up as famous characters from some of their favorite movies, mine being journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who most people know from the movie and/or book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. As we finished up our preparations we could hear the crowd of thousands lining up at the front gate.
There is a moment at the very beginning of popular conventions and festivals where the gate first opens and it looks like Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. There was a loud clamor not too far from our area, a bunch of shouting and then a stream of people racing into the festival to get to their favorite brewery as quickly as they could. The front of the crowd was on the hunt for rare or specialty beers that would be gone before the back of the crowd made it across the start line. Someone turned to me around this time and told me there were six thousand people flowing in as we watched. It was an impressive sight to see.
The rest of the day was a blur of conversations, tastings, and picture taking. I talked and painted into the late afternoon before taking a break to head out and try some new beers. Unlike my highly organized wife, who had printed out a carefully cultivated list of beers she wanted to try, I took the random scattershot approach and just meandered from tent to tent looking for things that sounded interesting.
A short list of my most notable beers:
New Holland Brewing: Incorrigible Reserve, El Nuevo Record, and Night Tripper
3 Sheeps: Bourbon Barrel Baaad Boy
B. Nektar Meadery: Raspberry Ginger mead
Central Waters: Bourbon Barrel Stout
Lexington Brewing:  Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout
Perennial: Suburban Revenge
Port Huron Brewing: Million Dollar Smoked Maibock
Spiteful: God Damn Coconut Pigeon Porter
Transient Artisan Ales: Blackberry Maigre
White Winter Winery: “Bold & Snappy” Black Currant
All day long I met a ton of interesting people and had a million great conversations. I was astounded by the response to Beer Portraits’ presence at the New Holland booth. Lots of people had kind and enthusiastic things to say, and I managed to sell out of all the paintings and drawings that I had brought with me.
At the end of the day, we closed up shop, struck the tents, packed everything away and headed back to our hotel to shower before a New Holland friends and family dinner later that night at Jac’s Dining and Taphouse. We ate a tremendous meal together and then wandered back to the hotel bar to share stories over drinks until the wee hours of the morning.
The next morning we took shifts rolling into the Blue Moon Bar and Grill for a New Holland brunch and a little hair of the dog. Shortly after that, several of us hit the road to head home and recuperate before getting back to work on Monday.
My first year at the Taste is definitely one I won’t forget. While tasting new beers was certainly fun, a lot of my enjoyment came from getting to know my New Holland family a little better, interacting with insanely enthusiastic beer fans, and just seeing how much love there is out there for craft brewing. I’m looking forward to the next fest already.

P.S. A huge thank you to my New Holland family and friends for having me in and making me feel welcome. Fred, Taylor, Kelli, Holly, Richard, Lou, Meagan, Nick, Natanya, Katie and Jake, you guys are the best!

Click on the pictures below to move forward through a slide show from my time at the GTMW.