Written by Adam Watson
I recently spent a weekend up in lovely Madison, Wisconsin at the very same Great Taste of the Midwest so shiningly reviewed by Louisvillebeer.com’s very own Mr. Fingerson. It was a great time, and I won’t sully his good work by trying to make this a review. One thing did happen up there, however, to warrant a bit of introspection. I had a small (albeit fervent) series of people ask me during my stay up there some permutation of the question, “Since Kentucky isn’t part of the Midwest, what the hell are you doing up here?” Kentucky’s inclusion in any definition of “Midwest” is, I suppose, up for debate, and the contours of the argument change based on whether you are using a geographic, cultural, or some other lens. That argument doesn’t interest me, though, so let’s take them at their word. Let’s say Kentucky is indisputably NOT of the Midwest. Then just what the hell was I doing at the venerable Great Taste 2013?
I’ll admit that my knee-jerk reaction was something in the vein of “I dunno, man! They invited me, and I always have a good time up here, so why not?” That isn’t a very fulfilling explanation, though, so bear with me a bit while I try to hammer out something more satisfactory.
The pleasure factor is certainly relevant. To some extent, we were there because I and some of my partners had been there before and had always had a good time. It is an exceedingly well run festival with lots of great breweries, great beers, and good times. Even though it can still get plenty hot, it’s generally more tolerable than midsummer Louisville heat, Madison has a very cool collection of local bars, the brewery events the night before the festival itself are high caliber, and I like cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. These are all good reasons to go, but they are reasons I would have even if I was not a brewer. I could enjoy the weather, the beers, and the cheese by simply taking the weekend off and going to Madison. So why go as a brewer?
At least in part because of the pleasure factor above, this festival in particular seems to draw lots of quality brewers. The Midwest undoubtedly has some brewing talent, and because of the smooth operations and general good time-ness, much of that talent tends to gather in this place at this time. That makes it a great networking opportunity for other brewers. I have met plenty of great brewers in Madison and have continued many of the relationships started there. This year was no different, and there may be another collaboration in the works after a fortuitous meeting over a glass of grilled peach and basil beer. Yes, it was good. They were good. The meeting and the beer. Both. Not only does this gathering of brewers make for a good networking opportunity, but it allows us to talk shop with people who have similar day-to-day experiences. We can talk yeast strains, grain quality, adjuncts, microbiology, and more. It’s a chance to nerd out with people who are the same kind of nerd we are.
Lastly, it’s just good marketing. When you get right down to it, that’s really the reason any brewery does any festival. Sure they are fun. Sure they give us a chance to hang out with kindred souls. However, we are all in the business of beer. We only get to keep doing what we are doing if people buy our beer, and festivals are a great way of letting people try your beer and getting to chat them up about your brand while you are at it. No brewery shows up at a festival without wanting to be noticed. Now, it is a valid point that we don’t currently distribute any product to Wisconsin and don’t have any immediate plans to do so, but just because we don’t sell beer in Wisconsin does not mean we don’t want Wisconsinites to WANT us to sell beer in Wisconsin. By sowing the seeds of desire now, we create a better potential market should we ever grow large enough to supply that state. There’s also the global market aspect to consider. Sites and apps like ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com, and Untappd mean that positive reviews from anywhere in the world can impact the impression of your product in any other part of the world. A slew of good reviews from a successful festival can significantly bump the online scores of your beers and create a buzz in places you do sell.
Well, that’s my schtick on GTotMW2013. Hope I wasn’t too rambly. I had a good time. Might return to another science topic next time. Eh? We shall see. Until then, faithful readers, thanks for reading, and happy drinks!
P.S. Remember to let me know if you have some specific topic you would like me to babble about next time. You can tell me in person, by e-mail, or in the comments right down below.