What Waiting In Line for Great Taste of the Midwest Tickets Taught Me About the Madison Craft Beer Community

(Breaking dawn at Steve’s — still 6 hours before tickets go on sale.

Ever since I returned to the Midwest in 2014, there’s been one beer event at the top of my bucket list — The Great Taste of the Midwest (GTMW). A beautiful setting in a wonderful beer town, and the best breweries from throughout the Midwest bringing their “A” game. The first 3 summers I was back, within striking distance of the festival, the date eluded me. Wedding obligations, 3 years in a row.

In September, my family had moved from Chicago to Madison, putting the GTMW and it’s ticket sales event right in my own backyard. For the uninitiated — GTMW tickets are sold onsite at 8 different locations in Madison. Each site gets an allotment of 300–400 tickets (limit 2 per person), and all sales start at 12:00pm.

So, although continuously sleep deprived and with a nagging voice in my head telling me there were better things I could do with 8+ hours on a Sunday, I knew that the only way to assure myself tickets was to wait in line.

Although an enthusiastic lover and learner of craft beer, I’ve been admittedly slow to find footing in the Madison beer community. A combination of new job, nascent network of friends and a toddler at home means little for breweries and bars these days. As of Saturday night, I still had no concrete plan for lining up. I didn’t know what time or where. I had an acquaintance who was lining up at 3:00am at Steve’s Wine Shop. Thinking that a little extreme, I decided to roll the dice and set my alarm for 5:00am, eventually finding myself in line at Steve’s by 5:45.

Upon walking to my rightful place at the end of the line, I bumped into my friend — they had shown up at 3:45, and estimated themselves to be roughly 150th in line. In the 2 hours since, only another 25 people had shown up, putting me in in spot 175, by estimate. If this held up, I would get tickets.

Now, this is where the real story starts. Within minutes of arriving in line — alone — I was introduced to the true nature of the line. The wait for GTMW tickets is almost like a beef festival in itself, with the full generosity of Madison’s beer community on display.

Within minutes of getting in line, I was in conversation with the person ahead of me, who happened to be friends with the group occupying spot #2 in line (after arriving at 10:30pm Saturday night).

We were both quickly invited to join that group in their bottle share and general early morning revelry — the kind of early morning atmosphere that I typically expect to be followed by a college football game. One member of this group was moving, and doing his best to drink all the beer in his cellar before leaving town. Here I was at 6:30am, sharing Perennial Sump with 8 people who’s names I had not yet learned. I returned the favor, sharing a couple beers I had hastily thrown into a backpack on my way out the door.

This damage had been done before I arrived

To be fair, this type of welcome atmosphere isn’t just true of Madison — I’ve encountered this in numerous cities. Beer people are typically good people. But, having shown up with an expectation of sitting in a lawn chair alone for 6 painfully boring hours, this was very welcome.

The party broke up briefly around 9am, when Guild officials arrived to hand out wristbands — guaranteeing our spots in line for tickets. This came with a dose of anxiety, as new estimates pegged my spot in line at roughly 215, and not 175. I waited nervously for 30 minutes and then exhaled, securing wristband 174, and immediately texting my wife with news that we’d be going to GTMW this year.

Once wristbands were established, the line loosened again. Some went home, but most stayed, resuming their unofficial tailgates in the liquor store parking lots. I found my friends who had arrived in the middle of the night, joining them for an intense yet largely unfocused game of Cards Against Humanity. I shared a crowler of Good City Idaho 7 IPA, purchased moments earlier once Steve’s had opened. Around me people played frisbee, bean-bag-toss and other board games I’d never seen. The sun continue to awaken people who had slept in the parking lot. And, as all tailgates seemed to, what had initially seemed like an impossibly long wait, flew by in a flash.

I made a final visit to my pre-dawn bottle share friends, exchanging numbers and Untapp’d info, and sneaking one final pour of Toppling Goliath King Sue before lining up for the ticket purchase.

Quicker than I could have anticipated, it was noon. The actual sale of tickets was fast — even at spot 174 I had my tickets in hand within 25 minutes. I’m already looking forward to next year, and look forward to camping out even longer with a group of like-minded beer nerds.

See you at The Taste.

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