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Building Community, One Tasting at a Time

One of the goals of every Madison+ Ruby conference is for attendees to come away with new friends and rich professional connections. This is not the kind of conference where you sit, listen to a few talks, and go right back to your screen. No, at Madison+ Ruby, you’d be much more likely to participate in a Thunderdome-style Rock Paper Scissors tournament, attend a vegan dessert and bourbon tasting, or even pair program in an open source lounge during talk breaks.

Jessie Shternshus, founder of the Improv Effect, set the tone early with her Playnote on Friday morning. Madison+ Ruby 2014 is the eighth time she’s done a Madison+ conference. “So many people have become familiar faces and friends over the years,” she says. “It’s almost like summer camp.”

With the goal of having every attendee meet at least three to four people and get a lunch buddy, Shternshus asked everyone to find someone who had the same first vowel in their first name. She also had attendees take photos of each other acting out silly scenarios, and, finally, play single-elimination Rock Paper Scissors until the whole audience was cheering for one game. When the Playnote was over, everyone was definitely awake regardless of the level of caffeine in their veins.

The Open Source Lounge was a quieter, though no less energizing, part of Madison+ Ruby 2014. Sponsored by Braintree, the lounge was a way for attendees to put a human face on open source software. A collection of open source core contributors opened up existing projects for collaboration on both Friday and Saturday. A good chance to learn how to contribute to open source, the lounge offered attendees the option to build a richer open source community.

The Madison+ Ruby 2014 finale, as it were, was a memorable and delicious vegan dessert and bourbon tasting. With desserts from the Green Owl Café in Madison and liquor and liqueurs from local Yahara Bay Distillers, attendees’ taste buds were thoroughly delighted. Cara from the Green Owl explained to everyone how she crafted her Carmelita bars, Rosemary vanilla shortbread cookies and orange spice cake. She uses ecologically sourced palm shortening in place of butter: “No orangutan tears in there.”

The mood of the night was light-hearted and full of good-spirited heckling. “There is so much giggling in this room right now,” noted Alex Koppel in a tweet. A ruby-colored glow in the lobby of the Overture Center and a gorgeous sunset contributed to the buoyant mood.

In addition to enjoying the first aged whiskey produced in Wisconsin since prohibition, tasting attendees also enjoyed Seraphine Chai tea vodka crafted from Honeycrisp apples and corn and steeped with organic black Chai tea. Distilled four times and filtered three, the smooth vodka was an interesting mix blend of sweetness and spice—an ideal partner for Cara’s orange spice cake. Tasters also enjoyed small batch/single barrel bourbon that was aged three and a half years. With an undertone of vanilla and caramel, it was the perfect match for Cara’s Carmelita bars.

All of these efforts to bring people together had the intended effect. “So happy I had a chance to make new connections and meet so many wonderful people!” said Madison+ Ruby attendee Derek J. Bender in a tweet. “It was my first time here, and I felt so at home,” agreed Hannah Kim Bottalla, also via Twitter.

If you’re local to Madison and interested in learning more about Yahara Bay, they offer free distillery tours and sampling on Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m.