YPSILANTI — It was out there, somewhere. Beckoning me. Waiting for me.
In the midst of the sprawling grounds of Riverside Park, Beer Tent No. 4 stood with a booth where poured the beers of one of Michigan’s newest production breweries, Griffin Claw Brewing Co., which opened for business in Birmingham earlier this month.
Griffin Claw’s head brewer, the highly respected Dan Rogers, was behind my favorite beer of last year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival: Saison St. Clair, a fruity, sour-ish take on the classic French style. It was among the well regarded offerings of Big Rock Chophouse, the high-end restaurant that spawned Griffin Claw. I was looking forward to trying it again, along with the other Griffin Claw beers.
But the road to Beer Tent No. 4 was a long and winding one. There were three other large tents to contend with, each housing dozens of amazing Michigan breweries pouring hundreds of killer brews, as well as several standalone beer booths. Not to mention 5,000 festgoers, all looking for their own version of beervana and eager to share their experiences.
Hours of interactions with fellow beer lovers, detours, missteps, food breaks and, of course, stops to try other brews intruded on the quest for the One Beer to Rule Them All. Here are just a few sign posts passed during my Summer Beer Festival odyssey:
Beer Marriage Made in Heaven
Sparkleberry Ale, Bell’s Brewery. A blend of Bell’s Sparkling Ale (a Belgian-style tripel) and Raspberry Ale, Sparkleberry was created for, and debuted at, a Kalamazoo gay pride event in June. The resulting slightly tart elixir with a complex, dry finish was, as one might expect, FAB-u-LOUS! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
This Beer Is Your Beer, This Beer Is My Beer
Rye Dream of Ginger, Our Brewing Co. Relative newcomers Our Brewing out of Holland offered a number of intriguing options, the best of which* was Rye Dream of Ginger Ale, which, as its name suggests, featured an ever-so-slight rye malt spiciness nicely balanced with a pleasant dose of refreshing ginger.
* I did not, however, get to try what they were calling a Pilsner Wine, which also sounded interesting.
Reign in Blood Orange Pale Ale, Where the Wild Things Macerate Raspberries Sour Ale, Dark Horse Brewing Co. Dark Horse honcho Aaron Morse’s love for the band Slayer is as well known as his contempt for Nickelback, so as I approached what can only be called the brewery’s compound, I had high hopes for the thrash metal-inspired Reign in Blood Orange. Alas, it did not deliver the same impact as a frenetic Jeff Hanneman (RIP) solo, lacking much in the way of the titular fruit flavor. The raspberry sour, on the other hand, delivered on both of its promises: Fruity, sour, but not overwhelming in either case.
Stopping to Taste the Beervangelism
Cherry Dragon’s Milk, New Holland Brewing Co. No beer journey would be complete without a visit with New Holland Beervangelist Fred Bueltmann and the “Stop & Taste” crew, who were kindly offering a beer-and-cheese pairing alongside copies of Fred’s new book, Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy. I opted for a cherry-infused Dragon’s Milk Barrel Aged Stout, created to celebrate legendary Ann Arbor beer bar Ashley’s 30th anniversary, and helped myself to a complimentary chunk of bleu cheese. I did not regret this, to say the least.
Krewe de Kuhnhenn
Sazerac Beer Cocktail, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. In my globe-trotting travels to drink in different parts of the world, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a Sazerac cocktail in the city of its birth, New Orleans. Kuhnhenn Brewing’s Mardi Gras-themed booth managed to add beer to the classic whiskey-based drink, to creditable results.
Annette’s Secret Pale Ale, Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. A delicious take on Grizzly Peak’s pale ale was Annette’s Secret, which included a dose of hop essence Certified Cicerone Annette May recently brought back from her native Australia. The new hop, originally called Victoria’s Secret after the Aussie state where it’s grown, predictably prompted lawsuit threats from the powerful Hot Lingerie Models Union. Curiously, when swirled, the beer would go only clockwise in the cup.
Nobody Does It Better
Saison St. Clair, Berlinerweisse, Red Rock Flanders Red Ale, Griffin Claw Brewing Co. The slightly sour, tart, funky Brettanomyces-fermented Saison St. Clair tasted even better than I remembered, and this year it was joined by a couple more excellent sour offerings: A Flanders red-style ale and a 3.5% ABV Berlinerweisse, which my partner in beer, Nicole Rupersburg of Eat It Detroit, promptly proposed marriage to. Also of note was an off-menu Czech Pils, provided to me courtesy of assistant brewer Stacey Block. Can’t wait to visit the new taproom in Birmingham, where Nicole has already finished drinking the entire keg of Berlinerweisse by herself.