GRAND RAPIDS — Thirty-five beers for 35 years.  Joe Short of Shorts Brewing celebrated his birthday — HopCat style — on Thursday.

Trevor Mapes, Captain of Beer R&D and Regional Beer Director for HopCat and Rick Martinez, Beer Research and Development, helped to coordinate the event from HopCat’s end.

“It’s been kind of a running tradition that the same week as Joe’s birthday we end up hosting this event and putting on as many Short’s taps as every year old Joe is turning. We’re not sure yet what we’re going to do when he turns 49, because we only have 48 taps,” Trevor jokes.

“The only thing I can remember is that I was turning 30. I’m not exactly sure why or how it happened here, but I’m glad it did,” Short shares as we sip and chat.

Remaining smiling and friendly during the frequent autographs and photo ops, Short was happy to talk and philosophize, explaining the background of Short’s and the evolution of its culture.

“I’m not sure if the general population knows about our culture and how we came to be. We are a very organic and homegrown sort of company. We really love that fact that we live in Northern Michigan. We live and die by being able to do the things that we want to do and being able to make a living doing it. We foster the idea that our company is our family, and if you aren’t part of the organization or culture up north, you might not know that about us.”

HopCat parallels this love and sense of community in the West Michigan area. Perhaps this is why Short’s and HopCat are such a perfect fit.

Martinez sips a Earl of Brixom, noting the chocolate undertones and medium body while considering this sense of place.

“I love working with beer, I love drinking beer. We are completely immersed in the beer culture, we love great craft beer-that’s the number one goal…we like to see that this is all growing — this craft movement — together.”

Together, we worked our way through some of the offerings from Short’s. While ambitious, I’m not crazy. Steph Harding and I tried 11 of the 35 selections offered, in generous five-ounce pours for between $3 and $4.  Short’s beers are too varied to try samples — you really need a few sips and a few minutes to appreciate the selections.

The Mmmkay, an American pale lager is more of hybrid IPA, with an amazing citrusy aroma, and an intensely hoppy finish. The Bloody Beer made me crave a Bloody Mary — which I’m normally not a fan of — and a BLT. It smelled like a meal, with a surprisingly delicious tomatoe-y finish. The Jitterbug Perfume had a strong Jasmine tea aroma, with a little bit of an earthy aftertaste from the beets added to the brew. OMGWTFBBQ belongs in some sort of marinade for meat. Vegetarian Steph said she always assumed this is what BBQ tastes like.

The Bim Bam Boom was fun, a spiced stout brewed with cocoa nibs, cayenne pepper and orange. Mild on the spice, with a strong cocoa finish, the orange lingered on your palate after your sip was gone.  I wish I would had a full pint of the Walking Red, an English-style red ale with vanilla and a malty caramel flavor.  The Pineapple Pilsner was advertised as mouth puckering, which was exactly what I tasted. The Raisin Apollo’s scent was reminiscent of dirt (in a good way), and the raisins in the brew reminded me of a port with a nice dry finish.  I’m a sucker for Brettanomyces and its funk,  and the Bourbon Pig Pen did not disappoint. The Sticky Icky Icky was a big seller for the evening, a nicely balanced IPA with a name too fun not to say.

My last beer of the evening was the Chocolate Giddy Up, a creamy stout made with cold brewed coffee and cocoa nibs.  After the obligatory photo-op with Joe for my own amusement, I ask him the quintessential question: “Out of all the beers you brought today, which one do you think is going to define your 35th year?”

“I automatically go straight to the Spruce Pilsner,” he said. “I think it’s a beer wiser than its years and I’m hoping that every year I get a little older, I get a little wiser. It’s also a beer that people don’t quite understand yet, and maybe I parallel with that a little bit, maybe we are not quite fully understood yet.

“So as we get a little older, and people get a little more acclimated, you know…there’s certain levels of evolution in life, and in beer, that you appreciate over time.”

I end the night with the most important question of the evening: “What mustache wax do you use?”

Short laughs. “Clubman’s. It’s in a little tube. I’m still on my first one.”