Amidst the rolling hills and serene lakes of Leelanau County a great battle has begun. The Michigan Civil Beer War began with its first battle this weekend at the Little Traverse Inn in Maple City. The competition, which will take place through March, pits the breweries of the Northern part of the state against “heavyweights” of the South.

Graeme Leask, owner of Little Traverse Inn, began working on the creative competition earlier this fall. “I had mentioned the idea to a group of fellow beer enthusiasts whilst they were at the Inn, one afternoon in early fall. During our conversation it evolved into a ‘Civil’ beer war, where we were going to pit Northern Breweries versus Southern,” he explained.

After making contact with breweries and distributors, contenders for the first rounds were randomly drawn. First up: Stormcloud Brewing Company vs. New Holland Brewing Company.

Stormcloud opened less than 2 years ago in Frankfort, but has made a large impression on the craft market with its traditional Belgian flair. The brewery brought home a bronze medal for its Rainmaker Ale from the Great American Beer Festival earlier this year.

New Holland, on the other hand, opened in 1997, and has become a cornerstone brewery — and distillery — in the state. The brewery has a large distribution area — now including Ontario — and has plans to open a new location in Grand Rapids.

The two breweries represent two very different corners of the craft market, and yet, the competition between the two was a tough one.

Upon entering the battlefield, I was given a flight of eight beers: four from “Brewery A,” and four from “Brewery B.” The flight featured four styles of beer from each brewery: saison, stout, pale ale and IPA.

Already knowing my favorites from each brewery, a blind tasting allowed me to authentically evaluate each beer. The saison from Brewery A was mild while Brewery B’s was more vibrant and flavorful; Brewery A’s pale ale was a fabulous traditional pale ale while Brewery B’s contained a more robust profile; Brewery A’s stout had bold notes of coffee and chocolate while Brewery B’s was a nicely balanced rich stout.

“The voting was very close on Thursday with only one vote separating the two,” stated Leask.

The close voting speaks to the quality of beer from both breweries.

However, by Sunday evening, one brewery was victorious. “Stormcloud forged into the lead on Friday and never looked back,” added Leask. Coming in with 58% of the votes and claiming victory in all four categories, Stormcloud won the first round.

“If the first round is anything to go on, I believe, we will see the beer speak for itself,” said Leask. “We will continue to make all the rounds a blind tasting, hopefully eliminating anyone’s preconceived preferences or notions and allow the cream to rise to the top.”

Round 2 will take place December 18-21 and will put Short’s against Dark Horse; Round 3 begins January 8 and will feature Brewery Terra Firma and Founders; the fourth round will put Right Brain against Arcadia Ales and will take place January 22-25.

Winners from each round will join Stormcloud in the semi-finals, which are set to begin in February.

To become a part of the Michigan Civil Beer War, stop in to the Little Traverse Inn Thursday through Sunday during one of the previously mentioned dates and let “the beer speak for itself.”

For full details on the event, visit http://littletraverseinn.com/michigan-civil-beer-war