GRAND RAPIDS – The 5th Annual Wood Aged Beer Fest (WABF) at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids has come and gone. Friends, if you weren’t able to attend one of the two sessions on Saturday September 19th, I’m really, very sorry.

The ease and astute organizational flow of this beer festival have only improved since the first barrel-aged brew was poured.

“Having done this for five years, every year has been different,” said Brewery Vivant Owner Jason Spaulding. “We try to learn as we go, and focus in on a few things. We were in the street last year, and it seemed more of a street party atmosphere. We’re back in the parking lot [this year], and it’s more intimate. People have more time to enjoy the event and enjoy the beer. We tried to make sure it’s about the beer.”

Which, it is, of course. Previous WABFs have spawned larger production of favorites, such as the Wizard Burial Ground, a bourbon barrel-aged Quad. It was so loved by attendees, Brewery Vivant decided to scale up production and release it on a wider scale. Like Spaulding said, WABF is a big experiment—an opportunity for Vivant to test brews and have fun and for the public to help shape the future flavor profile of beers to come.

Twenty six beers were available during each of the two sessions held this year—another new component to the festival. An afternoon session and evening session, with an hour in between for cleanup and last call, seemed to go smoothly and everyone was able to taste to their hearts’ content without massive lines and crowded seating.

John Ward , Vivant’s Experience Warden, dressed appropriately in monk garb, said that “more than anything, we wanted to make it more accessible, not have 1200 people at a time, 1800 people at a time. Your lines are more cluttered, there are more things that can go wrong. This makes it easier on us, better for them, and a better overall experience.”

It was definitely a good experience. So many notable and fun beers available in one place, it’s hard to pick standouts, but I’ll try.

Angelina is the girl with lots of fests under her belt. Vivant’s first barrel ever, she’s been around for as long as the brewery has. A 6.7% ABV oak-aged house Sour, this beer is a good representation of what Vivant is.

Paris is another girl we’ve seen before. The nature of barrel aging makes things a little different each go around, and it’s usually a wonderful surprise. A wild red wine barrel-aged Saison, the mild funk works well with the notes the red wine imparts.

A few firkins were available. The unique properties of cask conditioning beer and serving it at a warmer temperature make for some very tasty, more traditional, and often surprising results, like the Tree Bucket Double IPA aged on brandy-soaked cherrywood.

Dead Wizard in the Basement, Wizard Burial Ground oak barrel aged with brettanomyces yeast came in at 11% ABV, making for a heady beer. Guardian of the Universe, a traditional, northern France biere de garde—Vivant’s Verdun—aged in a white wine barrel, had just enough tartness and twist but still kept true to its roots in a delicious way.

Head brewer Jacob Derylo, of course, loved everything, but he did share that Coming Up Peaches, a bourbon barrel-aged Tripel with fresh-from-the-farmers market peaches, might be his favorite this year.

“We’re having fun, making cool beer, and meeting cool people,” said Derylo. “I wake up every morning and want to go to work. I love my job. I make people happy. Not everyone can say that.”

Brewery Vivant has been a mainstay of the burgeoning East Hills area in Grand Rapids. They have witnessed new stores, restaurants, and community members become part of their circle. They give back to the community, in more ways than just providing beer. The WABF is a gathering place—an opportunity to talk to your neighbors and talk to those folks you haven’t seen in a few months, all over an expertly crafted glass of barrel-aged goodness.

“Why is it so popular? Because it’s cool. And it tastes delicious. It’s that simple,” said Derylo.