The weather has gotten cooler, the leaves have started to change color, and the hops have been harvested; it must be fall in Northern Michigan. To commemorate the harvest season, breweries from throughout the Northwest region gathered in Empire on Saturday at the Empire Hops Festival.
The Empire Hops Festival exuded Northern Michigan charm and celebrated the success of the area’s harvest.
There were eleven breweries present at the festival, including: Workshop Brewing Company, Stormcloud Brewing Company, Lake Ann Brewing Company, Short’s and Right Brain Brewery. Many of the breweries at the festival use hops from the Empire Hops Farm throughout the year. Several breweries even brought wet-hopped brews or brews that contained local hops to the festival.
Local food vendors, including Art’s Tavern, Firedog Pizza, and Little Traverse Inn were at the festival. Black Jake and The Carnies as well as the Benzie Playboys kept the local spirit alive with their dynamic folk music.
The use of local hops has drastically increased in the region and throughout the state. The Empire Hops Farm, in Empire, recently boasted the largest hop crop in Michigan: 2,400 pounds per acre. And, earlier this year, MI Local Hops purchased over 200 acres in Acme to start yet another farm.
“I look forward to this one time of year,” said Stormcloud Head Brewer Brian Confer. “We drive up to Empire, get a coffee, and stop at the farm. The van smells great on the way back.”
Stormcloud brought three harvest brews to the Empire Hops Festival, all of which highlighted freshly picked local hops. The Harvest Saison, a favorite at the festival, was brewed with only Michigan products. The ingredients included freshly harvested Empire Hops (a proprietary Michigan only hop variety from the Empire Hops Farm), Michigan grown malt from Pilot Malt House, and a unique strain of yeast from Creature Culture Yeast Labs.
Northport Brewing Company was also at the festival, and is another brewery that uses local hops and ingredients throughout the year.
“When you think of a stout, you think of Ireland; an ale makes you think of England. We need beer that makes you think of Michigan,” said Northport Brewer and Owner Scott Cain.
In a region known for its rich agricultural yield, brews featured at festivals such as the Empire Hops Festival highlight and celebrate flavor profiles that can only be from Michigan. The pride for such brews was evident throughout the festival on Saturday. Brewers from the eleven breweries weren’t just seen behind their respective tables. Many could be seen building new partnerships, tasting each other’s brews, and celebrating together.