YPSILANTI — As an avid enthusiast of unique and massive brews, the beer list at last weekend’s Michigan Summer Beer Festival had me absolutely giddy with anticipation.
Fortunately, through hours of running through the festival tents like a kid in a candy store, I was able to take notes and collect my thoughts and impressions of the festival and its beers. Having put the puzzle pieces of my notebook and memory back together Sunday, here are my thoughts of this year’s Summer Beer festival.
Hands down, the brewery with the best showing of the day was Dark Horse Brewing Company. It had six tables at the festival, and every single one of them had something worthwhile. From its sour “Lambeak wants” series, Smells Like Weed IPA (and yes, if you’re wondering, it really does), Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th and Super Juice (essentially a quad-IPA version of its Double Crooked Tree), Dark Horse really stepped up to the plate with the best it had to offer. Regardless of your tastes in beer, Dark Horse had something that would leave you wowed.
I was thoroughly impressed with the way Bell’s Brewery handled its tent. While many breweries opted to simply tap all of their one-off and extreme beers on whim, Bells had a separate kiosk with a set schedule of its unique offerings. This way, you were able to head off wherever you wanted to, knowing that if you wanted a taste of The Oracle or Bourbon Barrel Hell Hath No Fury (incredible beer, a must try if you find it) you knew when to get there.
Another brewery that I thought had a great showing was Jolly Pumpkin out of Dexter. I’m a big fan of its brews, and most of what Jolly Pumpkin brought were unique twists on its regular lineup. In particular, the Calabaza Blanca with Hibiscus, La Roja brewed with whole Michigan cherries and Biere de Mars Grand Reserve. These beers brought the signature JP funk and oak flavors, and added something unique to the mix. I left very happy with JP’s table.
Best of Show
If I had to pick one out of the hundreds of brews brought to this festival that I thought was the clear winner, it would be New Holland Brewing Company’s Rum Barrel-Aged Pilgrim’s Dole Wheatwine. I spent most of the day contemplating which one of the beers I sampled was the best, but my decision became much easier after I tried this beast.
As a lover of barley and wheatwines, I’m no stranger to New Holland’s Pilgrims Dole. I have not, however, ever seen it quite like this.
Aged in New Holland’s own Superior Rum barrels, Pilgrim’s Dole pours a deep copper hue with no head. A nose of massive sticky malts, caramel and rum continue through a coating body of heavy, sweet malts. Rum, vanilla and caramel dominate the flavor, ending in a lingering sweet finish and a light alcohol burn. This absolutely incredible brew blew me away — don’t pass up the chance to try this beer.
The Not So Great
It’s hard to find something to complain about at such an amazing event; nonetheless, there is always something that could have been better. As a resident of Grand Rapids, it’s tough for me to say, but I was disappointed with the showing Founders Brewing Company had this weekend.
Maybe I just expect more from Founders because it has such a massive portfolio and deep cellar, but the brewery didn’t really bring anything all that exciting. I say this with a disclaimer — I love Founders and all of its “run-of-the-mill” beers are some of the best in the country — but I would have liked to see a bit more from it. Aside from Blushing Monk and KBS, everything else there was part of its usual lineup.
I would have loved to see a Kaiser Curmudgeon, Death or Looking Glass — something along those lines. That said, if the “worst” part of my day was Founders bringing its “A” game instead of its “A+” game, that’s a pretty good day.
All in all, the beer fest was an absolutely fantastic day — I would definitely try to get to this event next year. You won’t be disappointed! Cheers!