GRAND RAPIDS — John Ball Park is home to many festivals, but Saturday marked a new celebration of sorts — WGRD’s 2011 Summer Craft Beer Festival.
The festival not only showcased beers from around the state, but also let beer enthusiasts enjoy various out-of-state brews. Still, for Michigan beer drinkers, there was plenty to be happy about. Featuring brews from Short’s, Tri-City, Mount Pleasant and Dragonsmead — just to name a few — Grand Rapids beer lovers experienced their favorite beers, and then some.
Admission was $15 at the door, which included a pint glass and four sample tickets. In addition to samples, guests were treated to a wide array of seminars (such as learning to cook with beer and what mead really is).
Three beers stood out during the event, all from Michigan.
The Coal Stoaker’s Blackberry Ale (5.8% ABV), brewed by Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, featured a rich, wheat blackberry flavor. Technically, Mount Pleasant calls it a wheat ale/stout blend, and I can see why. Its dark undertones, accompanied with the light flavor, made for a perfect combination. This beer could literally be enjoyed any time of the year.
Shifting to the darker side, Dragonmead’s Under the Kilt Wee Heavy (7.8% ABV) was just that — a full bodied brew with caramel, fruit and scotch undertones. Its ruby red color surprised me at first, but the hint of lightness to the otherwise dark scotch brew was certainly welcomed.
But one beer trumped them all — Michigan Beer Cellar’s Mocha Java Stout (7% ABV) encompassed the richness I’ve come to love about craft beer. Served with a maximum head, the chocolate, malty flavor was persistent but not overpowering. It reminded me just of what you’d find in a coffee shop — a sweet, dark flavor with a hint of espresso. Full-bodied flavor, lingering nut, chocolate, and toffee-like taste — it’s definitely going on my “top” list of brews to look out for. It certainly helped, too, that I was served much more than the standard 3-ounce serving as well.
One of the biggest disappointments though had to do with the entertainment. Instead of using its own DJs, WGRD hired a local company, who consistently received text messages over the iPhone he was using to play music. It got to be annoying after a while, which could’ve been the reason the picnic tables in front of the stage were generally empty.
Further, I was let down by the number of Michigan breweries that were present. I would’ve also liked to have seen more specialty beers available (Short’s selection particularly disappointed me). Perhaps these snafus are expected for a first-year event, but improvement is certainly needed for this to become an annual event.
Some minor disappointment aside, the WGRD Craft Beer Fest was still a fun event, letting beer fanatics sample a new brew or two, and John Ball Park was the perfect atmosphere for something like this. Its relaxed atmosphere was refreshing, compared to other, more populated beer festivals throughout the state.