YPSILANTI – More than 400 thirsty souls crowded into the Corner Brewery Saturday for Rat Fest 2012, where they sampled from nearly three dozen beers created by members of six different homebrewing clubs on the brewery’s 10-gallon “Rat Pad” system.
The event, now in its third year, continues to grow, with attendance virtually doubled over 2011 and a beer lineup expanded to 33 brews versus last year’s 23. Participating groups included Brighton Brew Club, Motor City Mashers, Sons of Liberty (Plymouth), Ugly Mug Café & Roastery (Ypsilanti), Muskrat Mashers (Monroe), and the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, whose members contributed 12 of the available beers.
“I like the mix between the pros and the amateurs,” said Chris Frey, “chief anarchist” of AABG, the oldest of the clubs. “It’s great of the Corner staff to facilitate so many different small brewing sessions for people to come in with an idea and a passion and put it all together to serve to such a large group.”
Rat Pad brewers were encouraged to experiment, and the diverse beers on hand – from Sons of Liberty’s Orange Creamsicle Ale and Ugly Mug’s Tangerine Coffee IPA to AABG’s Choc de Spearmenthe Stout and Motor City Mashers’ Pecan Pie Brown Ale – reflected this fact.
Perhaps the oddest beer of the lot was Brighton Brew Club’s Loaded Baked Potato, which was served with several drops of a bacon tincture.
“Rat Fest is about pushing the envelope with beers, and one of our newer members just said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a beer that tasted like a baked potato?,’” said Brighton’s Jay Krause. “The key to it is the tincture, which we made by soaking cooked bacon in grain alcohol for four months. You add that in along with the flaked potato, smoked hops, and chives we brewed with and you got a mouthful of baked potato.”
Not all the beers were so off the wall. The “Best Overall Beer,” as chosen by festgoers, was “Shebrew” Rye Caraway Ale, inspired by a “great loaf of Jewish rye bread” and brewed by Gabi Palmer of the Motor City Mashers.
“I had been wanting to brew a rye beer of some kind for a while, and after having a particularly good pastrami sandwich on rye, it dawned on me: Why not put caraway seeds in a rye beer?” said Palmer, an employee of Adventures in Homebrewing in Scio Township. “It just seemed so obvious.”
The runner up beer was Citra Amber Ale, brewed by Phil Floraday of the Muskrat Mashers, who were making their first Rat Fest appearance.
“I wanted to make a kind of West Coast hoppy amber ale and decided on Citra hops, including for the dry-hopping, and I think the flavors in the beer work really well together,” said Floraday. “It was really cool of the Corner guys to have us out and let us brew our beer to let hundreds of people to taste instead of , say, 20 friends.”
AABG’s offerings, which included an aged and blended Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, were voted “Best Group of Beers.” AABG also won “Best Overall Theme” for its rat-trap tap handles and “d-CON” chocolate chunk treats.
“It’s Rat Fest, and we all wanted do something cool, but we couldn’t find rat costumes or noses to wear, so we came up with the idea of the stuffed rats in traps as tap handles, and my wife made the ‘d-CON’ chocolate,” said Frey.
As the event grows in popularity, the Corner staff continues to adapt and find ways to enhance Rat Fest experience. This year, they introduced an iPhone app that allowed users to check off beers they tried, rate their favorites, and more. For next year, there is already talk of adding heated outdoor tents to accommodate further growth.
“This was my third time attending, and it just seems to get better every year,” noted Palmer. “I can’t wait to start brainstorming ideas for next year’s fest.”