COMSTOCK PARK — Saturday was a day of records.
With crowd numbers estimated to be over 6,000, and more than 450 beers brought by Michigan breweries, the 2012 Winter Beer Festival was the largest ever. Beer lovers came from across the state and beyond to sample some of the best, brightest and sometimes even whackiest beers in Michigan.
The 7th annual festival, held at Fifth-Third Ballpark, sold out in record time in December. Several breweries brought not only their staple beers, but also high-ABV and rare beers otherwise unavailable to the public. With everything from a sweet wintertime ale to a hopped-up IPA, there was a beer for everyone.
Shorts Brewing Company featured several bottled and non-distribution beers, including its Turtle Stout (8% ABV). Pouring a deep chocolate hue, with about one finger of a light tan pancake head, you could immediately sense an aroma of roasted pecans. The scent was balanced with notes of caramel and chocolate malt, making for an overall very pleasant smell.
The instant taste of sweet chocolate malts and vanilla soon gave way to a pecan and nutty roasted flavor. The beer finished with sweet caramel and chocolate, with the pecan roast lingering to the very end. This brew isn’t as heavy as you’d expect given its appearance, with a light carbonation and silky chocolate body, yielding a very creamy, coating mouthfeel. The unique flavors are very well balanced and integrated, making for one of the highlights of the day.
In addition to the Turtle Stout, Shorts highlighted its Wintertime Fun Ale (8.5% ABV) — an American Brown Ale brewed with peppermint, milk chocolate, marshmallow and cinnamon.
Dark Horse Brewing Co. had not one — but four — tables at the festival. Known for its mastery with barrel aging, the Bourbon Barrel 666 Sarsaparilla Vanilla Stout was no disappointment. The brew pours a deep midnight black colored brew with a caramel head. There’s a massive vanilla smell, coupled with hints of milk chocolate and cocoa. The bourbon barrel really accentuates the vanilla notes here.
Sweet chocolate malts and cocoa are immediately present when tasting, but most of all the brew features heavy vanilla overtones that are very reminiscent of a creamy root beer. Cocoa and vanilla linger toward the finish, where a little more of the bourbon shows up. There’s a slight alcohol warmth here, but the brew is very smooth, and features a creamy mouthfeel throughout.
In what was the biggest surprise of the day, Right Brain Brewery’s The Demise (10% ABV) hit the spot for us. An American Barleywine, the brew pours a light copper color, with a thin rim of fizzy white head that rapidly dissipates. It features a complex smell, predominated by honey and sweet, sticky malts with citrus hops and alcohol.
As in the nose, honey shows up first, on a sweet, sticky body of red and caramel malt. Sweetness fades a bit, leading to a citrusy hop finish with a lingering, astringent alcohol burn. A full bodied brew, The Demise has some good carbonation and warming alcohol. For as much going on with this brew, Right Brain definitely found a way to balance it nicely.
The next Michigan Brewers Guild festival is July 27 and 28 in Ypsilanti. Tickets go on sale May 1.