YPSILANTI — Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us, but He shows particular fondness for the state of Michigan.” Or something to that effect.
Franklin may have had a few too many Nicie Spicies. In any case, the malted warriors from the great Mitten State were flexing their might in full force Friday and Saturday, reminding Michigan’s denizens just how lucky we are to live here. More than 60 breweries displayed their craft to a crowded Riverside Park.
Normally I would complain about entering the tents of the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival at high noon, but given the the amount of beer present, I’m convinced the humidity held a respectable ABV.
The first stop of the day set the tone for me: Bell’s Brewing, whose booth was right inside the entrance. Early arrival meant empty lines — an uncommon sight for a Bell’s serving station. Since I had not checked out the tap lists beforehand, I was more than a little shocked to find the beer of the hour was the brewery’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.
I hadn’t planned on making stouts the focus of my day (not many would in the dead of summer). But I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I filled my first cup with the bourbon beast.
After making my way through most of the stands, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with master brewer and all-round good guy Joe Short of Short’s Brewing Co. As I enjoyed a bourbon barrel aged Black Cherry Porter (which gets my nod for Best in Show), we discussed the beginnings of Short’s.
Short emphasized a sense of community and history that he brings to his company’s beer.
“Growth isn’t our objective, it’s quality of life, sustainability with our company and staff,” he said. “We want everybody to have a great job and want them to love living and working in Northern Michigan.”
It was readily apparent how passionate Short is about what goes into his beers — ingredients are just a part of it.
As it was last year, Dark Horse Brewing Co. brought everything and then some. As far as sheer numbers of pub-only and limited release beers, the only competition they faced was last year’s Dark Horse lineup. I was able to try more than a few of the company’s one-offs, but the one I was most excited about was the Death Star Lover Barrel-aged Chocolate Raspberry Stout. It was certainly a strong showing once more from the guys in Marshall.
To give a broader scope of the important part of the 15th Annual event — the beer, of course — the following represents my top picks from the festival:
Short’s Bourbon Barreled Black Cherry Porter
Appearance: Beer appears black, with a deep red ruby color revealed when held to the light. A half inch of a stained, tan-colored head.
Aroma: Bright cherries and sweet vanilla and bourbon dominate the nose. Subtle notes of roasted malts sit behind the bourbon.
Taste: Massive cherries and dark fruits along with continued bourbon and vanilla from the nose. These flavors meld well with the deep caramel and roasted malts of the body. Finish leaves more of the warm bourbon and dark cherries. The massive, bright flavors are remarkably well balanced, something not easy to achieve in a beer like this. My hat’s off to Short’s; they absolutely nailed this one. A must try for big beer lovers.
Dark Horse Death Star Lover
Appearance: Deep black, with a thin lacing of crimson-tinged tan head.
Aroma: Nose of sweet, tangy raspberries dominates a background of oak and chocolate.
Taste: Taste is similar to the nose, with the sour tang of raspberry giving way to lactic sweetness against a chocolate malt body. Coating, full mouthfeel with appropriately mild carbonation. Finishes with more (guess what?) raspberries, with notes of oak and cocoa. A great offering from Dark Horse. Being a huge raspberry fan, I may be biased, but I think they did a great job incorporating these flavors into a unique, smooth drinking stout.
Bell’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout
Appearance: Pours a moonless midnight black, with a quickly dissipating brown head, yielding a thin toffee collar.
Aroma: Huge nose of pleasant bourbon and sweet vanilla.
Taste: Begins with more of the smooth bourbon, which is quickly joined by a deep chocolate and roasted malt body. Chewy, coating mouthfeel with smooth, tame carbonation. Finishes incredibly smooth, with fading sweet roasted malts leaving the warm bourbon and vanilla on its own. Truly a gem. Larry Bell’s experience shines through, achieving a perfect balance of the base beers (Bell’s Double Cream and Expedition stouts) against the big flavors lent by the bourbon. If you happen to come across this beer, you would be remiss not to try it.
Videography by Drew Koszulinski