COMSTOCK PARK — Preparations are under way for the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth-Third Ballpark, just outside of Grand Rapids. And, like many of our readers, we’re anticipating some great beer.
We’ve looked over the beer list and we’ve selected our top five beers to try, and top five breweries to visit this year.
Top five beers to try
A record number of beers (625, to be exact) will be available to try at this year’s festival, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the lineup.
1) Bell’s Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout — Bell’s bourbon-aged beers are always good, but combine a cherry stout with some more booze? It can’t get much better than that.
2) Brewery Vivant Helen Wine Barrel Sour Ale — Vivant is widely known throughout the state for brewing some great beers. And that doesn’t stop with its sours — in fact, Vivant’s sour ales are some of the best around. Being such a limited brew, Helen won’t last long.
3) Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock — BeerAdvocate ranks this as a 98, and with chocolate, raspberry and caramel notes, Raspberry Eisenbock will certainly impress. And the fact that it holds a captivating 13.5% ABV only adds to its anticipation.
4) New Holland Rum Barrel Aged Dragon’s Milk — New Holland’s signature stout gets a rum treatment that should make for a rich, tasty, boozy drink that’s perfect for those cold temperatures.
5) Dark Horse Brewing Co. — While we didn’t mention a specific beer to try, you should definitely make it to one of Dark Horse’s four tables during the festival. At least once. Or twice. You’ve probably heard of Plead the 5th? Well, that’s just the beginning.
Top five breweries worth checking out
There are 19 new breweries showcasing beer at the Winter Beer Fest this year. While no new brewery can match the tap list of a Bell’s or Dark Horse, new breweries bring something different to the table, and no doubt will be popular with attendees.
1) Pike 51 Brewing Company — In my recent visit to the new Hudsonville brewery, I was overly impressed with its beer. Former HopCat brewmaster Jeff Williams heads up a lineup of flavorful beer that will keep you coming back for more. Beers served: The Kush IPA; Sabotage Milk Stout with Coffee; Sinister Kid Imperial Porter; Weizenbock; Knight’s on Mastadons Imperial Brown Ale with Coffee; Batch 51 Rye Wine; Mojo Hand Single Hop Black IPA; Cherry Triple.
2) Greenbush Brewing Company — Greenbush and Dark Horse always seem to battle with which brewery can bring the most beer for each festival. This year, Greenbush is bringing a whopping 48 taps to the festival, many of which are barrel aged. On my list? Chai Life and Bourbon Barrel Vanderbush. Beers served: Too many to mention.
3) The Livery — Being that many brews are aged and brewed months before festivals, this may very well be the last chance you get to experience Steve Berthel’s influence at Benton Harbor’s top brewery. With three barrel aged brews being served, and a few other brews that sound quite tasty, The Livery is definitely on my list. Beers served: McGillan’s American IPA; Basket Case Imperial Chocolate, Rye, Oat, Milk Stout; Agent 99 Belgian Quad; SMaSH Summit American IPA; Double Paw Double IPA; Barrel Aged 33 1/3 Lager; Barrel Aged Verchousity Dark Trippel; Barrel Aged Bastard Cousin Stout.
4) Founders Brewing Co. — Founders always brings an A-list lineup to the Winter Beer Fest, and this year is no exception. Serving up all of its Backstage Series beers, in addition to some regular staples, Founders is a brewery you have to hit at least once. Chances are all of the Backstage Series beers will be timed releases, so keep an eye out, especially for when KBS and CBS is tapped. Beers served: Centennial IPA; All Day IPA; Red’s Rye PA; Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale; Porter; Spite Pepper Ale; Frangelic Mountain Brown; KBS Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Blushing Monk Belgian Raspberry Ale; CBS Maple Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Curmudgeon’s Better Half; Bolt Cutter Barley Wine.
5) Short’s and Bell’s — Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could limit this list to five. Two of the best breweries in the state — if not the country — again showcase some extraordinary beers. Bell’s brings out its Bourbon Barrel Aged Batch 9,000, probably one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Short’s, on the other hand, has a plethora of seasonal one-offs, including its Gingersnap English Brown Ale. Beers served: Too many to mention.
This year the Guild has changed the way beer tokens work, ever so slightly. A total of 39 beers are worth two or three tokens instead of the standard one token per pour. You can read more, and see the full beer list, at mbgmash.com. You can also download the festival program.
This year’s festival sold out in a record 13 hours. Don’t have tickets for this year? Several local breweries and bars are participating in GR Beer Week, and will have events going on throughout and leading up to the weekend. Check out the GR Beer Week Facebook page for a full event listing.
Alex Brown contributed to this article.