COMSTOCK PARK — Over 7,500 people packed into the parking lot at Fifth-Third Ballpark Saturday, bracing cold temperatures, snow and wind that Mother Nature brought.
The best way to warm up quickly? With a few stouts, of course.
Michigan breweries brought over 625 beers to the eighth annual Winter Beer Festival, presented by the Michigan Brewers Guild. Brewers took it upon themselves to prepare everything from standard IPAs to rum and barrel aged brews that certainly put people on their toes.
Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. brought one of the most anticipated beers of the event — Raspberry Eisbock (15.5% ABV). This complex beer contained sweet malts, burnt toffee and brandy against a constant smooth taste of tart raspberries. It was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. Kuhnhenn usually bottles this brew every five years, so to have it on tap was certainly a treat.
New Holland Brewing Company also impressed, especially when it came to one of the brewery’s more recognized stouts, Dragon’s Milk. New Holland kicked it up a notch, though, adding rum into the mix. The result was a smooth, sweet rum version of the popular stout.
Bell’s Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout was also one of the favorites, containing a bourbon, tart cherry and vanilla flavor. This smooth beer was surprisingly easy drinking despite how heavy the beer was. The bourbon really complimented the cherry well, adding tremendous flavor and complexity to what is already a great base beer.
But the surprise of the festival? That came from no one else but Short’s Brewing Company, with its Gingersnap ale. This brew was one of the first to run out for the brewery, and through my first sip I could tell why. It tasted exactly as advertised — ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a little vanilla added too. It was smooth and slightly spicy, yet extremely enjoyable. If it weren’t for the long line, I would’ve managed to grab a second before it ran out.
The event was the climax to the second annual GR Beer Week, and highlighted 74 Michigan Brewers Guild member breweries. But, according to Public & Media Relations representative Dianna Stampfler, it was well worth the $175,000 bill the Guild fronted for the festival.
“There were more challenges this year — more tents and fencing to accommodate more breweries — the space we occupied was bigger than ever as well,” Stampfler said. “Internally, our ‘Brewer Hospitality’ had to accommodate more than ever as well — with as many as 800 or so brewery staff and volunteers on hand.
“We had a tremendous response to this year’s festival. Everyone had a blast!”
The next Michigan Brewers Guild festival is scheduled to take place in Ypsilanti on July 26 and 27.
Alex Brown contributed to this report.