A winter plagued by the polar vortex couldn’t keep thousands from celebrating the craft brew community Saturday at the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival.

The festival, now in its fifth year, has become a regional favorite and features a large selection of beloved Michigan breweries and live musical acts. Festival organizers added many new features this year to keep the festival interesting and engaging for the evolving craft brew community.

Festivities began Friday night at the first Brewer’s Dinner at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The dinner featured 11 pairings and was hosted by Fred Bueltmann, Beervangelist and Partner at New Holland Brewing Company. Upon arrival, guests were given a ticket package which allowed them to visit each pairing station at their own will. 

“The casual format was conversational for the guests as well as chefs and brewery personnel,” Bueltmann explained. “I like that the chef who created each dish was there to talk to, so we could hear their thoughts on the pairing and the techniques behind the dish.” 

Bueltmann designed the experience so that attendees could take the time to explore various flavors. I started my adventure with Dirty Bastard Fire Roasted Chili, paired with Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard. Each featured a bit of spice and smokiness which complimented each other perfectly.

I chose to try the pork tenderloin paired with New Holland’s Night Tripper as my main course. The pork tenderloin was seared with a cocoa and cayenne rub and was topped with a Night Tripper infused pork stock reduction. Night Tripper is an Imperial Stout with a deep roasted flavor. This roasted flavor came through beautifully in the pork reduction. The cayenne rub gave a spicy kick at the end, which left a need on the palate for another sip of Night Tripper.

Dessert being my favorite part of a meal; I couldn’t wait to try the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcakes paired with Dark Horse Brewing’s Tres Blueberry Stout. Pastry Chef Stephanie Elwell left the blueberries out of her batter and instead chose to use the Tres Blueberry Stout to build flavor. Filled with a stout blueberry jam and topped with a cream cheese mousse, the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcake was the perfect way to end the Brewers Dinner.

This creative and innovative energy carried over into the Microbrew & Music Festival Saturday evening in downtown Traverse City. Bueltmann made another appearance with food truck pairings on the TC Cycle Pub. Additionally, festival goers could follow the exclusive Rare Beer Tour while enjoying a wide range of live music throughout three heated tents.

The first ever Rare Beer Tour made its way through the festival by tapping a new exclusive brew every 20 minutes. Sixteen small batch brews were featured from breweries throughout the state including Bell’s Brewery, Short’s Brewery and Brewery Vivant.

As excitement built for the tour, lines formed and chants could be heard for Petoskey Brewing’s Wookie Kisses. An imperial stout that was aged for nine months in bourbon barrels, Wookie Kisses had a wonderfully complex flavor. With rich roasted flavors of chocolate and coffee, it finished nicely with hints of bourbon.

Tyde-One-On by Beard’s Brewery was also featured on the tour. It was a barley wine hybrid with strong herbal and caramel malt flavors. Opened just over a year ago, Beard’s Brewery has found great success as a smaller brewery in Petoskey. Brewer Peter Jon stated, “It’s a great industry. It’s growing, but it’s not overly competitive.”

In fact, the expanding industry has brought about many opportunities for collaboration. Beggar’s Brewery, which opened in November, collaboratively brewed its Private Eyes Dunkelweizen with the Microbrew & Music Festival team. Private Eyes was a full bodied dunkelweizen with a lovely balance of clove, banana and hints of earthiness.

The Michigan beer community has vastly grown over the last couple of years. This year’s Microbrew & Music Festival wonderfully represented the creative ways in which it has evolved.

“I loved talking with so many people that were having fun trying new things and enjoying an evening of adventure with beer and food,” Bueltmann stated as he reflected upon the weekend’s festivities.

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery