JACKSON — The Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival is on the cusp of a general renaissance.

Rebecca Calkins, PR and Technology Manager at Experience Jackson, connects the dots.

“We are the visitor’s bureau for Jackson, and we are a sponsor (along with the Grand River Marketplace-home of Grand River Brewery) for this event.  The Jackson Country Fair Association puts on and organizes the event, and does an amazing job,” she said.

“We actually had a power outage today — we are operating on generators, and you don’t even realize it. Denise Owens from the Jackson County Fairgrounds was on it! I cannot say enough good stuff about her.

“We’ve got a wonderful turnout, and everyone I talk to is really impressed about what we’ve got here, and they are enjoying themselves.”

Walking around, I found the usual cast of characters, with everyone getting into the spirit of the day. Members of the self-appointed Waterloo Chug Club were at the festival in force. They describe themselves as “a bunch of people who like to drink beer who live in the Waterloo area.” Emily, a member, shares that she has “really enjoyed everything, I love the camaraderie of the place.”

Despite this being the fourth year of the festival, many people MittenBrew spoke with were in attendance for the first time.

This indoor and outdoor event was almost too crowded, which made it a little difficult to navigate within the crowd, but everyone seemed to be having fun. Local restaurant Night Light even got inspired and sold pretzels necklaces for festival goers (one for $3 and two for $5), and live music played outside in a warming tent. 

While the Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival isn’t just Michigan craft brews, it does utilize local distributors to provide their product, with a healthy representation of Michigan-based beer. Just to name a few: Dark Horse, Paw Paw, Atwater, Brewery Vivant and Founders all had volunteers pouring their brew.

While some particulars and questions about specific beers went unanswered because of the volunteer presence at tables (these folks were not representatives of the breweries), it caused people to turn to each other and discuss what they had in their hand.

The event allowed many to discover a new beer, develop their beer palates and give a chance to try something that may not have been on their radars.

In addition to this Michigan representation, local Jackson brewery Grand River was on hand with samples straight from the tap, a small merchandise table featuring the brewery’s whimsical steam punk inspired designs, and some brewers on hand to chat.

I talked to Tom Block, one such brewer. “This is awesome, look around, there’s a ton of people drinking great beer.”

Taste testing Grand River’s samples, MittenBrew tried the Lady Valance Cherry Cream Ale, with an up front cherry aroma and a subtle taste, Baron Barista Coffee Porter and The Gypsy Laddie Irish Stout, with a cocoa and tobacco aroma and roasty taste.

“I’m a hophead,” says Block as we sip, “and if you come to the brewery, you’re gonna get a big hoppy IPA and pale ale, dry hopped, and I’m a flavor snob, everything is gonna have a nice big nose on it and be very flavorful.”

Rebecca Calkins (Experience Jackson) says that the Michigan craft brew involvement in the Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival has grown since inception of the event, and will continue to grow. In addition to Grand River Brewery, Jackson is home to three other nano-breweries and small brew pubs — Bifferhaus, Shed’s and Tootsie’s. Next up for Jackson beer lovers is the Michigan Wine & Beer Fest in May.

Another member of the Waterloo Chug Club may have summed up this event the best: “This is the funnest time I’ve ever had in Jackson.”

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery