KALAMAZOO — “Put your damn hands in the air/Stomp your feet on the ground!” proclaimed Branden Mann, lead vocalist of Branden Mann and the Reprimand.
It was the culmination of Kalamazoo Beer Week, and I strolled into an early afternoon of beer sampling, local music and casual conversation in the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange parking lot. And bonus, it was a balmy, 40-degree winter day in Michigan!
People were, indeed, stomping — either from excitement or the slight chill in the outdoor tent, it didn’t really matter. Like the members of the band, a majority of the Beer Exchange party attendees were not quite recovered from the previous nights’ festivities, but all were in great spirits.
“Heat rises, so my feet will be cold all day, but who cares? I’m drinking great beer and the kids are at my sister’s!” said one exuberant attendee, a local who couldn’t partake in Kalamazoo’s infamous beer week until today.
And the day’s happenings were a guaranteed salute to the local craft industry: the craft of beer of course, but also food and music as well.
The festivities started a little after noon — “yea, we’re a little late with setup, but the party HAS started,” said a Beer Exchange worker rushing past — and didn’t think about slowing down until late in the evening.
Celebrating Kalamazoo, the Beer Exchange featured a variety of taps from local brewing companies. Bell’s and Arcadia Ales were present as solid foundation breweries, but I was eager to see breweries I had not heard of as a Michigan east-sider: One Well Brewing, Rupert’s Brew House, Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing, Tibbs Brewing Company, Latitude 42 and Boatyard Brewing Company. Together, the breweries offered a delicious assortment of tastes and smells and mouthfeels.
As a bonus, the Beer Exchange event offered specialty pours debuting at certain times throughout the day. This led me to my first sampling right at noon. The “21 and over” bracelet was barely taped around my wrist when I rushed over to see what was being released first: Dark Horse’s Bourbon Barrel Plead the Fifth. A bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout, it smelled and tasted like a dark chocolate dream and finished with a warm mouthfeel that can only come from bourbon.
In between samples and hunger-lusting after the local food fare (Crepes! Sausage! BBQ!), I was quickly taken into conversation with a few west side locals who waxed philosophic about Kalamazoo. “It’s a loyal city—such a great place to start an idea and get support from the community. And there are breweries just popping up everywhere!” said one long-time local.
One such baby brewery is One Well Brewing, and I only refer to its infancy because it’s only a few months old. But the age has no factoring in the quality of the beer here.
T.J Waldofsky, co-owner and brewer at One Well, first words to me were, “ Have you tried the Xalapa?!” I scooted right on over and did just that. Jalapeno, people! There is jalapeno in the Xalapa and it’s brilliant! Not a fan of too much spice? Well, it has the perfect after-kick to make anyone a fan without scaring you away.
Between the beer, the food and music, I was on sensory overload in the best way possible. Whether I was bumping into new friends or industry workers, everyone was there to toast Kalamazoo. I started the day with a cup of Dark Horse in my hand and Branden Mann on the microphone, and I exited with Tibbs Brewing Company’s Citra Your Ass Down IPA while The Corn Fed Girls were just taking the stage, one of them shouting, “You just keep on drinking and we’ll just keep on playing!”