GRAND RAPIDS — It was a pleasant crowd in the main area of The B.O.B. (or Big Old Building)  Thursday evening. For the third year in a row, The B.O.B. hosted its Winter Beer Festival (WBF) Primer Dinner — an opportunity for those who plan on going to WBF to slake their thirst for some rarer brews beforehand, or for those not lucky enough to score a ticket, a chance to try some more interesting Michigan craft beers in the warmth of the restaurant.

Seventeen breweries from across Michigan were represented, bringing 42 beers to accompany a buffet style, beer-centric menu. A $25 ticket included all-you-could-eat and four tasting tickets for 3 oz. pours, with additional tickets available for a dollar each. Your ticket was also an entry to win a chance to go to the weekend’s beer fest, plus some other beer and brewery themed goodies.

Mick Rickerd, the Banquet Chef for the Gilmore Collection (including The B.O.B.), constructed the menu and hosted the event.

“Any of the items will go with any of the beers offered. Beer is such a universal beverage, so you could drink a stout with the spatzle, or an IPA with the spatzle, and there will be different flavors you’ll pick up.” Rickerd shared.

The menu was varied, with a little something for everyone. Roasted root vegetables, cheese  and charcuterie, and even a slightly spicy amber ale mac & cheese were some of the many options for dinner.

The beer spatzle was actually an IPA spatzle, served with local beer braised sausage, apples and a vanilla infused Dijon porter mustard. One of Rickerd’s favorites (and mine as well) was a bourbon barrel imperial stout pecan bar — a rich, decadent dessert with added depth from the addition of the beer.

Many beer reps were on hand, from Brewery Vivant to Founders to Saugatuck and Bell’s.

MittenBrew stopped to chat with Gary Pardo, a Kalamazoo area field sales representative on hand to answer any questions attendees may have about Bell’s beer or its brewery. Chatting about the collaborative nature of the event, Pardo shares, “Collaboration is hugely important. We do have the (Bell’s Eccentric) Cafe, but only a small percentage of our customers find Bell’s that way. To be a sort of community partner with these bars and hopefully provide them with great beer that people love — it’s an obvious benefit to them but it benefits us even more. It gets our name and our representation out there.

“I can’t speak enough to how important it is to have draft beers in bars — research has shown new consumers find out about brands through draft beer.”

Many of the beers available for tasting were special one offs, or limited feature releases. Lots of unique beers that aren’t available in distribution, which added another level of fun to the event. For example, Latitude 42 brought its Cross-Eyed Jack Imperial Smoked Pumpkin, and Griffin Claw provided Oblivious, a Bourbon-Aged Wheat Wine. Special releases were available at different times throughout the night, including New Holland’s Marilla Trale-a Barrel aged Rye Bock, and B.O.B.’s Brewery’s own Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged Peanut Butter Brittle Porter.

John Svoboda, Brewer for B.O.B.’s Brewery, was on-hand and shared how this particular beer developed.

“One of the advantages of working at The B.O.B. is that some of the guys and ladies I work with are just really, really fantastic chefs and they know lots about flavors that typically brewers, or at least myself, doesn’t know much about.  So once they learn the process of brewing by hanging out with me a little bit, they say, ‘why don’t you try this, why don’t you try that?’ So Mick [Rickerd] made some peanut butter brittle base that you normally make into peanut brittle and we applied it to an imperial stout and barrel aged it for three months. There’s only five gallons of that, and that’s one that’s not going to be available at the festival. That’s as small as small batches get.”

Despite the special Peanut Butter Brittle Porter not being made available for WBF, The B.O.B. had several specialty brews available — including its Tiramisu Stout and Peanut Butter Porter.

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery