crystal mountain

“Memorial day is transformative,” says Brian Lawson, Director of Public Relations at Crystal Mountain.

Memorial Day in Michigan marks the beginning of summer, no matter the temperature. The focus is all about what’s happening. Boat docks are put in the water, summer cottages are opened and aired out, bikes are dragged out of the garage and tuned up, and people are heading north.

Up north, businesses are preparing for the masses — ready to welcome everyone with open arms to enjoy yet another stellar Michigan summer season. For Crystal Mountain, this means transitioning the winter mountain into a warm-weather resort ripe with summer activities.

To kick off the season, Crystal Mountain hosts their annual Beer and Brat Festival, celebrating 11 years this coming May.

“It’s a very smooth-running operation. We’ve been putting on this event for over 10 years now, so setup and preparation are all very familiar. And since everything is so hectic leading up to summer, it’s nice to have an event that the entire staff knows how to run and how to run well.”

Before the Beer & Brat Fest was a tradition, it was an idea. Back in 2005, the inaugural fest hosted three breweries and just over one hundred people, and this was a great success. It was a time when craft beer was just starting to rise in popularity, but the sudden boom of upstart breweries had not begun yet.

crystal mountain

“We featured Short’s Brewing Company, Bell’s Brewery, New Holland Brewing, and Founders Brewing Company. They were kind of the well-known breweries back then, and remain the top four today.”

The decision to pair brats with beer was a no-brainer. The elements of the event make up the quintessential Memorial Day in Michigan. “Most people mark this weekend with barbeque, beer, and backyards; and really, we just decided to create the ultimate backyard barbeque.”

The green space at the foot of the mountain is, indeed, the ultimate backyard. Everything you need to have a lovely day outdoors is right there at the resort — refreshing beverages, scrumptious food, live music, and even child care. Crystal Mountain offers a giant social event where everyone can just kick back.

And the best thing about this event? Every year it improves! Eleven years later, everything about the festival is just more. More breweries. More food vendors. More people. More activities.

“The development of this event goes hand in hand with the development of the resort. We’ve grown as a destination for up north-goers, which brings amazing growth and a loyal following to the fest. It has really transformed our Memorial Day.”

People looking for a more contained holiday weekend end up at Crystal Mountain. In comparison to bigger city destinations such as Traverse City and Petoskey, the resort offers a quieter community without having to sacrifice any amenities.

“We get a mixed crowd to the event. People opening their up north property. People celebrating the holiday. Locals. Visitors. Newcomers and event veterans. Runners from the Bayshore Marathon. It’s a really cool mixed gathering.”

Attendance exceeded 2,500 people last year, with over 30 breweries and various brat vendors. And as the crowd has grown, so have the food and beverage offerings. In the past few years, the resort has also started including Michigan wine, cider, and mead as well as beer, recognizing the growing interest in all things craft.

crystal mountainAs is tradition every year, most craft booths feature specialty pours—unique brews that are only offered so often. From Bell’s: their Hopsolution, a Double IPA made with many tropical and piney hops ringing in around 8% in gravity.

Another gourmet offering comes from Brewery Terra Firma (Traverse City). In collaboration with Traverse City’s Grand Traverse Conservation District, this brew will be a local-centric recipe using ingredients from donated community businesses: wheat from Grand Traverse Culinary Oils, hops from Fresh Roots Organic Growers, maple syrup from Out of the Woods Farm, and cherries from King Orchards. Furthermore, the brew will be conditioned in bourbon barrels from Traverse City Whiskey Co.

Other fun specialties announced so far will be Perrin Brewing Company’s No Rules Vietnamese Porter, a coconut imperial porter recipe conditioned in bourbon barrels, and Short’s Brewing Company’s Hot Loins, an experimental, pub-only brew featuring pomegranate, strawberry, raspberry, vanilla, honey and Long Jack.

There will be others announced as the event comes closer, and avid beer hunters will be pleased to add more rare beers to their taste collections.

If the event is not enough to get you there, one must consider that Crystal Mountain is also a brilliant home base for other summer activities. Over the years, the resort has developed its seasonal offerings, providing a comfortable landing spot for visitors all year. On the resort premise, guests can not only take advantage of the cozy lodging, drinking, and dining, but also a myriad of outdoor goings-on. Get your adrenaline pumping high in the air on their elevated rope course, or take a zip-line ride over their outdoor pool!

Even lacking snow, the actual mountain offers a lot of fun options as well — ride the Crystal Coaster Alpine Slide 1,700 feet down on a sled or take a scenic chairlift ride for some of the best views from the top. Other options include paintball, mountain bike trails, a golf course, climbing wall, disc golf, tennis, hiking, outdoor art installations, and more. If there’s an adventure you want to try, Crystal Mountain will provide.

“Once people are here, we try to offer them everything. We can handle almost all of it if that’s what they want.”

And even if cabin fever sets in, the resort also offers guidance for off-premise activities. In support of the community and other local businesses, Crystal Mountain makes sure all options are available. Take advantage of close proximity to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—the resort will assist in paddleboard, fat tire bike, and kayak rentals so that you may experience the majesty of beautiful up north Michigan.

It’s also important to know that craft beverages don’t just start and end with the festival. The resort also sponsors tours to Stormcloud Brewing Company and St. Ambrose Cellars, boasting excellent options in beer, wine, and mead in the neighboring towns of Frankfort and Beulah.

So to check out the grounds and offerings, attending the festival is the way to go. There are still tickets available, with both General Admission and VIP options being offered. VIPs receive twice as many tokens and are allowed entrance into the event an hour early. For those who want to taste all of the rare specialty brews being poured before they run out, early admittance could be a real boon to your festivities.

Music for the event will be at the foot of the mountain under the chairlift. Local Michigan bands Scarkasm and The Vintage will be dishing out rock and roll all afternoon and into the evening for festival-goers’ enjoyment.

As tradition, the resort will also host the Twin Bay British Car Club, a unique offering that has always gone hand-in-hand with the Beer & Brat Fest. This year’s theme is sustainability, so alongside the classic models there will be a series of Electric Vehicles showcasing the fact that practicality can also be beautiful in design. All guests are welcome to tour the display and VIPs will have the opportunity to speak with industry officials.

“We embrace outside organizations in the community to take part in the event. It’s just something kind of fun and unique. This year we’ve called it ‘Back to the Future,’ honoring the club’s blending of traditional models with new ones.”

Combining all of the community, rare beer offerings, specialty food recipes, and summer activities, Crystal Mountain is the place to be for Memorial Day. If last year’s perfect weather and happenings are anything to measure it by, it will be a wonderful event. So come celebrate with their staff and other fellow guests to join everyone in ringing in the 2016 summer.

“The guests and staff have made this event what it is. They have made it a tradition.”


Sponsored by: Crystal Mountain

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery