Beer festivals happen several times a year. From fest to fest, some things are different—the weather, the breweries, the food. But many things are exactly same from year to year—the 15 tokens in the plastic glass, the good beer, and at least one discovery of a fantastic new-to-me brewpub. This year, I discovered not one, not two, but three new-to-me breweries. It was a good fest.
First, the top five brews from pubs I knew about.
Big Lake’s Leroy Brown appealed to me because of the name and the fact that there were dice on the can. It would have been cool to have the custom Continental and the El Dorado, but the dice were a nice touch. The beer was very nice too! An English brown ale made with four malts and chocolate, it had a smooth finish of toasty bread.
Schmohz Gingerbread Brown was great as always, as was the Mad Tom’s Porter. Brewer Gabi Palmer explained that this beer “is a solid porter—smoky, some chocolate. No hype, no b.s., just a solid beer.” And it was! Slightly bitter with a hint of smoke made for a tasty beer.
The Smoke on the Porter from ROAK was another excellent porter. An imperial smoked porter by style, this beer hit all the right notes. Roasty, dark, and perfectly balanced. But I would expect no less from this outstanding pub.
Unruly Brewing had the Orange Julius beer, which my husband described as “smelling like an Orange Julius, tasting like it, but then finishing like a bourbon barrel aged Belgian wheat.” Orange peel and vanilla beans make this beer what it is.
Lake Charlevoix Double Cookie Stout is one of the tastiest stouts I have had. Made with ten pounds of Oreos, it manages to not be overpowering or too sugary sweet. This is a solid, hearty beer.
The first of the big discoveries at this fest was One Well from Kalamazoo. Their Sweet Water Street was billed as a “coffee and donut” beer and it delivered. Much like the breakfast of champions itself, this beer had a hint of the sugary taste of donut plus all the roasted coffee taste one could want. They also had a Root Beer Stout that—unlike some root beer beers I could mention—managed to not just taste like thick, sappy syrup. It actually had a taste of root beer but never forgot it was a beer—absolutely wonderful!
The second new-to-me pub was Grand Armory from Grand Haven. Their Nutter Your Business Stout tasted like an honest-to-God peanut butter cup. My husband was so thrilled that he got three separate tastes of this beer, just so he could dance around delighting in the peanut butter and chocolate deliciousness (okay, he really didn’t dance around, but it’d be fun to pretend he did).
The top discovery this year was Railtown Brewing Company from Dutton. The brewery won a bronze medal at the recent Great American Beer Fest for its Good Mooed Milk Stout. And to be sure, this solid stout hit all the right notes. We also had their Peanut Butter Cocoa Time porter which conveyed the peanut butter taste while remembering it was a porter, and thus not too heavy or overpowering. The absolute hit for me was their Coffee Blonde, one of the best coffee beers I have ever had. Until this fest, I couldn’t find Dutton on a map but I can now, and I can’t wait to go there.
As I always do, I kept another tradition—ending the fest with Liberty Street’s Punkin Pie Ale. It is still the best pumpkin ale I have ever had, and nothing I’ve had since has changed my mind.
Some things change, some things stay the same, but Michigan beer remains far ahead of all the rest. It was a good fest.
Photography: Erik Smith