TRAVERSE CITY — When craft beer is aplenty, a beer festival needs to make a unique statement; it needs to provide enthusiasts with new opportunities and experiences. This year’s Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival, held on Friday and Saturday, did not disappoint.

The Microbrew & Music Festival has continued to evolve in its seven years, educating and entertaining the Traverse City community. With over 200 brews featured, along with a dynamic music line-up and a redesigned Silent Disco, this year’s festival had many opportunities for new experiences.

Festival-goers could find their favorites on tap, as well as try beers brewed with cucumbers, apricots, cherries, coffee, lemons and just about anything else you could imagine. Knowing that I could get my favorite brews outside of the festival, I set to try some of these experimental brews.

Odd Side Ales‘ Bright-Eyed and Banana Tailed was the first that caught my eye. Brewed with Dutch Bavarian Chocolate Coffee from Leelanau Roasting Company, this hefeweizen had distinct flavors of banana and chocolate. It took a few sips to figure out everything I was tasting, but I soon found myself enjoying this refreshing flavor profile.

“Everyone has an IPA; we like to try the weird stuff,” said head brewer Kyle Miller, when asked about the experimental brew.

Also known for trying “the weird stuff,” Short’s Brewing Company featured a wide array of brews. Gitchy Gitchy Ooh La La first got my attention with the title, but I was also drawn in by its description that included cucumbers. Gitchy Gitchy was a nice, light Kolsch style beer with an interesting balance of cucumbers, lemon and lilac. It was surprisingly refreshing and went perfectly with the 85-degree weather.

Griffin Claw Brewing Company had my favorite pumpkin ale, Screamin’ Pumpkin, on tap as well. Not quite ready for fall to hit, I opted to try the Triple Lemon Shandy. This tripel style beer had a medium body and a finish that tasted like lemon drop candy. Triple Lemon was another beer with an interesting flavor profile and was made perfectly for the summer heat.

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In addition to brews like these, the Rare and Sour Beer Tour gave festival-goers yet another way to experiment. These specialty brews were available for just 20 minutes and included Short’s Whiskey Sour, The Workshop’s Wrecking Ball Bourbon Barrel Nitro Porter and Founders’ KBS.

Along this tour, I tried a beer style I had yet to encounter: a sour stout. Leelanau Brewing Company’s Leelanau Line 5 was an impressive marriage of two distinct beer styles. Aged in special bourbon barrels, known as the “Funky Four,” Line 5 had all the great characteristics of a stout, with a sourness that lightened the taste and added complexity to the flavor profile.

Leelanau Brewing Company is currently a gypsy brewery and is brewing at Jolly Pumpkin. Charles Psenka Sr., chief liaison for Jolly Pumpkin, designed the brew and has given it significance within the community. Named after the oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac, Psenka is hoping to raise awareness about the risks of the pipeline.

“If you’re a human being and live on Planet Earth, you should be concerned about this,” he said, referencing the perseverance of natural resources in Michigan.

Psenka is working with the National Wildlife Federation, and has dedicated 100% of proceeds from Leelanau Line 5 to help preserve the Straits of Mackinac and to raise awareness of the risks of the aging pipeline.

This sense of community and outreach was felt throughout the festival, as all net alcohol proceeds were donated to the CherryT Ball Drop, which benefits charities and food banks in the Traverse City area. Porterhouse Productions not only aims to provide great entertainment, but also aims to promote awareness and give back to the community. It is festivals like this that bring a more vibrant culture to the Traverse City community.

YPSILANTI — We had a great time at Riverside Park covering the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Summer Beer Festival. Check out all our photos below, and don’t forget to take a look at our complete recap of this one-of-a-kind summer event!

YPSILANTI — Sometimes it’s hard to write anything new about the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, our state’s oldest and largest annual gathering of hundreds of breweries and thousands who love them. But this year’s edition offered a few novel items to this jaded reporter.

The first was that — thanks to a summer cold that turned my voice into a barely understandable raspy croak — for a change I actually did more beer tasting than talking with friends old and new. The second was the debut in a big way of Fermenta, a group started by and for women in Michigan’s burgeoning craft beverage industry.

These two new things merged beautifully in my tasting cup as I was able to try several of the dozen or so collaborative beers crafted by Fermenta members at their respective breweries and released just for the festival. Creativity abounded.

From Short’s, It’s About Thyme IPA showcased, well, thyme, along with orange blossom honey. And for another unique twist, Unity Vibration brought out Umani Smoked Peach Kombucha Beer, made with South African spices and Michigan-grown peaches.

Unfortunately, I was too late out of the gate to sample the Salted Caramel Brown Ale brewed by the Fermentas at Witch’s Hat Brewing in South Lyon, but those who had it spoke glowingly of its rich, malty notes. I did score a sip of DragonTrax, a bourbon barrel aged version of the brewery’s Night Fury Barleywine with peanut butter, designed to evoke a sense memory of Moose Tracks ice cream, and boy did it.

My first taste of beer from Ore Dock, the Upper Peninsula brewery whose reputation has spread rapidly even amongst us “trolls” (or lopers, if you prefer), did not disappoint. Brett Bound and Down Witbier brought the funk and its Porter was on par with any of my perennial favorites, including Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Original Gravity’s Primordial.

Breweries whose beers I’m mostly familiar with also offered new delights. Pat Meehan, recently named head brewer at Ann Arbor’s Blue Tractor, did a fantastic job with his Cucumber Witbier. Griffin Claw added, in addition to its superb Berliner Weiss, two more amazing tart treats: Undertow Blackcurrant Saison and Apridisiac Sour Apricot Amber. Bell’s put its Kalamazoo Stout in bourbon barrels, providing a mellower fix than the fumey, high-gravity Black Note. And Jolly Pumpkin blended its La Roja, Bam Biere and Lambicus Dexterius to produce Rambic, a marvelous mix of lactic sourness.

One other new thing was the weather: instead of the usual combination of miserable, humid temperatures in the 90s and drenching summer monsoons, it was actually warm but comfortable in the 70s and dry for the entire weekend. This may have been a first.

Sadly I don’t think this is the year I make it up to Marquette for the U.P. Fall Beer Festival in September, but I expect to be prowling the grounds of Eastern Market come October for the Detroit Fall Beer Festival (maybe I’m not quite so jaded, after all). Tickets are on sale now for both events at mibeer.com.

There was an eye-catching addition to this year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti this weekend.

Marshall’s Dark Horse Brewing Company brought a giant wooden set up to this year’s festival which stood out and above the rest of the state’s 88 breweries in attendance. The brewery often drops some jaws with the amount of beer they bring to the festival, but this year’s included t-shirt guns and a giant ice slide for beer.

Above the wooden structure sat their “DHN” sign, for Dark Horse Nation, the brewery’s new TV show that begins airing tonight at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.

The rest of the festival was highlighted by the fantastic weather on Friday and Saturday, as some sweltering heat was subdued by light rain, brief cloud cover and a slight breeze.

The state’s breweries proved to be at the top of their game as the nation’s brewing industry continues to grow at a double-digit pace. Perhaps it was the choice in beer samples, but only one I couldn’t finish, with many being excellent.

Pepper beers were all the rage this year, or so it seemed. Some seemed too hot, while others mixed in the perfect amount of spice with the pepper’s flavor.

Arbor’s Flambouyant Wild Sour Red was an amazing lip-puckering experience. As were many of the beers Brewery Vivant brought to their table.

As usual, bigget breweries often had the longest lines, including Founders Brewing Co., which saw a noticeably long line begin to wrap around a tent for its KBS release at least 15 minutes before the scheduled tapping.

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Kuhnhenn took some Michigan pride to the festival with its Pure Michigan series, including beers featuring Michigan cherries, blueberries, peach and more Michigan ingredients. The brewery also brought a few of its spectacular signatures including DRIPA, The Fluffer Session IPA and Raspberry Eisbock.

Several breweries completely ran out of beer fairly early into Saturday. Right Brain was the first I heard go, so I felt lucky that I was able to try the brewery’s Cucumber Saison it brought, which was mighty refreshing during the summer festival.

I didn’t get to try the Rockford Brewing Company / New Holland Brewing Company collaboration, Solar Coaster, but was told it was a fantastic beer.

Saturday was capped off by a rousing performance by the Detroit band Sponge.

GRAND RAPIDS — Upon entering its fourth year as the Summer Beer Fest in John Ball Park, the WGRD team has admittedly revamped the whole concept behind the project.

The festival is now not only a charity event for the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, but it also has a new goal of “Trying to educate all of our markets with beer”, according to the live events manager, Angela Paasche.

“You do an event because you want to entertain, but also to educate,” said Paasche.

It certainly shows, even to newcomers to Grand Rapids such as myself.

The day kicked off with judging several beers coming from not only Michigan, but also Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and Oregon.

Once the results were submitted, I ventured my way around the festival as guests began trickling in. Throughout the day delicious BBQ smoke was wafting through the air as hundreds of patrons tucked themselves under the large tents to suck down a few ounces at a time of delicious brews.

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Among the various beers that I consumed, I particularly enjoyed ingesting Crankers Brewing Company’s Ambrosia Honey Kölsch, Unruly Brewing Company’s Oats and Hoes, Griffin Claw Brewing Company’s Norm’s Gateway Session IPA and Gravel Bottom Brewing Company’s S’mores Stout.

“This is my first time (at Summer Beer Fest),” said Gravel Bottom owner Matt Michiels.“I wanted to be a part of the Grand Rapids beer scene and obviously we’ve got a lot our fellow brewers out here so I wanted to be a part of that…We have such a tight knit community of brewers here that, this is family, to be out here with all of them.”

Gravel Bottom also submitted several intriguing beer options in the beer contest — the Guava IPA, designed by home brewer Cody Dalton, the Coldbreak Pale Ale and the S’mores Stout.

“We really try to experiment with our beer often…You’re always going to find new stuff on tap at our place,” said Michiels.

Overall it was a beautiful day for a festival and the laid back atmosphere and good times vibe kept this tidy event rolling for hours. I genuinely look forward to attending again next year and observing how this Summer Beer Fest grows in their goal of beer education and the simple idea of having a good time with friends.

GROSSE POINTE PARK — The long-awaited Atwater in the Park Biergarten and Tap House opened this past Saturday at the corner of Lakepointe St. and Kercheval Ave. to a crowd of about 100 friends, family members, media and just plain thirsty folks.

The taproom, located in the former non-denominational Grace United Church, includes a bar with 40 taps and seating room for about 80 people, and a private party room that holds another 40. The biergarten, in the former church’s courtyard, includes a 10-tap bar and European-style community seating for 100.

Partners Mark Rieth, CEO of Atwater Brewery, and Eric Djordjevic, president of the Epicurean Restaurant Group, worked hard to capture a German aesthetic for the new facility, which they hope will serve as a model for a future Detroit version.

The four-barrel brewhouse, situated in the former sanctuary beneath three beautiful stained glass windows, was imported from Bavaria. The food menu includes German-inspired dishes such as house-made bratwurst, knockwurst and kielbasa with sauerkraut; pretzel flatbread; wiener schnitzel; and fried pickle chips. And beers on tap include some of Atwater’s German styles, such as Hefeweizen, Maibock, Dunkel, D Light Kolsch and Teufel Weizenbock.

Not that either the food or the beer menus are exclusively German. Other dishes include burgers, salads, pizzas, pork belly corndogs, fish and chips and Hungarian goulash. Atwater’s varied beer styles also range from the new Hop-A-Peel IPA to VJ Black Imperial Stout to Shaman’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter.

Brewer Brad Etheridge, formerly of Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren, also produces pub-only beers — up to 15 drafts — for the Biergarten and Tap House. For the grand opening, he was most pleased with Scherthing Cream Ale, though at 5.5% ABV he acknowledged it was a little higher strength than intended “I still need to get used to my brewhouse,” he said.

Others on tap included GP IPA, Cottonwood Golden Ale, HG Brown Ale, a Belgian Tripel and an Imperial IPA. Etheridge also has plans to brew German-style lagers on premise, including a Vienna.

The brewery’s hours are 2 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; noon to 2 a.m. Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit atwaterbeer.com and atwaterinthepark.com.

GRAND RAPIDS — A consensus was had in a small group standing on the south side of Founders Brewing Co. Saturday during the brewery’s seventh annual Founders Fest.

Although the group of four admittedly hadn’t been to many other city’s street festivals, they were adamant Grand Rapids throws some of the best in the country.

A few had said they had been to a festival in Chicago, another in Indianapolis and still another in Toronto. But those were just street festivals, akin to Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts.

But when they look at what Founders has created and the month’s earlier Local First Street Party, Grand Rapids continues to foster community growth and togetherness by offering a place where residents can come together and share local products, art, music, beer and time together.

All day Grand Rapids drinkers were treated to plenty of Founders beers on the year’s longest day.

A brief conversation with Brent Shirey, the guitarist and vocalist from Grand Rapids’ Valentiger, came to the conclusion that Founders has come a long way since it started making beer in the mid-90s, in the fact that it can bring together more than 6,000 people on a hot Saturday, all having a great time. (Valentiger played a heck of set to help start the day out, by the way. The band also has a new album available for preorder.)

Founders has turned into a very representative look at Grand Rapids. On any given day, one can visit the taproom and see a wide assortment of residents, young and old. The company has put the Grand Rapids name in front of consumers worldwide, making it a desirable tourist destination.

Staple Founders beer poured all day, and specialties were released throughout the day to provide attendees special treats. Local food and art vendors sprinkled the streets that wrap around Founders with two music stages anchoring the far south side of the festival grounds.

Eight music acts took the stage over the festivals course, including local and national acts, including the FBC All-Stars, made up entirely of Founders employees.

Meanwhile, Charles Bradley & His Extraoridnaires rocked the faces off thousands. The 65-year-old former James Brown impersonator has turned into a rapidly rising R&B and soul performer.

The music acts and a toast by Founders Brewing Co. founders Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens was broadcast in 13 bars across the brewery’s distribution footprint for those who couldn’t come. The bars all were serving a wide array of Founders beer.

More can be found, including a video with head brewer Jeremy Kosmicki talking about the development All Day IPA, at alldayipa.com.

MARSHALL – If you think Michigan is hot and humid in the summer, try going down to Louisiana in June. Better yet, why not just bring the bayou up to Michigan?

That’s exactly what Dark Horse Brewing does the second Saturday of every June for its annual Crawfish Boil. This year’s edition attracted hundreds of revelers throughout the day Saturday, all seeking good beer, live music and, of course, some tasty crustaceans from the waters of Louisiana.

For the all-you-can-eat event, 1,800 pounds of live crawfish were express shipped up from Louisiana, double the amount ordered last year, according to Dark Horse manager Joanna “Party-Pants” Hollyday. Both the crawfish and the live music began around 1 p.m. and continued unabated (as did the sunny, warm weather) until this reporter left, five heaping platefuls later and fully sated, around 7 p.m.

Actual Louisianans among the crowd attested to the quality of the boil, which included the traditional elements of garlic, onion, corn on the cob and potatoes (the Andouille sausage was notably missing, however). Picnic style seating throughout the Dark Horse beer garden and parking lot made for a jovial atmosphere of shared community, which included people from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even further away.

Locals were, of course, also well represented – and at least one area farmer was happy to invite strangers – or, as he called them, “new friends” – over to his farm for a party.

Three different tap areas (four, counting the bar inside) poured plenty of good Dark Horse brews, including Amber Ale, Boffo Brown Ale, Boffo’s Belgian Cousin (Boffo fermented with Belgian yeast), CoffIPA (IPA brewed with coffee), Raspberry Ale, Reserve Special Black Ale, Sapient Trip Ale, Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA (formerly Smells Like Weed), Thirsty Trout Porter and several more, including a guest beer (Sweet Leif Belgian-style Ale) brewed at Dark Horse by the team from Chicago’s Local Option.

All in all, this is one fun event that any Michigan beer drinker and lover of delicious seafood ought to have marked on his or her calendar every year. Consider yourself forewarned for 2015!