Photos by Steph Harding

Nearly 1,700 people gathered at B. Nektar Meadery in Ferndale on Saturday,to celebrate what ancient civilizations once considered to be the nectar of the gods.

With its highest-ever attendance, the Spring Mead Fest proves that one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in recorded history has staying power — and B. Nektar has been instrumental in its local resurgence.

“Every day we convert somebody else, and then they convert somebody,” said  B. Nektar Co-Founder and CEO Brad Dahlhofer.

Dahlhofer, along with his wife, Kerri, and friend Paul Zimmerman, founded B. Nektar in 2006 and officially opened for business two years later. Dahlhofer said that their grand opening event, held on National Mead Day, paved the way for festivals to come.

“We weren’t a brewery, so we couldn’t participate in any of the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals,” Dahlhofer explained.

Instead, B. Nektar started holding an annual Summer Mead Fest, and then added an annual Spring Mead Fest in 2013.

This year’s Spring Mead Fest was held in the parking lot of B. Nektar’s former production facility, just down the street from its new facility and tap room. Visitors could purchase tickets to turn in for samples, including B. Nektar’s traditional still meads; popular mainstays such as Zombie Killer and Necromangocon; and some new offerings from 14 limited-batch specialty taps.

Spring Mead Fest attendees could also purchase a number of limited release bottles, including #dragonsarereal — a cherry chocolate chipotle mead aged in New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk barrels — and Anasazi, a barrel aged buckwheat mead. Festival food was provided by Detroit BBQ Company, Buffy’s Mexi-Casian Grill and Treat Dreams, while DJ Psycho of Detroit Techno Militia entertained the crowd.

And for the first time ever, B. Nektar was also able include ciders, braggots and beer in its festival lineup, thanks to a recently acquired microbrewery license. Selections included Apple Pale Ale, Baltic Porter Braggot, Berliner Braggot, Imperial Hefeweizen and Cranberry Orange Zest Cider.

Dahlhofer explained that Zombie Killer — made with apple cider, tart cherry juice and honey — was a segue into even more cider production. He noted that two new ciders on tap at Spring Mead Fest — The Dude’s Rug (chai cider) and Slice of Life (lemon and ginger cider) — are now part of B. Nektar’s regular production schedule, with distribution in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

In addition, Dahlhofer and the B. Nektar team are staying busy with continued growth, including the meadery’s recent launch in Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as plans to expand distribution to another 10 states in the U.S. within the next couple of years. B. Nektar fans can also look forward to its Summer Mead Fest in August.

HUDSONVILLE — At a beer festival filled with new West Michigan breweries, Elk Brewing Company was as new as it gets.

The Grand Rapids-based brewery opened to the public on Friday and was serving three beers at the inaugural Beer City Spring Fest on Saturday.

Serving customers its Scotch Ale (9.8% ABV) beneath a giant Elk Brewing antler logo, head bartender Kris Oglesbe said he’d received positive feedback all day about their beers and the concept of the brewery. That made him feel even more confident about Elk Brewing’s future.

“It’s hard to open a brewery in Grand Rapids and be successful because there is so much competition,” Oglesbe said. “[The response] has been awesome.”

The response to the first beer festival in Hudsonville’s history was awesome as well. The city, which was dry up until 2007, now has two microbreweries to fuel its hunger for craft beer.

Special beers and ciders were everywhere — from the large party tent set up to inside the massive fairgrounds barn.

Muskegon-based Unruly Brewing Company, which opened in late 2013, featured Steam Punk (5.5% ABV), a California Common with hoppy amber flavor and a taste of mint on the back end.

Bridgman-based Tapistry Brewing featured a Beetown Brown (4.8% ABV) at the festival. It was a tasty Northern English Brown Ale made with Michigan honey, a flavor that grew on me with each sip.

On the cider front, Grand Rapids-based The People’s Cider offered Sally Brown (8.4% ABV), a sweet cider fermented with molasses and aged in a bourbon barrel. The cider was a fan favorite during my time at the booth.

Ada-based Sietsema Orchards provided a few new ciders, most notably the Lemon Grass Cider (6.9% ABV).  The cider is dry, with a light, refreshing summer shandy taste.

“It’s not going to fill you up a lot,” said Owner Andy Sietsema, noting he hopes to be bottling it soon and expanding distribution throughout the Midwest.

Todd Huston of Dorr, who was sporting a killer pretzel necklace for the event, said he was soaking up the uniqueness of the day.

“I was amazed that Hudsonville had a beer festival,” he said with a smile.

KALAMAZOO — A West Michigan Beer Tour is a long day, but a long day worth the cost and a hell of a lot of fun.

MittenBrew recently tagged along with Lisa Faber and Beth Liberty, partners (along with their husbands) of West Michigan Beer Tours, Inc. for ‘Women of West Michigan Beer.’  About 25 craft beer enthusiasts signed up for this Noon to 5 p.m. event, geared towards showcasing and meeting women who are leading the way in the Michigan craft beer community.

West Michigan Beer Tours is a relatively new company, with its inaugural tour in June of last year. So far, they’ve had a lot of success with their unique public and private tours for craft beer lovers. Offering plenty of tours through the Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and close-by areas, the group is looking to expand to the I-94 corridor soon.

Lisa and Beth don’t often host a tour, but they told their husbands that it was only fitting they get to lead this one.

ARRIVAL

Registration and check in starts at Tibbs Brewing Company in Kalamazoo, a small locally-owned nano brewery. Cindee Tibbs, six months pregnant and wearing a company shirt christened with FV1 (fermentation vessel #1) on her stomach, greets us at the door.

An initial Q&A starts the day while everyone samples some pints, like the Citra Your Ass Down IPA or Hell-Jen Belgian Tripel. “We opened on December 6, 2013 and the community has been amazing, very supportive, everyone has been wonderful. I can’t say enough about how great and supportive Kalamazoo has been, everyone reaching out to make us feel welcome. It’s really nice,” said Tibbs.

Cindees’ interest in brewing was sparking because of her husband, but they both soon realized it was her who had the better palate. Taste testing product and offering suggestions for tweaking recipes, Cindee is an active part in the brewery, not just the paperwork girl (though she takes care of that as well). Since her pregnancy, the tastings have of course stopped, but she’s still working right alongside her husband.

Tibbs is already very active in the community and involved with other local businesses, like their recent collaboration with The Cupcake ZOO on treats made with G’Mornin Coffee Stout and the For Richer or Porter coffee cake.

“Tibbs is all about our customer. We want to connect with our customers; we want to be that ‘Cheers’ location and make sure they are getting high quality beer, at a great price and in a good atmosphere.”

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After registration, it’s on to the bus to our first stop, Hop Head Farms. On the way to our first destination, Shannon Kuchera, the Communications Director from the Michigan Brewers Guild, shares some information with attendees about the Guild and what they do for the industry and for the craft beer fans alike.

HOP HEAD FARMS

After a little drive, we arrive at Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners, a 30-acre farm that supplies some of your favorites with what makes beer, beer.

Bonnie Steinman is part of the husband and wife team that runs Hop Head. Today, she is leading our tour from entrance to field to harvesting room, with beer samples featuring their product along the way. Pouring is the ‘Beer Broads,’ a local group of women who get together over a pint on a semi-regular basis.

Seven samples in all are offered throughout the stop, featuring almost all of the nine varietals that are grown by Hop Head. Manda Geiger from Pike 51 is on hand, sharing her KUSH IPA Dry Hopped with HHF Saaz and one hopped with HHF Glacier.

A tasting list with descriptions is graciously provided, and we spend time talking about the nuances between varietals as we go through the facility, starting off in the main area, tasting the Citra Melon from Paw Paw and the Multigrain Mutt from Ruperts Brew House in Kalamazoo. “So basically, the citra and melon hops play off each other in this one, but the melon mellows it out,” says Bonnie about the Citra Melon Session Ale.

We make our way towards the hop fields, acres of poles waiting to be covered in vines. “We grow 30,000 hop plants and 9 different varieties of hops,” she says. “We supply over 50 breweries throughout the United States — not just Michigan.”

Bonnie shares as she shows us the small, asparagus hop shoots that are coming up at the base of each pole. Within the next week, Hop Head will use a machine to score the tops. After the crowns are pruned, two ropes will be tied to each crown and three vines (or hardy shoots) will be trained up each rope.

“We can do about 4,000 ropes a day — that’s kind of slow, actually, in comparison to other places out west. We are still perfecting our system,” says Bonnie.

Our next stop is the harvesting room, where we meet Griselda, Hop Head’s massive harvester, complete with gears and wheels and conveyers that are all a little Willy Wonka. It gets even better as we make our way into a room underneath the oast tower, looking up from the blowers into three floors that are actually drawers, designed to dry the hops as needed depending on variety.

We end with a few more beer samples and Bonnie’s special Hop Cheese, a secret mix that includes beer and hops, of course.

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Between stops, Lisa and Beth keep the ladies well hydrated and make sure no one lacks for snacks. It’s a great atmosphere, and as the day processes, more and more strangers become friends and share their experiences with Michigan brew, homebrewing horror stories and successes, and simply chat about everyday things one talks about over a pint.

BOATYARD BREWING

It’s on to the brand new Boatyard Brewing in Kalamazoo, where we meet Amy Waugaman, a pink-booted brewer who has a rather unique road to working in the industry.

“I drank my first beer when I was 35. I was into big red wines, and I went through a divorce and decided to try things I was opposed to before for no reason, and beer was one of them,” she says.

Waugaman pours us samples of Kissing the Gunners Daughter — a traditional Klosch which she says is great for mowing your lawn of sitting on your boat. Lightly hopped, it’s an easy drinker, perfect for summer.

“I started to drink beers in this area, and went up to Founders and had a Red’s Rye and fell in love, then decided I wanted to try to homebrew. I have a degree in microbiology and chemistry and then went to culinary school, so it made sense. My homebrew was pretty good and I wanted to do more.”

Our next sample is a Blonde Ale, a malt forward Bière de Garde brewed very true to style called Currents Will Shift. “So I discovered this place, sent an email that basically said I want to learn commercial brewing. Teach me, and I will give you my time. Bryan and Dan, owners of Boatyard, started teaching me and it went from there. It’s my passion and I love it and I don’t feel like I’m ever working.”

The last beer is Swearing Sailor Sasion, so good I go home with a growler full. It’s back onto the bus where Waugaman joins us as we make our way to Arcadia.

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On the way to our final stop, Beth Raich from Brew Hauler demos her product and provides goodie bags for everyone. An ingeniously simple little contraption made from sturdy webbing that fits snugly around your growler to make carrying easier, this product came about as a way to use leftover materials from the Brew Hauler’s main seller, the larger version made for carboys. It was a nice gesture and very usable during the trip.

ARCADIA BREWING

Our last stop of the day was a treat — Arcadia’s brand new Kalamazoo facility, which is having its grand opening on May 8. It was the brewery’s soft opening, and we enjoyed a full free pint courtesy of the tour and had the option to eat ample, decadent BBQ that assaulted our nostils when we walked in.

Mardy Suprise, co-owner along with her husband Tim, stepped outside with the group to talk about Arcadia, from opening the Battle Creek location 18 years ago to the launch of the Kalamazoo branch.

Mardy has been a part of Michigan’s craft beer scene since inception, and shared stories of falling pizza ovens, exploding water drains and how Arcadia has reached the point where it is today. Wife, mother and entrepreneur, Mardy is very much a part of daily operations at Arcadia. Like the other women on our tour that day, she has made her way in what is still considered a man’s world, shattering stereotypes and breaking barriers. “I did not sleep at all, for the first 10 years,” she jokes.

The clock strikes five, and the weary attendees make their way back to the bus to end where we started, at Tibbs Brewing. The hardier of the bunch stay at Arcadia and opt to walk back, but the ladies at MittenBrew had had their fill and headed home, laden with beer and swag, great photos and good stories.

BELLAIRE — In 2004, Joe Short set out to share his creative approach to brewing with the world.

On Saturday, Short’s Brewing Company celebrated its success with a special anniversary celebration. The Short’s 10 Year Anniversary Party honored what the Short’s team is passionate about and the Northern Michigan community that has supported its success.

“It took a lot of community support to help Short’s become what it is today, so this party is just as much for the community and our fans as it is for the Short’s team,” explained Pauline Knighton, PR Coordinator for Short’s.

Planning such a celebration has taken years for the creative Short’s team. “The planning has been one of those stereotypical labors of love that the entire Short’s team is unbelievably excited to share with the world,” said Knighton.

Wishing to share their passion with the world, Short’s expanded beyond their pub and took over the streets of Bellaire. Lines wrapped around the block as thousands flocked to the brewery’s small hometown to honor its creative energy and passion for craft beer. There were 99 different brews on tap, along with a creative food menu and great live music throughout the evening.

With 99 different beers to choose from, it was a bit intimidating to figure out what to sample. I was able to try new twists on old favorites while also trying styles I had yet to experience.

Brewed specifically for the Anniversary Party, sampling Stache Bender was a must. Stache Bender was a double IPA brewed with grapfruit zest. With a 9.5% ABV, it was a strong IPA and had hints of grapefruit at the front and a rush of hops at the end. With summer in the near future, this would be a great brew for any IPA fan.

I then tried my first cream ale, the Electric Mullet. Sweet and creamy at first, Electric Mullet finishes with a slight hop bitterness. It was a combination I was surprised by, yet enjoyed.

Last on my list was one of my favorite styles of beer: an oatmeal stout. Unlike other oatmeal stouts, the Uber Goober was fermented with peanuts. The creaminess of the oatmeal and peanuts paired well with the traditional roasted flavors of a stout.

Short’s creativity was present in each brew, with a wide array of ingredients present. Other choices ranged from Anniversary Ale 2014, a wheat wine made with blood oranges, to Anny ‘06 Part One, a bourbon barrel aged Triple IPA. There was also an Imperial series, which included Imperial Soft Parade.

Short’s has seen large success with its creative brews in recent years. It is currently expanding both its brewpub in Bellaire and its production facility in Elk Rapids. These efforts will drastically increase the brewery’s ability to reach its continuously growing community.

Knighton explained this journey by saying, “What began as one man’s dream to restore a 100 year-old hardware store into a brewpub in small town Bellaire, has become a community gathering spot for people from all over the United States.”

This certainly seems like a reason to celebrate.

GRAND RAPIDS — The 13th Annual Black Party at Founders was held on Saturday. Lucky 13 brought beautiful weather and huge crowds to enjoy the many black beers Founders has become famous for, as well as a few new surprises.

If you were fortunate enough to arrive in time to receive the commemorative pint glass, it was probably Paul Eyk who handed it to you. Eyk, manning the door dressed in a tuxedo with tails and a top hat, was Founders’ very first door man at the original location and has attended every Black Party since it’s inception.

“Every year this party gets better and better. People come from further and further away to be part of it”, Eyk said.

Eyk was also one of the very first mug club members. He chose mug number 116, which corresponds with his birthdate.

Fans of the brewery’s Black IPA could choose from many variations of it. The lightest, a session version called All Night IPA, weighed in at 4.2% ABV. The standard Black IPA, an Imperial Black and several barrel-aged versions topping out at 11.7% ABV rounded out the style.

Long time Founders devotee and Grand Rapids resident Brian Chuchla has been to a decades’ worth of Black Party celebrations. “I’m not typically much of an IPA fan but some of the unique flavors that I don’t normally have, I need to try them when I’m here. I love the Maple Barrel Aged Black IPA today!” he said.

Tim Sundt related, saying “We’re in a place that understands subtle changes make for a very different beer.”

Among the tweaked beers on the tap list was Cran Cub, a base of Panther Cub blended with 5-month bourbon barrel-aged CraZpberry SaWce, which was brewed with cranberries, raspberries and crystal malt for the winter holidays. Panther Cub, a porter aged one year in Blis maple syrup barrels with whole vanilla beans, is a favorite of many Founders enthusiasts.

KBS flowed all day long, fulfilling the wishes of many attendees who hoped to have a second pour or more. Overheard many times throughout the day were excited approvals from the crowd, most voicing satisfaction with this year’s batch as well as the quantity made available.

Specialty foods were available in addition to the regular deli menu. The famed Dirty Bastard Bratwurst was being served hot off the grill, complete with Dirty Bastard Sauerkraut and Dirty Bastard Stone Ground Mustard for a trifecta that pleased hungry patrons.

Music was provided by Nathaniel Rateliff, Caroline Rose and Oracle. Guests may have recognized several Founders employees playing in Oracle, including Jeremy Kosmicki, head brewer, whose name once graced the label of KBS.

Locals filled the Adado Riverfront Park in Lansing, MI to celebrate great food, music, and of course, beer, at the Microbrew and Music Festival on Friday and Saturday. 

Over 40 breweries were represented from places all over Michigan as well as the entire country. While the festival brought many favorites for those in attendance, like Bell’s Oberon, it also enabled the showcasing of new brews and new breweries. 

One of the newer breweries at the festival — Beggars Brewery, which started brewing this past fall in Traverse City — took advantage of the spring festival to get their name out. 

“This is our first festival outside of Traverse City,” owner and brewer Michael Rizik, said. “As a brewer, I just want to expose my beer to the widest audience as possible and hopefully get some converts.”

Other breweries, such as Short’s Brewing Company, opted to expose new seasonal brews rather than bringing their more well-known favorites.

While touring the park full of booths from breweries and food vendors, attendees could also enjoy the music that the festival also brought. Two stages allowed for a variety of bands including a headliner each night — Dirty Heads on Friday and O.A.R. on Saturday. 

O.A.R. fans responded to a tweet on Saturday posted on the band’s twitter page asking for song requests. Not only did the band receive plenty of requests to build a set list, but fans also expressed their devotion, noting that they were traveling hundreds of miles for the concert. 

One fan, Lansing resident Chelsea Lewis, mentioned she would be seeing the band for the 34th time.

“I have loved them for years and they always play night after night with the same energy as before,” Lewis said. “I think it helps to bring bigger bands into the Lansing music scene and show what a growing industry it is becoming.”

While the festival provided a great time along with food and drinks, it was all a part of a greater cause. All of the net profits from alcohol sales benefited the Greater Lansing Food Bank and Xero Waste Events.

Greater Lansing Food Band provides food for those in need in Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee Clare, Isabela and Gratiot counties, annually serving tens of thousands of people in the area.

Xero Waste Events is a Michigan non-profit organization that provides recycling services and education on sustainable event practices.

GRAND RAPIDS — Local breweries, media and beer aficionados have come together to form Team BeerCity, a group committed to promoting Grand Rapids as “forever” BeerCity USA.

The group, which met in March, was originally formed out of the Grand Rapids Society of Beer. Team BeerCity is led by an administrative committee made up of Seth Rivard (Rockford Brewing), Dave Engbers (Founders Brewing Co.), Chuck Brown (Cellar Brewing Co.), Marcie Lemke (Experience Grand Rapids), Chas Thompson (Schmohz Brewing Co.), Nick Lavelle (High Five Brewing Co-Op) and Brett Langschied (Gravel Bottom Brewing).

“The BeerCity USA vote that was out-and-about brought a lot of attention and enthusiasm to the community about the culture of Craft Beer in the greater GR area,” said Rivard. “A lot of cool cohesive things in the name of Beer City were happening, and It wasn’t long the GRSOB group formalized the BeerCity Grand Rapids team.”

Team BeerCity is already preparing its first event, surrounding the now-defunct BeerCity USA vote, previously organized by examiner.com. BeerCity Week, May 3-10, will highlight beer throughout the Greater Grand Rapids area at bars, restaurants and breweries alike.

The week will kick off with the first Beer City Spring Fest on Saturday, May 3 at the Hudsonville Fairgrounds.

“Even though the BeerCity vote is no more, we wanted to highlight all the great breweries Grand Rapids has to offer,” said Bryan Esler, owner of MittenBrew.com and a member of the Team BeerCity marketing committee.

The group has already started planning several other events, including a pub crawl and coaster contest.

“We have organized ourselves as a group of breweries to do events like BeerCity Week to highlight Grand Rapids as the great beer destination that it is. This celebration of Grand Rapids as BeerCity will have lots components to it, and it is only one of several events that the group is planning,” said Jackson VanDyke, owner of Harmony Brewing and chair of the events committee. “BeerCity Week is really just the start for us.”

Events will be announced as they are finalized at the new beercityusagr.com website. Bars, restaurants, breweries, homebrew shops and others interested in planning an event for the week are encouraged to visit beercityusagr.com/contact and submit event idea(s).

In addition to BeerCity Week, the group is also finalizing a revamped BeerCity Grand Rapids logo, and beginning to plan events for later in the year. The logo will be revealed prior to the start of BeerCity Week.