LANSING — Mother Nature eased off on cold temperatures for a while and let her Spring light shine down on Lansing this past Saturday for the first annual Beerfest at the Ballpark.

The event was held at the Cooley Law School Stadium in Downtown Lansing. Hundreds of craft beer aficionados and first-time beerfesters flocked to the ballpark, which is home to the Lansing Lugnuts.

Breweries sprawled on the front lawn of the stadium as well as setting up inside the concourse.

Michael Biddick, West Michigan Market Manager for Saugatuck Brewing Company, said the near 50 degree weather put everyone in a good mood.

“The sun is shining and everyone seems to be having a great time,” he said. “I believe they sold out, which is great for a first time event.”

People soaked up the sun as much as they could. While cold and chilly in the concourse, it was easy for festivalgoers to walk down a few steps to stadium seating in the sunlight.

Over 35 Michigan breweries, cideries and meaderies participated in the event. Entertainment was provided in the form of live acoustic music.

Lansing resident Dave Shannon was excited for the event as soon as it was announced.

“It’s great for the city,” he said. “I’m glad they’re bringing craft beer to Lansing. I think it really helps bring everyone together so we can all enjoy it.”

For $30, festivalgoers received 10 tasting tickets and a souvenir logo glass. With $35 tickets, patrons received early entry, a logo glass and 15 tasting tickets.

Proceeds from the event benefitted the Old News Boys of Lansing, which raises money to provide shoes and boots for children.

Biddick said feedback on all of the Saugatuck beers was positive. He also had a great time enjoying some beers like the rest of the crowd.

“I’m a big fan of Dark Horse’s Plead the Fifth and Kuhnhenn’s DRIPA,” he said. “It’s a great event and I hope they do it again and it continues to grow.”

As a lifelong Lansing resident, Shannon is excited for next year.

“I can’t wait to do it again,” he said. “The weather was perfect and we had a blast.”

GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. was the hottest spot in Grand Rapids this past Saturday, as the brewery rounded out a week-long, city-wide party of the highly-acclaimed KBS.

From March 18-22, Grand Rapids played host to nearly 20 KBS tapping events across the city and at selected retailers throughout the area.

On Saturday, patrons lined up outside in the cold and waited patiently for entry into the Founders taproom, awaiting a taste of the sought-after KBS.

Inside the taproom, people buried their noses in snifters and inhaled deeply. They sipped slowly and their thirst for KBS, which had been building for over a year, was satisfied. 

“This entire week has been crazy. It has been jam packed,” said Mike Stevens, Co-Founder and CEO of Founders Brewing Co. “The cool part about it is, we turned it into this whole week-long celebration. It has been a city-wide celebration.”

Turning the KBS release into a multi-day event helped make it about more than just the beer, Stevens said.

“We love the feel and the vibe of it this year,” he said. “KBS this year wasn’t just about Founders, It was about Grand Rapids. It was about BeerCity USA.”

Emphasis was also put on getting the beer out to retail partners and having them get first-hand experience with KBS tappings.

“Virtually every single promo we’ve been to, there were lines out the door,” Stevens said. “It was really cool to watch retailers’ reactions to the events. They really got to see first-hand the impact that this beer has made on people. They were blowing through kegs anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes.”

In addition to the beer happenings across town, KBS bottle releases were held for those who were lucky enough to purchase tickets in advance online. Each day, 600 ticket holders were allowed to pick up their beer.

“All of the proceeds of the ticket costs all went to charity,” Stevens said. “We were able to get $12,000 to the river restoration project here in Grand Rapids.”

According to Stevens, he estimated the events throughout the week brought between 6,000 to 8,000 people to the city. But he still feels more can be done in future years.

“We put it out to Grand Rapids and the public and retail customers. And we want to see more of that,” Stevens said. “We brought in six to 8,000, but let’s bring in 30,000. I think it’s doable.

“It can really truly be a week-long celebration of beer in Grand Rapids. It would be a drinking man’s Disneyland.”

JACKSON — The Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival is on the cusp of a general renaissance.

Rebecca Calkins, PR and Technology Manager at Experience Jackson, connects the dots.

“We are the visitor’s bureau for Jackson, and we are a sponsor (along with the Grand River Marketplace-home of Grand River Brewery) for this event.  The Jackson Country Fair Association puts on and organizes the event, and does an amazing job,” she said.

“We actually had a power outage today — we are operating on generators, and you don’t even realize it. Denise Owens from the Jackson County Fairgrounds was on it! I cannot say enough good stuff about her.

“We’ve got a wonderful turnout, and everyone I talk to is really impressed about what we’ve got here, and they are enjoying themselves.”

Walking around, I found the usual cast of characters, with everyone getting into the spirit of the day. Members of the self-appointed Waterloo Chug Club were at the festival in force. They describe themselves as “a bunch of people who like to drink beer who live in the Waterloo area.” Emily, a member, shares that she has “really enjoyed everything, I love the camaraderie of the place.”

Despite this being the fourth year of the festival, many people MittenBrew spoke with were in attendance for the first time.

This indoor and outdoor event was almost too crowded, which made it a little difficult to navigate within the crowd, but everyone seemed to be having fun. Local restaurant Night Light even got inspired and sold pretzels necklaces for festival goers (one for $3 and two for $5), and live music played outside in a warming tent. 

While the Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival isn’t just Michigan craft brews, it does utilize local distributors to provide their product, with a healthy representation of Michigan-based beer. Just to name a few: Dark Horse, Paw Paw, Atwater, Brewery Vivant and Founders all had volunteers pouring their brew.

While some particulars and questions about specific beers went unanswered because of the volunteer presence at tables (these folks were not representatives of the breweries), it caused people to turn to each other and discuss what they had in their hand.

The event allowed many to discover a new beer, develop their beer palates and give a chance to try something that may not have been on their radars.

In addition to this Michigan representation, local Jackson brewery Grand River was on hand with samples straight from the tap, a small merchandise table featuring the brewery’s whimsical steam punk inspired designs, and some brewers on hand to chat.

I talked to Tom Block, one such brewer. “This is awesome, look around, there’s a ton of people drinking great beer.”

Taste testing Grand River’s samples, MittenBrew tried the Lady Valance Cherry Cream Ale, with an up front cherry aroma and a subtle taste, Baron Barista Coffee Porter and The Gypsy Laddie Irish Stout, with a cocoa and tobacco aroma and roasty taste.

“I’m a hophead,” says Block as we sip, “and if you come to the brewery, you’re gonna get a big hoppy IPA and pale ale, dry hopped, and I’m a flavor snob, everything is gonna have a nice big nose on it and be very flavorful.”

Rebecca Calkins (Experience Jackson) says that the Michigan craft brew involvement in the Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival has grown since inception of the event, and will continue to grow. In addition to Grand River Brewery, Jackson is home to three other nano-breweries and small brew pubs — Bifferhaus, Shed’s and Tootsie’s. Next up for Jackson beer lovers is the Michigan Wine & Beer Fest in May.

Another member of the Waterloo Chug Club may have summed up this event the best: “This is the funnest time I’ve ever had in Jackson.”

GRAND RAPIDS — It’s sad but true; Cool Brews. Hot Eats. is coming to a close.

Saturday will mark your final chance to experience the expert pairings and beer-infused dishes and restaurants and brewpubs throughout Grand Rapids.

But if you can’t make it out before Saturday night, you’re in luck. Although they are participating in their first Cool Brews. Hot Eats. event, Rezervoir Lounge could equate infusing food with craft brews as business as usual.

Since Executive Chef Chris Montgomery took over the kitchen a year and a half ago, he says, “About 60% of our [regular] menu incorporates beer somehow.” 

Rez Lounge, formerly Sazerac’s on Grand Rapids’ Northeast side, has 24 rotating taps. Chef Montgomery is a self proclaimed “beer nerd,” as well as a home brewer. His intimate knowledge and appreciation of the craft allows him to integrate beer whenever possible. 

Rez Lounge’s offerings for Cool Brews. Hot Eats. include beef short ribs braised in Perrin Brewing’s Kona Brown Ale, served with curried mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts with a (“very labor intensive”) Kona Brown Ale demi glaze. “Anytime I think of coffee browns or stouts, I immediately go to beef,” says Montgomery of his inspiration for the dish.

The madras for the curried mashed potatoes is made in-house and adds to the deep complexity of the dish. 

The suggested pairing is the Kona Brown, but Montgomery says they ran out of that a while back — somewhere between Grand Rapids Beer Week, which ran in tandem with the first week of Cool Brews, and its Perrin tap takeover event on Feb 19.

Instead, he brings out Founder’s Smoked Porter and no one is complaining.

The second offering is house made Seitan chorizo tacos wrapped in raw jicama shells, topped with the chef’s own mango habanero salsa and non-dairy sunflower seed based sour cream. It is paired with North Peak’s Hoodo Midwest Wet Hop IPA. Montgomery states that pairing spicy dishes with hops cuts the heat without sacrificing the flavors.

“This is the only vegan option for Cool Brews. Hot Eats.,” Montgomery says with visible shock.

Montgomery eats vegan at least three days of the week and has created a full vegan menu for Rez Lounge, including an array of house made vegan cheeses. The Seitan chorizo is also a dish that will continue at Rez Lounge and will be included in its new vegan menu, set to debut in a few months.

Other tried and true beer infused specials — not related to Cool Brews.Hot Eats. — will also be included on Rez’s revamped regular menu. A Valentine treat from earlier this month, the Beer-amisu, a Founder’s Breakfast Stout variation of tiramisu, will become a permanent dessert option. “People were literally licking their glasses clean,” Montgomery said.

There will also be a stout cured corned beef Reuben sandwich, made with Dark Horse Brewing’s Too Cream Stout.

After tasting the Cool Brews offerings, dessert is served. As luck would have it, the house made beer ice cream just happens to be Kona Brown. It is served over a warm whiskey stout fudge brownie and topped with Framboise whipped cream. 

Rez Lounge truly is a “Hidden Gem” as Chef Montgomery calls it, for beer geeks and food lovers alike. While there’s only a couple meals left to taste the beer braised beef ribs (and you will regret missing them), Montgomery will no doubt continue to concoct beer-seeped dishes, and Rez Lounge will always have something for everyone on tap.

GRAND RAPIDS — Relive the ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival with our gallery below. Photos by Alyson Eibam, Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam.

GRAND RAPIDS — The 2014 Winter Beer Fest, as always, was packed. By now, you all know the numbers. 89 breweries, 768 beers and a miraculous amount of portable toilets but somehow people still had to wait in line.

There were the perennial favorites like Founders and Short’s, with standards and fun one-offs and long, long lines. While we all know and love KBS and Short’s clever flavors like Carrot Cake, I sought out some smaller breweries by suggestion of the crowd at-large and found some gems that I wouldn’t have tasted otherwise.

Aaron Rzeznik, a brewer at Witch’s Hat Brewing Company, spoke with us about the brewery’s samplings and what Witch’s Hat is all about.

“This is our third year at the Winter Beer Fest, and as you can see (acknowledging the long line through the tent), it’s going pretty good. We are very excited to be there, there was a huge vibe before the festival. We’re pumped.”

Night Fury, an imperial stout at 10.2% ABV is one of Witch’s Hat’s seasonal offerings, and much of the hype beforehand was on the variations the brewery was bringing. The Cookies and Cream, which, yes, tastes exactly like what you think it would, was one of my favorites. “We use chocolate malt and a little bit of cocoa nibs that we age in after fermentation and actually coconut and vanilla bean, believe it or not. It’s a big hit, the keg’s gone now.” We got the last of it.

Aside from the Cookies and Cream, Witch’s Hat brought a bourbon barrel aged variety, a vanilla bean bourbon barrel aged Night Fury, and a Chocolate Espresso option, made with coffee beans from a roaster out in Leelanau Peninsula.  

“Quality is our focus, we like to experiment, and we are family oriented. We’re in a small town and that’s what we focus on.”

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Our next stop was Brewery Ferment out of Traverse City where we speak with Dustin Jones, bearded owner/brewer. “This is our first full year of the beer festival circuit. We heard so much about this place, so we had to come here this year. Each festival has different crowds, different feels, and that’s what fun about them. You get to know the idiosyncrasies between them, feeling out what the people want and getting to meet all the different people who come and support the things we do.”

We sample the Lady Belma, an Imperial IPA. “This is made from all belma hops — a brand new variety — so it’s pretty different from all the other IPAs you are gonna have. It’s a unique flavor,” he said. “We try to keep a good range of things, at the same time keeping an eye towards what’s popular. We also play around with a lot of other flavors. We have the Captain Scorch, a stout with ghost peppers. How hot is it? It’s really hot.”

Yep, it’s pretty damn hot, like the hot that makes you want to drink more to make the hot go away. Brewery Ferment also used the same stout base made with salted caramel that had a much anticipated release time of 3 p.m.

MittenBrew also sampled the Big Busty B.A.R.B — a barrel aged rye barleywine, and a few of Ferment’s sours.

Brewery Ferment seems to really love its sour beers, which was great because we also love our sour beers. We tasted their Cornucopi-Ale, a cranberry wheat sour and their Spring in Sri Lanka — a sour stout with green cardamom and bitter orange peel.

When asked to sum up Brewery Ferment in three words, there wasn’t any hesitation. “Local, small and unique,” Jones answered.

We are definitely glad we stopped by Ferment’s booth.

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One booth over from Brewery Ferment we stop and chat with Greg Korson, one of the owners of Tapistry Brewing. “This is our first year at the Winter Beer Fest — we’ve been around for eight months, so it’s perfect timing,” he said. “We’re located in Bridgman, right on Lake Michigan, about 15 minutes south of St. Joe.”

We sip on Happy Colored Marbles — a Belgian Oatmeal Stout, one of the 20 beers Tapistry brought with them. The beer styles run the gamut, and really, that’s what they are all about.

“One of the big premises [of Tapistry] is the combination of artistry and chemistry, that’s how we look at it. There are hundreds and hundreds of different styles of beers, and we try to teach people about each of them. That’s part of what a microbrewery does, right? We provide education,” said Korson. “

“There’s all these different type of flavors and styles, and that’s why today we’ve got these taps that all different types of beer beers. If it’s an English style beer, we use all English grains, English yeasts, English hops, even modify the water to get the same profile of London, say. If we are doing an American pale ale, we’re just playing at that point so we’ll do whatever we want.”

Korson laughs and we sample The Hypnotist — a Dark Saison with smoky undertones.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area, you may be able to find Tapistry on tap, but you’ll have to wait until Friday if you are in Lansing or Ann Arbor.

“The vibe here in incredible, I mean it’s incredibly cold for one, but the people and sun have helped a little bit. The crowds are great, the reception has been great, and everyone is loving the beer.

“It’s been a fun little ride so far, and this is a great kickoff.”

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I run into Jenna Arcidiacono, owner and Chef at Amore Trattoria in Grand Rapids between beer tents.

“I got here at 10:30 so I could have breakfast with the Arcadia Food Truck and went on in with these two hookers,” laughs Arcidiacono, pointing to Grand Rapids photographer Terry Johnston.

This is my first year, and it’s been fun. This is Big Willie from White Flame, she holds up her cup, a double IPA and its really nice. My favorite so far.

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To finish out our round of interviews and taste-testing, we stop by Blackrocks Brewery, based out of Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior. Chatting with Andy Langlois, whose official title is Co-Founder and Brewsician, he shares his thoughts and beer at his second year attending Winter Beer Fest.

“As always, it’s fantastic. Craft beer drinkers are a wonderful breed of people who enjoy a good Michigan made beer. It’s just fantastic to see a lot of familiar faces and meet new people.”

In addition to bringing some interesting one-offs like Whiteout — a black brew with fennel seed, Blackrocks was excited to share the three beers they are canning — the 51K IPA, Grand Rabbits Cream Ale and Coconut Brown.

“[Canning is] a really exciting thing for us, and we are really kind of blown away that we are at this point. We are just now distributing UP-wide, and we’re sending a pallet here and there to the Grand Rapids area,” said Langlois. “What I’m most excited about is the crew we brought down with us. There’s a lot of good guys here, and to bring a crew of seven guys down from a small brewery to an event like this — we’re really enjoying Grand Rapids.”

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If you weren’t lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out festival, mark your calendars for the Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, slated for July 25 and 26. Tickets go on sale May 1; details can be found at mibeer.com.

GRAND RAPIDS — The ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival took place Saturday, giving craft beer aficionados the chance to try some of their favorite, as well as some rare, Michigan brews.

Everything from sour fruit beers to habanero porters were featured, allowing for a wide variety of different flavors and beer experiences.

Some of the best brews of the day came from Traverse City’s Brewery Ferment, which brought several sour brews for guests to sample. 

The Root Beer Stout (7% ABV) looked just like the soda shop classic that we’re used to, but brought up with a bit of booze. Its endlessly complex scent and taste — the result of an ingredient list that included allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, vanilla bean and more — made for a great adult twist on the classic drink. This was by far our favorite of the day.

Ferment also brought its Cornucopi-Ale (7% ABV), a sour cranberry wheat beer that was a mix of tart and sweet cranberry flavor that really packed a punch. It was very easy drinking, allowing for a nice break from the heavier beers that were sampled throughout the afternoon. Finally, Spring in Sri Lanka (7.25% ABV) was a sour stout that featured green cardamom and bitter orange peel. It had a surprisingly light body and clean finish, despite the sourness present. Both brews were both inviting yet unique.

We wanted to sample other breweries throughout the state that may not have been as well-known. So, our other favorites throughout the day included, in no specific order:

  • Tapistry Brewing Peck’s Habañero Porter: 6.5% ABV. Deep brown, almost black color with a tan head. Get the rick malt porter taste on the front of the tongue, which is then met with the fiery pepper throughout the rest of the sip.
  • 51 North Snow Bank Winter Warmer (Chocolate Honey Black Rye): 8% ABV. Black with a thin amber head, features a complex bitter taste that’s moderated slightly by the sweetness of the honey and rye. Very full mouthfeel.
  • Griffin Claw Sour Dough (Sour Wheat Wine): Virtually no head, with an orange color. A bit smoky in the mouth, but the sour scent carries through to a strong sour taste and somewhat grainy residue.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Barrel Aged Neapolitan Milk Stout: 6.5% ABV. Very dark, virtually no head. You’re immediately hit with the strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors, mixed with the booziness you’d expect from being barrel aged.
  • Our Brewing Tobacconist Porter: 6.8% ABV. I was very hesitant about this brew, having a few other tobacco-heavy brews in the past that I didn’t care for. Yet Our Brewing puts the emphasis more on the smokiness, rather than the cigarette/nicotine taste I was hesitantly expecting. It makes for a good, easy-drinking smoked porter.

Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam contributed to this report.

GRAND RAPIDS — For lovers of beer, cider, mead, music and comedy, the 6th Annual Great Brew Ha Ha! was a perfect date for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Grand Rapids-area Brewery Vivant, Cellar Brewing Company, Founders Brewing Co., Perrin and The Hideout were among the over 40 drink vendors whose libations were sampled by patrons. Several breweries had staff on hand describing specific offerings, including Right Brain Brewery’s Ryan Engemann, Resident Beer Geek., who explained what goes into the brewery’s popular CEO Stout.

The stout, which was the brewery’s first-ever bottled beer released in 2012, contains chocolate, espresso and oatmeal flavors — hence the CEO name.

The brewery also brought favorites such as Northern Hawk Owl Amber Ale, Will Power Pale Ale and Naughty Girl Stout.

Several vendors also peddled beer-related gifts for that special someone, while the Michigan Beer Film crew was present to sell DVDs and answer questions about the project.

Brave souls, or perhaps those who simply had enough to drink to feel brave, could ride the mechanical bull set up among inflatable safety equipment in the center of the action.

Music from the local comedy duo Bimini Brothers, long-known for their satirical lyrics, could also be heard in the arena as the evening wound down. On Saturday evening attendees were treated to comedy from nationally-known Pat McGann and Al Jackson.