GRAND RAPIDS — Over the weekend, Founders Brewing held the first installment of what will become an annual event — the Founders Firkin Freezeout.

Featuring 50 firkin beers, brisk late morning weather didn’t stop a few dozen hearty people from waiting in line for the opening of the taproom doors.With the sun shining and promises of never-before-tasted beers ready to be revealed, the crowd quickly swelled into the hundreds outdoors in the new beer garden. The gorgeous gas fireplaces and several patio heaters took the chill out of the air.

Ice sculptors from Chops Ice, LLC entertained the all-ages gathering with their carving skills. Using a variety of tools from picks to chain saws, the duo skillfully crafted blocks of ice into works of art. Coincidentally, both men are also employees at Founders — Shawn Winnell a Cellarman, and Kevin DeVries a bartender.

The event began at Noon with six firkins tapped initially and a plan to replace each one as they were emptied. Demand eventually boosted the number of firkins flowing to eight at a time.

John Merizon, Retail Beer Coordinator, had carefully crafted a schedule for the day but he admitted it “went out the window” as the event progressed quicker than anticipated.

He began the lineup with a few brews more suited to the early hour, and planned to progress into the heavier spiced beers, like Dirty Bastard with Arbol and Tien Tsin peppers, as the day went on. Thirsty enthusiasts waited patiently in the bar area in hopes of nabbing a sample or pint of the brews they coveted. Much sharing between friends made it easier to attempt to taste all of the offerings, a feat that may have been accomplished with the right combination of timing, luck, and perseverance. By 9 p.m. all the firkins were dry.

Brewhouse Cellarman/Shift Brewer Matt Blodgett (aka Baron of Firkins) had creative control over the beers served during the festival.

Reaching the goal of 50 different beers required using nearly half of the 102 firkins and both of the pins in his cooperage. Having worked on the project for about a month, he and his team produced some excellent variations of standard Founders favorites.

Only a small fraction of the firkins contained beer that had been enjoyed previously in the taproom. The rest were new creations made especially for this event. All Day IPA was dressed up with several different hop additions such as Chinook, Simcoe and Amarillo. Centennial IPA formulations included one with Jasmine Tea, and another with bourbon soaked oak chips. Orange extract was added to a firkin of Red’s Rye to create an unusually sweet concoction; bourbon oak chips were added to another. Ruby Crystal with lemon extract and Kaffir lime leaves could lead one to feel as if summer isn’t too far off.

Blodgett said playing with additions to the darker beers yields more fun results since lighter beers can only support so much manipulation before they’re overwhelmed. Many variations of Dirty Bastard and Porter wowed the crowd. The pin of Dirty Bastard with maple extract, vanilla beans and cinnamon was empty within 15 minutes of tapping. Porter with coconut extract and chocolate was dessert in beer form.

The most popular firkins will be made again in the future for the taproom’s weekly firkin tapping that takes place on Wednesdays at 5 p.m.

GRAND RAPIDS — High Five Co-op Brewery hosted its first official membership event and “sixer mixer” this past Saturday.

Members and non-members alike met in The Factory, a collaborative workspace, and brought along their favorite and homemade brews to share and taste. Attendees sipped on samples while engaging in light discussion.

The event was the first of what will be several sixer mixers and was an opportunity for members to meet each other and discuss their own brewing and beer enthusiasm. Prospective members could attend to learn more about the co-op’s goals and operations. Everyone sipped on a brew they selected from coolers filled with snow instead of cubed ice — which has to be one of the more resourceful uses of the surplus of snow with which Grand Rapids has been inundated.

Attendees could enter their beer selections in a competition for Oldest Cellared Beer, Highest ABV, Lowest ABV and Honorable Homebrew. Those who were selected won a free High Five Co-op Brewery T-shirt. Each title was taken by a home brew.

Andrew Brouwers, High Five member of two months as well as the recipient of the Lowest ABV award, said he joined because he likes the small, personal side of the cooperative.

“I like brewing beer and I like the idea of a smaller organization geared towards people’s desires more than the commercial side of it,” he said.

Brouwers said he’s looking forward to watching the process of the brewery’s start from the ground up.

“I think the initial opening is really interesting — like the procurement of a property, and trying to understand where they want to go and then raising the capital to do it,” he said. 

Rachel Weaver came to the event with Brouwers as a non-member. She said she may be interested in investing in a membership in the future, but for now, sharing a membership with Brouwers will do.

“When it gets bigger and if it were to get limited to members only, maybe that would spur me to purchase one, but until then I’m just kind of along for the ride,” she said.

In its second year, High Five has already made strides in breaking ground as the first co-op brewery in Michigan. Much of its struggle has been rooted in meeting legal requirements. President Nick LaVelle said the co-op’s hard work is making the project come together more quickly than its predecessors in other parts of the country and will make it easier for future co-op breweries to start up in Michigan.

The co-op currently boasts 88 members and is working on diversifying its methods of funding the project. High Five is currently searching for investors who are interested in supporting the cooperative. A Kickstarter campaign is also in the works.

“We’ve been in contact with a few different individuals and are currently working out a good collaborative strategy for their interests,” says High Five board member Josh Smith. “One thing we’ve been discussing is allowing our first phase of investors to purchase our building and equipment and leasing those items to the co-op.”

In the meantime, High Five is seeking to strengthen the community in the 88 members they’ve accrued since the beginning and the people who are just interested in learning more about the co-op.

“By hosting events like the sixer mixer we’re really hoping to create a strong community of homebrewers, beer enthusiasts, and community advocates that enjoy coming together, sharing brews, meeting new people, and supporting the goal of creating a co-operative brewery to call their own,” said Smith.

A winter plagued by the polar vortex couldn’t keep thousands from celebrating the craft brew community Saturday at the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival.

The festival, now in its fifth year, has become a regional favorite and features a large selection of beloved Michigan breweries and live musical acts. Festival organizers added many new features this year to keep the festival interesting and engaging for the evolving craft brew community.

Festivities began Friday night at the first Brewer’s Dinner at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The dinner featured 11 pairings and was hosted by Fred Bueltmann, Beervangelist and Partner at New Holland Brewing Company. Upon arrival, guests were given a ticket package which allowed them to visit each pairing station at their own will. 

“The casual format was conversational for the guests as well as chefs and brewery personnel,” Bueltmann explained. “I like that the chef who created each dish was there to talk to, so we could hear their thoughts on the pairing and the techniques behind the dish.” 

Bueltmann designed the experience so that attendees could take the time to explore various flavors. I started my adventure with Dirty Bastard Fire Roasted Chili, paired with Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard. Each featured a bit of spice and smokiness which complimented each other perfectly.

I chose to try the pork tenderloin paired with New Holland’s Night Tripper as my main course. The pork tenderloin was seared with a cocoa and cayenne rub and was topped with a Night Tripper infused pork stock reduction. Night Tripper is an Imperial Stout with a deep roasted flavor. This roasted flavor came through beautifully in the pork reduction. The cayenne rub gave a spicy kick at the end, which left a need on the palate for another sip of Night Tripper.

Dessert being my favorite part of a meal; I couldn’t wait to try the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcakes paired with Dark Horse Brewing’s Tres Blueberry Stout. Pastry Chef Stephanie Elwell left the blueberries out of her batter and instead chose to use the Tres Blueberry Stout to build flavor. Filled with a stout blueberry jam and topped with a cream cheese mousse, the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcake was the perfect way to end the Brewers Dinner.

This creative and innovative energy carried over into the Microbrew & Music Festival Saturday evening in downtown Traverse City. Bueltmann made another appearance with food truck pairings on the TC Cycle Pub. Additionally, festival goers could follow the exclusive Rare Beer Tour while enjoying a wide range of live music throughout three heated tents.

The first ever Rare Beer Tour made its way through the festival by tapping a new exclusive brew every 20 minutes. Sixteen small batch brews were featured from breweries throughout the state including Bell’s Brewery, Short’s Brewery and Brewery Vivant.

As excitement built for the tour, lines formed and chants could be heard for Petoskey Brewing’s Wookie Kisses. An imperial stout that was aged for nine months in bourbon barrels, Wookie Kisses had a wonderfully complex flavor. With rich roasted flavors of chocolate and coffee, it finished nicely with hints of bourbon.

Tyde-One-On by Beard’s Brewery was also featured on the tour. It was a barley wine hybrid with strong herbal and caramel malt flavors. Opened just over a year ago, Beard’s Brewery has found great success as a smaller brewery in Petoskey. Brewer Peter Jon stated, “It’s a great industry. It’s growing, but it’s not overly competitive.”

In fact, the expanding industry has brought about many opportunities for collaboration. Beggar’s Brewery, which opened in November, collaboratively brewed its Private Eyes Dunkelweizen with the Microbrew & Music Festival team. Private Eyes was a full bodied dunkelweizen with a lovely balance of clove, banana and hints of earthiness.

The Michigan beer community has vastly grown over the last couple of years. This year’s Microbrew & Music Festival wonderfully represented the creative ways in which it has evolved.

“I loved talking with so many people that were having fun trying new things and enjoying an evening of adventure with beer and food,” Bueltmann stated as he reflected upon the weekend’s festivities.

A winter plagued by the polar vortex couldn’t keep thousands from celebrating the craft brew community Saturday at the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival.

The festival, now in its fifth year, has become a regional favorite and features a large selection of beloved Michigan breweries and live musical acts. Festival organizers added many new features this year to keep the festival interesting and engaging for the evolving craft brew community.

Festivities began Friday night at the first Brewer’s Dinner at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The dinner featured 11 pairings and was hosted by Fred Bueltmann, Beervangelist and Partner at New Holland Brewing Company. Upon arrival, guests were given a ticket package which allowed them to visit each pairing station at their own will. 

“The casual format was conversational for the guests as well as chefs and brewery personnel,” Bueltmann explained. “I like that the chef who created each dish was there to talk to, so we could hear their thoughts on the pairing and the techniques behind the dish.” 

Bueltmann designed the experience so that attendees could take the time to explore various flavors. I started my adventure with Dirty Bastard Fire Roasted Chili, paired with Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard. Each featured a bit of spice and smokiness which complimented each other perfectly.

I chose to try the pork tenderloin paired with New Holland’s Night Tripper as my main course. The pork tenderloin was seared with a cocoa and cayenne rub and was topped with a Night Tripper infused pork stock reduction. Night Tripper is an Imperial Stout with a deep roasted flavor. This roasted flavor came through beautifully in the pork reduction. The cayenne rub gave a spicy kick at the end, which left a need on the palate for another sip of Night Tripper.

Dessert being my favorite part of a meal; I couldn’t wait to try the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcakes paired with Dark Horse Brewing’s Tres Blueberry Stout. Pastry Chef Stephanie Elwell left the blueberries out of her batter and instead chose to use the Tres Blueberry Stout to build flavor. Filled with a stout blueberry jam and topped with a cream cheese mousse, the Blueberry Stout Crumble Cupcake was the perfect way to end the Brewers Dinner.

This creative and innovative energy carried over into the Microbrew & Music Festival Saturday evening in downtown Traverse City. Bueltmann made another appearance with food truck pairings on the TC Cycle Pub. Additionally, festival goers could follow the exclusive Rare Beer Tour while enjoying a wide range of live music throughout three heated tents.

The first ever Rare Beer Tour made its way through the festival by tapping a new exclusive brew every 20 minutes. Sixteen small batch brews were featured from breweries throughout the state including Bell’s Brewery, Short’s Brewery and Brewery Vivant.

As excitement built for the tour, lines formed and chants could be heard for Petoskey Brewing’s Wookie Kisses. An imperial stout that was aged for nine months in bourbon barrels, Wookie Kisses had a wonderfully complex flavor. With rich roasted flavors of chocolate and coffee, it finished nicely with hints of bourbon.

Tyde-One-On by Beard’s Brewery was also featured on the tour. It was a barley wine hybrid with strong herbal and caramel malt flavors. Opened just over a year ago, Beard’s Brewery has found great success as a smaller brewery in Petoskey. Brewer Peter Jon stated, “It’s a great industry. It’s growing, but it’s not overly competitive.”

In fact, the expanding industry has brought about many opportunities for collaboration. Beggar’s Brewery, which opened in November, collaboratively brewed its Private Eyes Dunkelweizen with the Microbrew & Music Festival team. Private Eyes was a full bodied dunkelweizen with a lovely balance of clove, banana and hints of earthiness.

The Michigan beer community has vastly grown over the last couple of years. This year’s Microbrew & Music Festival wonderfully represented the creative ways in which it has evolved.

“I loved talking with so many people that were having fun trying new things and enjoying an evening of adventure with beer and food,” Bueltmann stated as he reflected upon the weekend’s festivities.

FERNDALE — The “terrible twos” are typically a hectic and dreadful time for most parents. Unless, of course, your child is a craft beer bar. 

One Eyed Betty’s celebrated its two-year anniversary this week by hosting a Barrel-Aged Beer Week.

With nightly tapping’s Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m., the week was chalked full of huge brews and high ABVs.

The idea is credited to Bar Manager and resident “Beer Genius” Michael Fredenburg.

“In the summertime, I was conjuring up ideas on something to do. I wanted to do a barrel-aged night, which was my original plan,” Fredenburg said. “That kind of turned into me hoarding beer enough to do a full week. So it became our birthday celebration.”

While the high-octane beers reigned supreme and some customers jokingly labeled the list “dangerous,” Owner and Operator Beth Hussey wasn’t worried.

“The people who know about these beers and appreciate them, know how to drink them,” she said.

Hussey said of the 17 beers tapped this week, many have been cellared for over a year.

“I don’t know if everyone quite understands how special some of these beers are, but we do,” Hussey said. “There are some big beauties on that list.”

The biggest beauty of them all was tapped on Thursday evening to a ravenous crowd awaiting their pours of the magical liquid known as Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Batch 9,000.

Hussey described it as “the last of its kind.” Fredenburg proclaimed it as “the star of the show.”

The keg lasted all of 21 minutes and 16 seconds.

“You don’t come across that every day. It was very, very special and we have to thank Bell’s for that,” Fredenburg said.

Other highlighted Michigan beers included Odd Side Ales Barrel Aged Citra Pale Ale and Griffin Claw Brewing Bourbon Imperial Stout. Offerings from Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company, Tri-City Brewing Company and Northville Winery also rounded out the list.

Hussey said the last two years have been “awesome” and can’t believe how much Betty’s has learned in that time.

“Now, the pressure’s on,” she said. “How do we continue to be cool and great? And be the place beer drinkers think of going for good beer?”

Although the pressure is mounting in her eyes, Hussey doesn’t want to veer too far from what’s made them successful.

“We have really high standards,” she said. “Right now, I really believe that we’re right in the sweet spot.”

GRAND RAPIDS — Libraries are a gathering space, a way to exchange and garner information, to learn something new, or to learn something more. And in Michigan, what could be more logical than wanting to learn more about beer?

Kent District Library, a public library system comprised of 18 branches that serves residents throughout Kent County, is known for their extensive family and kid-friendly programming. They were looking to do something a little more grown-up.

“We had been looking for ideas for more adult programs. We do have programming specifically for adults but it tends to be things like quilting, sowing. We were getting a lot of people in looking for books on homebrewing, so we said, why not look into this?” Morgan Jarema, a Communications Assistant at KDL, said.

Jarema and her colleagues hit the mark, and the KD aLe Series was born.

Eight events held throughout this winter include beer tastings, brewery tours and home brewing 101 sessions. “We’ve had two events so far. The first event, a ‘Backstage Pass’ tour of Rockford Brewing Company, had sixty people show up, which is huge for us, and more than Rockford expected.”

Jarema laughs. “They [the guys at Rockford] are really passionate about what they do, and they spent a long time with the tours. They couldn’t get people to shut up! It was great.”

Rockford will play host to another tour on Feb. 19, and Schmohz will host today. The tours are open to anyone — just show up, and look for the people with the books. If you can’t make to Schmohz, join the GR Makers as they host ‘Home Brewing 101’ at the Grandville Branch. Learn from long time home brewers, and mingle with others who share your interests. Two more home brewing sessions are scheduled for later in the month at other branches

Fred Bueltmann of New Holland hosted a beer tasting just last week, and will host another on Feb. 13.

“Both beer tastings maxed out on registrations — pretty quickly. When you pair the word ‘free’ with the word ‘beer’, they go pretty fast,” says Jerema. However, you can put your name on the waiting list and cross your fingers.

KDL hopes to expand upon this series in the future. Evaluations from the past two events are encouraging, and ripe with suggestions — as was Fred Beltman from New Holland. Will there be a beer and cheese ‘smackdown’ in KDL’s future? It’s possible. 

If you are looking for a good beer book, visit KDL’s Pinterest site, maintained by KDL librarian who knows her beer, Ms. Penny Speets, for some suggestions. Utilize your public library. Attend a brewery tour, learn about home brewing, and help to shape programming like this yet to come. 

“What’s great about this [series] is that they are true socializing events, which you don’t really see at all of the other adult programs,” says Jarema. “You want to get adults to hang out together at a library, give them beer.”

The Royal Oak Music Theatre is one of metro Detroit’s top concert venues, but it was craft beer that took center stage on Saturday.

The theater hosted the fifth annual Royal Oak Craft Beer Fest, featuring more than 100 craft beers from a combination of more than 40 Michigan and national breweries. The event was presented by Parkway Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, and proceeds benefitted Camp Casey, a Royal Oak-based nonprofit organization that offers horseback-riding programs and therapy for children with cancer, sickle cell anemia and aplastic anemia. 

“We are thrilled to be a part of the Royal Oak Music Theatre Craft Beer Fest again this year since it’s a great way for our supporters to have a fun time while doing good,” said Camp Casey Community Relations Director Jessica Leroux.  

Leroux explained that the funds raised will help Camp Casey continue its three unique, cost-free programs: Horsey House Calls, in which the organization surprises a child with a horse on their doorstep; Cowboy Camp Outs, which are all-expenses-paid horseback-riding vacations; and Outlaw Outings, where new and returning Camp Casey families are treated to a fun night out.

In support of Camp Casey, Beer Fest volunteers donned their country best, complete with plaid shirts and cowboy hats, as they poured beer throughout the evening. 

Festivities kicked off at 6 p.m. for VIP ticket-holders, who had early entry to the event as well as access to theater’s balcony, where they could taste some rare and specialty brews. Some of the VIP offerings included Firestarter from Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery, Yellow Snow IPA from Oregon’s Rogue Brewery, Palate Wrecker from San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Co. and Totally Roasted from Spring Lake’s Vander Mill Ciders.

Newcomer Two James Spirits, which recently opened in Detroit’s Corktown, was also on hand with vodka, whiskey and bourbon samples; and Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewery had Hopslam available for those who missed out on its limited bottle release. 

Soon after general admission began at 7 p.m., the theater was bustling with enthusiastic craft beer fans, who each received a punch card for 20 samples. Attendees made their way through various levels of the venue — including the stage — trying Michigan favorites, such as Dragonmead’s Final Absolution, New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk and Dark Horse’s Crooked Tree IPA, along with some out-of-state stand-outs like Hard Root Beer from Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewery and Hairy Eyeball Strong Ale from California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. 

Festival-goers could also sample B. Nektar Meadery’s newest creation, Kill All The Golfers — a mead made with tea and lemon juice — or even try a beer lover’s twist on a classic cocktail — McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix with Founder’s Centennial IPA, garnished with a pickle. 

Food trucks from StrEAT Detroit, along with music from local acoustic duo Yorg & Sheehan — who played a variety of modern and classic favorites — added to the event’s upbeat ambiance. 

“The event was once again a tremendous success from both and attendance & experience standpoint,” said event coordinator Jason Dritsan of Liquid Events Detroit. “One thing I take great pride in — besides giving our largest donation to Camp Casey to date — is that the venue and setup provide for a more intimate tasting experience. Breweries continually told how much they appreciate the opportunity to interact with the attendees.”

With attendance reaching 1,300 beer enthusiasts, crowds were steady throughout the evening, proving that great beer and a great cause make a perfect pairing.  

To learn more about Camp Casey, visit camp-casey.org.

GRAND RAPIDS — A line was forming outside on the morning of HopCat’s sixth anniversary, but owner Mark Sellers was concerned first of all with the crowd inside.

“When we opened,” he told the congregation of about 25 employees, “I didn’t even know if we’d make it to one year. Now we’ve made it six years, and we’re setting records every year, and that’s thanks to all of you.

“Now get to work!” he added wryly, and opened the doors for the anniversary celebration. The all-day event featured limited release stouts, free “crack fries,” and a crack fry eating contest so intense that an impromptu halftime was needed to help the kitchen keep up.

It was clearly a successful day for one of the most celebrated beer bars in the country. But while success has become the standard outcome for everything HopCat does, it wasn’t exactly what Sellers planned for at the beginning.

Sellers just wanted the place to stay afloat at first. He didn’t anticipate the craft beer craze. He wasn’t thinking that far ahead. “I told my manager,” he recalled, “that my goal [for the first year] was to break even so I could have a bar to hang out in.” 

The vision was a place for “the true beer geeks,” a place that emphasized craft and kept out corporatized macrobrews. People told Sellers it would never work. “I got lucky, I guess,” he said.

Whatever caused it — luck, intuition or maybe just good taste — Sellers isn’t too concerned about his personal success with HopCat. He’s most gratified by the prosperity it has brought to others. Between HopCat and the other bars he owns (under the umbrella of Barfly Ventures), Sellers employs more than 430 people who have made over $7 million in wages since he opened HopCat in 2008. “It really gives me a sense of pride that I’ve given that many people a way to make a living,” he said.

Two of the staff making their living at HopCat are Ernest Richards and Bobby Edgcomb, the brewers behind the spectrum of stouts released for the anniversary. Both enjoy the challenge of brewing for a place where the in-house beers aren’t the only option or even the main attraction. Edgcomb said that, because their beers face more competition, the brewers “have to bring their best” in order to get any attention. 

Their best on this occasion was the Oil Rigger, a rich but smooth Russian imperial stout, plus six flavor-infused variations on it: Chocolate raspberry, coffee marshmallow, crème brûlée, molé, orange brandy and vanilla bourbon.

The stout’s full body offered a nice backdrop to each of these flavors, the most popular of which seemed to be the molé, a beer that smells a little like French Toast but finishes with heat from ancho and chipotle chili peppers. Special edition bottles of the standard Oil Rigger were sold to a limited number of customers, but all the flavors (plus 2012 and 2013 brews of the Oil Rigger) were available on draft.

You can expect more crack fries, more brews, and more people to be on hand this time next year for the seventh anniversary. If you can’t wait that long for a HopCat party, though, you’re in luck. Sellers plans to announce the opening of a third HopCat restaurant soon. He wouldn’t say where, exactly, but he would say this: “If you keep going east past East Lansing, you eventually hit another city.”