craft brewers conference

MittenBrew sent Jeff Rogers, Brewery Operations Manager at Harmony Brewing Company, to Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America® in Washington, D.C. to document the annual event from the lens of a first-time attendee. What follows is his experience, and a few recommendations to ensuring a successful show for those considering attending. MittenBrew edited some of Jeff’s reflections for clarity because let’s be honest—it’s hard to keep everything straight when you’ve got a beer in one hand and a selfie stick in the other.

craft brewers conference


  • Unless you have absolutely zero agenda for attending, which would seem counterproductive and a disservice to yourself and the brewery you’re representing, plan ahead. Don’t wait until you arrive to make a game plan. You know what your brewery needs better than anyone else, so establish goals for yourself based on those needs, and create a hit list of what you want to accomplish.
  • The Craft Brewers Conference website and conference app can be your best friends, if you use them, and especially if you familiarize yourself with them before you go. Seriously, download the app. It’s free.
  • After registering for the conference, use your credentials to log in to the Online Planner. Here, you can build and customize your own personal agenda, adding anything you want to see, experience or remember, which you can then sync to your phone’s native calendar. You’ll likely have a few beers on the expo hall floor and after hours, so having your schedule in your pocket already mapped out will help when you get distracted from where you’re supposed to be, with whom, and when.
  • Conference-sanctioned brewery tours fill up and educational bootcamps sell out quickly. If any interest you, register ASAP.
  • Watch the weather when packing your suitcase, and don’t forget your walking shoes. The first question everyone will ask you is, “Where are you from?” Beat them to the punch, and wear a shirt with your brewery’s logo or home state on it. It creates an easy conversation starter, and it’s free advertising.
  • Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need.

Travel and Accommodations

  • If you’re not shy about bunking up with someone, share a hotel room, and split the cost. If the hotels closest to the conference book up, and they will, don’t forget about Airbnb options or other hospitality-share programs. If you’ve got friends and family in the conference city, ask to crash on their couch. It’ll save you cash, and leave more money for beer not distributed where you live. But, consider distance to the conference from where you’re staying because taxi, Uber, and Lyft fares will add up quickly. Either way, don’t cheat yourself on a solid night’s sleep.
  • Shoot to arrive by mid-day the first day of the conference (the day before the expo floor opens). This will give you time to beat the lines when picking up your credentials, get your bearings in the convention center, and attend the Welcome Reception that evening (which you need your credentials for anyway).


BrewExpo America

  • Do not underestimate the size of this conference and convention floor. There were over 13,000 people in attendance, and 900 vendor booths. It can be a little overwhelming, and you can only do so much at a time. Don’t try to tackle visiting every booth in one day. Stagger your days by breaking up the expo floor into chunks in between any seminars you attend.
  • Say this with me: “I’m not the only person on the floor.” Practice self-awareness. You will be surrounded by hundreds of people at any given moment, many of whom are walking with a purpose. Please, don’t stop in the middle of an aisle or major walkway to check your phone or stare off into space. When you do, and someone bumps into you, it’s not their fault. Also, just like the rules of the road, walk on the right.
  • Swag. Yes, it’s free. Yes, you can have one. But, if you take it, put it to honest use. Companies pay good money for the stuff they give away. If you know it’s going to end up in the bottom of a drawer or in the garbage when you get home, save that company some money and yourself the hassle of hauling it around for the week.
  • Go early, and beat the rush. The expo floor generally tends to be a little quiet in the morning because there’s no shortage of industry parties at night that may or may not influence one’s ability to roll out of bed before noon the morning after. Don’t waste your mornings by getting wasted at night. This shouldn’t be amateur hour. We’re trained professionals.




  • Including Sponsored Demonstrations, there were approximately 70 seminars covering 11 different educational tracks. You will miss some. If you’re attending with anyone else from your brewery, don’t all sit in the same seminars—split them up so you can be in two places at once. Compare notes later over beers.
  • Don’t let this be an excuse to not attend the seminars, but if you do miss any, their content and presentation slides are pushed out to attendees after the conference. Still, you’ll get valuable insight by sitting in the seminars live. Bring a pen, and take notes (throughout the whole conference). It’ll help you remember the nuances of what you learn, who you meet, and what you talked about. Things will get fuzzy.
  • Don’t hog the mic. Engage and ask questions. Don’t let your brewery’s unique anomaly of a problem that’s hyper specific you prevent others from getting their questions answered, too. We all remember that kid in class who raised his hand so he could repeat what the instructor just said, rephrasing it to look smart. Don’t be that guy either.


Eating and Drinking

  • There are beer stations everywhere. You don’t have to look or go far to sample an array of beers from all over the U.S. To keep things on the up-and-up on the expo floor, beers were understandably restricted to 2 oz. pours. It might seem cheap at first, but you’ll be thankful for it after three days in, and dozens of samples later.
  • You know what the most important meal of the day is. Eat it. It probably changes somewhat with the destination city and venue, but lines for food during peak lunch hours were brutal. Frustratingly long. Plan accordingly. Pack a protein bar or other snack each day to tide you over until you’re able to sit down and enjoy a meal. You’re going to be drinking, so don’t do it on an empty stomach, unless you want to miss the evening festivities and disappoint your colleagues who have to worry about getting you back to the hotel early.
  • During the first two days of the expo, there were multiple sponsored hospitality areas with beer, light food, and different activities or games from 2:30 p.m – 5:00 p.m. Conquer whatever essential business you might have before then, and spend these couple hours unwinding, making new connections, and batching whatever you’ve done that day.




  • When you register for the conference, RSVP for the opening night’s Welcome Reception. This sold out long before the conference, and there’s a reason why. The host venue is usually pretty swanky—this year it was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Free beer from about 40 different breweries and fancy hors d’oeuvres make this event a no-brainer. However, food had a tendency to run out fast. So, if you go hungry, arrive early. Trim your neck hair, and put on a nice shirt.
  • There are sanctioned “official” off-site parties nightly. See the conference program for details on admission (typically complimentary with your conference credentials or via advance guest list sign-up). These will be busy, too. 13,000 people are going to go somewhere after the conference each day, and they’re probably going to go where the beer is free, so expect lines. Be polite when the hosts ask for your name or proof of RSVP. If you have to demand, “Don’t you know who I am?”, the answer is probably “No.”  
  • There are also dozens of other happy hours, meetups, and hosted parties by different breweries and state guilds. They’re not hard to find, and worth going to. You can do some of your best networking and learning during these informal socials. Talk to attendees, ask what they’re up to and where they’re going. You’ll have no problem finding a party that’s your speed.



After the Conference

  • You know all those business cards you collected? Use ‘em. At the very least, send those people a courtesy email thanking them for their time and whatever value they gave you. Your ride or flight home is a great time to draft that correspondence. Hit “Send” on those emails within one week of getting back to work so you’re still fresh in their minds.
  • Stay in touch with the people you met, traveled with, and partied next to. Despite the impressive size and attendance of the conference, our industry is still smaller and more intimate than you think. Word travels fast, and so do reputations. Take care of yourself, treat those you meet with respect, and pass along referrals even if they don’t benefit you right away. Karma is a thing, and—if you do it right—the Craft Brewers Conference is the place to share it, and receive it.

We’ll see you next year in Nashville, TN. Cheers!


Photography: Steph Harding & Jeff Rogers


In sharp contrast to a city built on politics—a force with the power to polarize millions, beer just proved to have the strength to do the exact opposite. Nearly 15,000 professionals just converged for a week in Washington, D.C. for Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®, the industry’s largest annual convention, hosted by the Brewers Association.

We attended because… well, beer, of course. And so did an honorable contingency from Michigan. When I travel to a new city or an international destination, the last thing I want to consume is something I can get back at home. You’ll never catch me eating a Big Mac in Europe (or domestically, for that matter, but you get the point). However, when you see people from all over the U.S. waiting excitedly in line for MI beer, and then bummed when the keg of Two Hearted kicks, it makes you feel proud to be an American, reppin’ The Mitten State.

On Wed, Apr. 12, Michigan Brewers Guild threw a party, Michigan Hoppy Hour, at Capital Lounge, and picked up a generous bar tab that I can only imagine had a few zeros on it. For a couple hours, we hung out with our arms around our friends from back home, and got to watch D.C. locals gush about the beer we have at our fingertips on any given day. It makes you pause, and realize we’re a part of something special—regardless of whether you voted for Trump.


To all those from MI we bumped into, saw in passing, or shared a few pints with throughout the week, here’s to you—a shout-out!

  •      Shannon from Michigan Brewers Guild
  •      Jeff from Harmony Brewing
  •      Mitch from Speciation Artisan Ales
  •      Chris and Brendan from Transient Artisan Ales
  •      Rings and Matt from Cedar Springs Brewing Company
  •      Jeff from Rockford Brewing Company
  •      Dave, Francesca, Lauren, and Jason from Founders Brewing Co
  •      Jason, Kate, Jacob, Brooks, and Josh from Brewery Vivant
  •      Chris and Max from The Mitten Brewing Co.
  •      Mike from Cheboygan Brewing Company
  •      Fred, JP, Adam, Mark, and Isaac from New Holland
  •      Tim from Territorial Brewing
  •      Dave from City Built Brewing Company
  •      Stephen from Batch Brewing Company
  •      Brian from StormCloud Brewing
  •      Brad and Matt from Atwater Brewery
  •      Erik, John, and Michael from Pilot Malt House
  •      OpenRoad Brewery
  •      Jay and Steve from North Pier Brewing Company
  •      Matt and Rene from Arbor Brewing
  •      Boyd and Chris from Coldbreak Brewing Equipment
  •      Steve from Hunter’s Handmade Brewery
  •      Brew Detroit
  •      Laura & crew from Bell’s Brewery
  •      Steve from Henry A. Fox
  •      Justin & crew from Hop Head Farms
  •      Brown Iron Brewhouse
  •      North Channel Brewing
  •      Alliance Beverage Distributing
  •      Imperial Beverage

Photography: Steph Harding

suds and snow

Over a decade ago, Suds & Snow started as a small beer festival meant to break up the winter. On Saturday, the 11th annual Suds & Snow was larger and more alive than ever.

Held at Timber Ridge Resort each March, Suds & Snow continues to be the “ultimate party in the woods.” Throughout the remainder of the year, Timber Ridge Resort is a campground; in the winter, however, it transforms into a place where locals can still enjoy the outdoors. The resort hosts fat tire bike races throughout the winter, maintains groomed cross-country ski trails, and finishes the season with a unique beer festival.

suds and snow

With a Mardi Gras theme, this year’s Suds & Snow was colorful, light-hearted, and full of funk and jazz. Many attendees return each year, bringing along new friends to enjoy the festival. There were over 2,500 tickets sold online for this year’s festival, with even more sold at the door. Offered again this year were early bird and VIP tickets, which allowed early access into the festival as well as an exclusive festival Silipint.

Upon arriving to the festival, attendees had to make the legendary hike back into the woods. The festival could be found in a valley toward the back of the resort, encircled in breweries, food vendors, and live music.

The festival set up in the valley allowed for what seemed like two different festivals. The front space adorned a bonfire and live music as well as hilltop adirondack chairs and cornhole. A throughway in the middle led to the back of the festival which featured more breweries, food vendors, and a DJ.

This year, the festival hosted 23 breweries from around the state, including Beards Brewery, New Holland Brewing, Tandem Ciders, and Blackrocks Brewery.

The food vendors were local favorites, MI Grille and Roaming Harvest. MI Grille served a Mardi Gras jambalaya while Roaming Harvest featured their well-liked tacos.

The live music exemplified the theme, bringing a little bit of New Orleans to Northern Michigan. Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish, from Grand Rapids, energized the crowds with their upbeat rockabilly-influenced music. Hannah Rose & The Gravetones kicked things up with an interesting mix of funk, jazz, blues, and rock. Tell Yo Mama closed out the night with an eclectic mix of cover songs.

The 12th Annual Suds & Snow will take place at the beginning of March 2018, and is sure to be even more memorable. You can visit their website for updates and more information.


Photography: Kaitlyn Rickman

winter beer fest

Before I worked in the craft industry, I was a beer festival attendee. My perspective only stretched as far as to see the glorious, seemingly never-ending flow of beer from taps. I sought out IPAs and Flanders Reds, but would absolutely try anything. My friends and I would all get different pours and trade them around, forgetting who had what, but enjoying all the different flavors and tastes anyways. People around me would start the beer battle cry and we would all join in, knocking elbows with friendly, slightly intoxicated neighbors and doing our best imitations of freed animals howling at the moon. It was always an atmosphere of (slightly reckless) happiness and friendship.

emilyA couple of years later, I speak from the other side of festival operations as a brewery employee. The air of happiness and friendship is still very much there, but for different reasons. Beer is hard work. As an employee of a Michigan brewery, I now appreciate the science, creativity, innovation, patience, and elbow grease it takes to churn out one magical recipe. I respect brewers for their meticulous natures and passion for creation. I appreciate all of the pubtenders and barbacks for being on the front lines of service. I admire sales representatives and marketing gurus who grow the brand and spread the good word of beer. And I bow down to brave individuals who put every last iota of capital and confidence into opening their own small businesses.

I started as a pubtender in a small brewery to learn the beer and study the brand. I tried out brewing, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t the everyday vocation I wanted to devote myself to. I am now a brewery sales representative who dabbles in marketing. I’m also the lead on festivals and events, working with new people and old friends every day. Like all workers in the craft industry, I wear a lot of hats, and gladly. I am still new to the industry, but I recognize that the best brewery team is one that not only believes in the brand, but also in all of its individual members.

And only the best craft and brewery teams are brought to the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest. Not only is it hosted by the largest craft beverage organization in Michigan—this festival takes place in Grand Rapids, known by many as Beer City, USA. For Michigan breweries, this is our semester’s final exam, making all of the festival-goers our very enthusiastic and very opinionated graders.

Like a majority of fellow breweries, we plan our beer list carefully (and usually months in advance). We want to bring recognized favorites, but also new styles and maybe a few surprises. Some of those surprises, like a barrel-aged beer, take months to age, with brewers carefully tasting and testing the product until that exact moment that it’s pronounced perfect. And when we tap that beer, crossing our fingers that it wasn’t damaged in transportation or that the tap lines aren’t too cold to pour through, nothing makes us happier than handing it over to an eager attendee.

The weather for this year’s Winter Beer Fest ran the gamut of possible Michigan forecasts. Friday kicked off the festivities with heavy rains downways, sideways, and everyway, drowning everyone, yet spirits remained high. Saturday ushered in a cold snap, welcoming back some fluffy white snow following a pretty mellow winter season. Luckily, the biggest issue weather caused was a few flyaway tents, so festivities went forward.

winter beer fest

A huge attribute to the success of a festival is the volunteer staff. Sometimes, they are the close friends and family of fellow brewery staff. Sometimes they are complete strangers eager for a new experience. Whatever their motivations, they are often thrust into the thick of things with nothing but their enthusiasm to guide them.

We had a great mix of volunteers pouring with us at this beer festival, all with different experience levels. A couple had never poured beer before, while a few others were volunteer veterans, pouring with ease and fielding questions like they owned the place. This mix of strengths caters to all of the different festival goers as well. First-time attendees want more questions answered while some just want the beer options listed as efficiently as possible. Either way, it’s always good to have help.

Even with advanced planning and care, things don’t always go quite the way we want—weather, forgotten supplies, broken down vehicles, sick workers—it all happens. This is usually the nature of the beer business. Luckily, the Michigan craft industry is known for camaraderie. We all lend out a lot of spare wrenches, air tanks, and even volunteer workers at festivals to ensure that all attendees are allowed the best possible time of their lives. At this year’s Winter Beer Fest, we forgot an air tank, meaning we had no way to push beer through the taplines (sheer will does not work). I knew I could reach out to friends in the industry for assistance, and it was no surprise when someone had an extra they could lend us. Later that day, we helped jumpstart another brewery’s vehicle.

The Michigan craft industry is very much a community—a lot of give with little take. We only want to help each other excel in order to grow the industry into further success as a whole. It all comes down to our beer in a person’s hand. With our whole hearts, every fiber of our being, we want people to enjoy it. But we want honest feedback. We want questions and discussions. Most of all, we want to have a conversation with people about our beer and our brand.

With the number of Michigan breweries growing monthly, Michigan craft-drinkers are becoming more and more educated. They recognize quality, they ask questions about ingredients and brew systems, and they appreciate something new. The constant challenge of fulfilling and exceeding every attendee’s expectation keeps us all on our toes and guarantees an innovative and creative future for the industry as a whole.

Whether craft is a hobby or a career, Michigan craft is all about passion. We believe in what we drink and who pours it no matter what side of the bar we’re standing on.


Photography: Amee Rutan

perrin brewing

West Michiganders are beer-loving, hardy, and generous souls. Attendance at Perrin Brewing Company’s 1st Ice Jam Winter Festival pretty much proves that. An event designed to showcase specialty and collaborative beers and benefit Kids Food Basket, whose purpose is “attacking childhood hunger to help young people learn and live well”, definitely drew crowds to Comstock Park Saturday afternoon.

perrin brewing


Starting at 1:30 p.m. with the Frostbite 5k, approximately 500 bundled up, PJ-clad folks of all ages made their way around Perrin Brewing Company for a good cause. The $25 registration fee for the 5k was donated directly to Kids Food Basket, and served as admittance to the Ice Jam, starting at 2 p.m..

Others arrived later, with boxes of granola bars, fruit juice, and more to serve as entrance fee directly to the Ice Jam. Piles of requested food items grew inside the brewery and outside the Ice Jam tent entrance. That, or a $10 fee (with proceeds also going to Kids Food Basket) got you into the heated tents in Perrin Brewing’s back forty.

Food and drink tickets were a dollar a piece, with most brews at about 4 tickets each, well worth the price for the variety of beers available. Beers available on tap from Perrin included:

-98 Problems – IPA

-Bullet Tooth – barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout

-No Rules – Vietnamese Imperial Porter

-Poop Your Pants – Chocolate Bock

and more.

Some unique treats on tap were available as well, including Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale; distributed locally in MI in cans, but not on tap;  and Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA, which is not available at all in Michigan. These very special batches were actually brewed in Michigan, at Perrin, when brewers Tim Matthews of Oskar Blues and Wayne Wambles of Cigar City were in town to brew an Imperial Oatmeal Stout named ‘Triangulation’ with Perrin’s head brewer John Stewart.

In addition to the collaborative Triangulation each guest brewer brewed up a batch of their signature beers for us lucky Michiganders.

Connor Klopic, Brewer and Cellar-man at Perrin, shared the inspiration behind the event with MittenBrew. “We wanted to do something fun to bring people out during the winter when they are usually staying indoors, so we decided to partner with Kids Food Basket [for the Ice Jam]. We also have a bunch of speciality beers we are tapping and pretty excited about. And food, of course.”

The food tent offered brats and hot dogs, hot chocolate and cupcakes from The Salted Cupcake for little humans in attendance and those needing some protein or a winter warmer between their beers. Two Scott’s BBQ was also on hand with their food truck, for those craving pulled pork sandwiches.

In addition to a killer lineup of beer and food, the Ice Jam scored high points for their musical selections as well. Serving as a precursor to WYCE’s Jammie Awards, live music from some amazing West Michigan bands started at 3 p.m.. MC’d by reps from WYCE and Local Spins, The Mainstays opened the show, followed up Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish, Heaters,  I Believe in Julio, and ended with headliner Mustard Plug. The heated tent and hundreds of dancing bodies (and the internal warmth provided by the beer) kept everything pretty cozy as the temperatures dropped throughout the evening.

Plenty of bonfires were scattered along the grounds outside of the tents, including a pretty massive one at Perrin’s Cigar Lounge out back. I do enjoy a good cigar, and I enjoy things more when I know a portion of proceeds go to charity. RRR Cigars headed up by Rick & Lisa Reynolds, provided hand-rolled cigars to attendees for $10, with donations also going to Kids Food Basket. Just one more unique aspect to this off-season backyard bash, and a pretty good pairing with hearty stouts like Bullet Tooth and Triangulation, too.

perrin brewing

Kyle and Chris, Grand Rapids locals who were sharing cigars with us at the fire pit, shared their take on the day, “We had some friends running in the 5K today, and we came to support them. We didn’t run, we’re just here for the festivities,” Kyle laughed.

As far as the beers on tap, Chris mentioned that he was pretty excited to try Cigar City’s Jai Alai again, since the last time he had it was when he was in Tampa. Perhaps it invoked a feeling of sunshine and warmer days?

perrin brewingThe charitable aspect had some pull too, and the uniqueness of the actual items being donated provided a concrete visual to the volume of attendance and the generosity of the attendees. “It think it’s fantastic that you have the option of bringing in actual items for donation for an entrance fee,” said Kyle. “Watching the pile of food grow, you end up feeling more a part of the event. You get to actually see the giving spirit of the people here today. It’s pretty awesome.”

We all know the feeling of the dragging, dreary, after-holidays winter season. No one wants to do anything but have the season end. The Ice Jam Festival might just be the good excuse we need to get out of the house between New Year’s and Winter Beer Fest. Because any time is a good time for delicious food, sweet music, charitable giving, and, of course, amazing beer.


Photography: Amee Rutan


traverse city beer week

Typically, November in Northern Michigan means dark skies before 6:00 p.m., shorter business hours, and an exodus of summer and fall visitors. However, Traverse City Beer Week keeps the area energized with a wide array of special events meant to highlight the creativity and successes of the Traverse City beer scene. This year’s Traverse City Beer Week took place from November 11-17, and contained over 50 events.


And while Traverse City Beer Week might attract some outside visitors, it is also a great opportunity for locals to enjoy their hometown before winter settles in. With special tastings, exclusive tappings, and unique pairings, it is easy to find a quick stop after work or enjoy an evening out with friends.

This year, The Little Fleet held a different themed event each night of the week. Monday was Founders Bingo. It was free to play, and various Founders brews were on tap, including some exclusive free samples. The Founders rep was also on site to call numbers and give away prizes.  

On Tuesday, The Little Fleet hosted a rare release from Lagunitas, a world premiere of Slow Tako from Brewery Vivant on Wednesday, a sour beer night on Thursday, and a Seafood Dinner on Friday.

Most of these events were casual, making it easy to stop in after work for something special. For instance, Sour Beer Night featured sour beers on tap from various breweries, including Jolly Pumpkin, Short’s, and various cellar exclusives. The weather was warm enough to sit outside, which made an exclusive beer after work even more enjoyable.

Other breweries and taprooms throughout downtown held similar style events. Rare Bird Brewpub hosted a Founders and Dark Horse Tap Jam. Upon walking into Rare Bird, it appeared to be an average evening. However, with a closer look, brewery reps were giving away swag and taps featured an equal selection of Founders and Dark Horse brews. Founders KBS was on tap, as well as Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead The 5th Imperial Stout from Dark Horse. This was only the second time that the barrel aged version of Plead The 5th Imperial Stout had been on tap in Traverse City.

7 Monks Taproom has become known for its unique pairings and themed events during Traverse City Beer Week. This year, the taproom dedicated an evening to Traverse City’s brewing history. The Filling Station brewed a historically inspired Kratochvil Bohemian Pilsner to be a featured tap for the evening, and a large beer history timeline was on display. So, with a pilsner in hand, many visited with friends during happy hour while also examining the timeline. The timeline featured artifacts, maps, and interesting information regarding some of Traverse City’s first breweries.

detroit fall fest

Beer festivals happen several times a year. From fest to fest, some things are different—the weather, the breweries, the food. But many things are exactly same from year to year—the 15 tokens in the plastic glass, the good beer, and at least one discovery of a fantastic new-to-me brewpub. This year, I discovered not one, not two, but three new-to-me breweries. It was a good fest.

First, the top five brews from pubs I knew about.

Big Lake’s Leroy Brown appealed to me because of the name and the fact that there were dice on the can. It would have been cool to have the custom Continental and the El Dorado, but the dice were a nice touch. The beer was very nice too! An English brown ale made with four malts and chocolate, it had a smooth finish of toasty bread.

Schmohz Gingerbread Brown was great as always, as was the Mad Tom’s Porter. Brewer Gabi Palmer explained that this beer “is a solid porter—smoky, some chocolate. No hype, no b.s., just a solid beer.” And it was! Slightly bitter with a hint of smoke made for a tasty beer.

The Smoke on the Porter from ROAK was another excellent porter. An imperial smoked porter by style, this beer hit all the right notes. Roasty, dark, and perfectly balanced. But I would expect no less from this outstanding pub.

Unruly Brewing had the Orange Julius beer, which my husband described as “smelling like an Orange Julius, tasting like it, but then finishing like a bourbon barrel aged Belgian wheat.” Orange peel and vanilla beans make this beer what it is.

Lake Charlevoix Double Cookie Stout is one of the tastiest stouts I have had. Made with ten pounds of Oreos, it manages to not be overpowering or too sugary sweet. This is a solid, hearty beer.

The first of the big discoveries at this fest was One Well from Kalamazoo. Their Sweet Water Street was billed as a “coffee and donut” beer and it delivered. Much like the breakfast of champions itself, this beer had a hint of the sugary taste of donut plus all the roasted coffee taste one could want. They also had a Root Beer Stout that—unlike some root beer beers I could mention—managed to not just taste like thick, sappy syrup. It actually had a taste of root beer but never forgot it was a beer—absolutely wonderful!

The second new-to-me pub was Grand Armory from Grand Haven. Their Nutter Your Business Stout tasted like an honest-to-God peanut butter cup. My husband was so thrilled that he got three separate tastes of this beer, just so he could dance around delighting in the peanut butter and chocolate deliciousness (okay, he really didn’t dance around, but it’d be fun to pretend he did).

The top discovery this year was Railtown Brewing Company from Dutton. The brewery won a bronze medal at the recent Great American Beer Fest for its Good Mooed Milk Stout. And to be sure, this solid stout hit all the right notes. We also had their Peanut Butter Cocoa Time porter which conveyed the peanut butter taste while remembering it was a porter, and thus not too heavy or overpowering. The absolute hit for me was their Coffee Blonde, one of the best coffee beers I have ever had. Until this fest, I couldn’t find Dutton on a map but I can now, and I can’t wait to go there.

As I always do, I kept another tradition—ending the fest with Liberty Street’s Punkin Pie Ale. It is still the best pumpkin ale I have ever had, and nothing I’ve had since has changed my mind.

Some things change, some things stay the same, but Michigan beer remains far ahead of all the rest. It was a good fest.


Photography: Erik Smith

jolly pumpkin

Zwanze Day is a fictitious holiday created by Jean Van Roy, owner and brewmaster of Brasserie Cantillon. His intention is to celebrate and honor the playful spirit of the people of the Flanders region in Belgium, where the word “zwanze” describes a good-natured type of humor.
Each year Van Roy blends a batch of a special lambic creation and bestows a keg of it upon locations deemed suitable. There may be no better place on earth for such an honor than Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, where whimsy is an ingredient in each brew.

This year, only 60 locations throughout the world were chosen to participate. Each one tapped their keg simultaneously, coinciding with Cantillon’s tapping in Brussels which equated to 3 p.m. in our Eastern Time Zone. A toast was made with Ron and Laurie Jeffries, the duo driving the success of the hosting business. It was the first time any place in Michigan had been given the opportunity to host the event. With some luck it won’t be the last, but not all event sites are chosen for repeats in subsequent years.
Perhaps the outstanding efforts of the staff of Jolly Pumpkin, and distributor Mike Turriff of M4 CIC, will be rewarded again. They curated a world-class festival unlike any other location fortunate enough to land a celebratory keg. The brewery grounds hosted a nearly full capacity crowd, in spite of some unexpected backlash over the price of admission. Aficionados who were willing and able to invest in attending had access to over 50 beers from more than 20 breweries rarely, if ever, found in Michigan.

Good weather held out in spite of the dark clouds on the skyline and occasional threatening rumbles of thunder. Smiles and good attitudes were found all around. “I think it’s probably one of the most well run beer fests I’ve been to, with a great low-key crowd,” said Courtney Satko. She decided to attend after weighing the financial cost of her ticket with the benefits, ultimately figuring the proceeds being given to the Feelgood Tap project was worth it as much as the beer selection was.jolly pumpkin
Executive Director of Feelgood Tap, Stephen Roginson, was happy to participate and generate awareness of what his charity does with the funds raised. It began in-house at Batch Brewing Company in March 2015 as a partnership with the Multiple Sclerosis Society to do work that was near and dear to Roginson, a founder of Batch, whose mother battles MS. Since receiving their 501(c)(3) status less than one year ago, the project has evolved to support a different cause each month and has attracted involvement from nearly 30 establishments that host a dedicated tap. “This is the first time that we’ve partnered on an event,” said Roginson. The charity’s recipient for the month of October, including Zwanze Day, will be the Michigan Humane Society.
According to Cantillon’s van Roy, this year’s Zwanze beer is a two-year-old Lambic aged on a mix of 82% raspberries, 18% blueberries, and .05% bourbon vanilla beans at a rate of 300 grams of fruit per liter. That’s approximately 10.5 ounces of fruit in 32 ounces of Lambic when converted to American standard measurements, a generous and expensive endeavor that resulted in a luscious deep pink beer that pleased the palates of guests.
Laurie Jeffries, Brewery Director at Jolly Pumpkin, said her husband Ron “mentioned to Shelton Brothers a few years ago that it’d be really cool to get a Zwanze Day, and he just put it out to the universe. We got notification earlier this year that there was a possibility; that we were on the list.” In August they were notified they were definitely a selected location, but it wasn’t clear there would be enough beer to send a keg until a few weeks before the big event. Luckily it was allocated to them and arrived along with four more of Cantillon’s coveted beers.
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Ron Jeffries, whose title at Jolly Pumpkin is Chief Squeegee Operator/Brewer, can’t recall when he had his first Cantillon, but remembers it was not at all what he was expecting. Eventually he met Jean Van Roy at a Shelton Brothers festival and “was so starstruck I couldn’t talk. I could barely smile, swallow, and nod. Seeing him blending last year (at the festival), I was literally blown away by his blending skills and palate. I blend beers almost every day and was just floored. He’s a master, without a doubt. For him to choose us as one of the 60 places in the world to serve this special Zwanze beer is a huge honor for me personally,” he said.
Similar to Ron Jeffries’ respect for Jean Van Roy, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company founder Jonathan Buford expressed his admiration for Jeffries. “Ron’s cool and Ron likes us, and you run with that when Ron likes you! You just do. It’s like the cheerleader in high school you don’t know why she likes you but you’re gonna like her back. If she invites you to a party you go with her,” he quipped when explaining their long trek from Gilbert, half an hour southeast of Phoenix. The two also met at a Shelton Brothers festival, but it wasn’t until a second encounter at Anchorage Brewing Company‘s Culmination event that they bonded. Patrick Ware, partner and brewer, said it happened when Buford blurted out “I hope I never see you again” to Jeffries as they parted and instead of being offended he turned around and told him it was one of the funniest things he had ever heard. Buford admits he doesn’t know where the idea to say that came from but he’s glad it happened. “He appreciates people who don’t take this too seriously, like him,” he speculated.

Revelry Brewing Company of Charleston, South Carolina is setting their sights on eventually producing enough beer to distribute in Michigan. For Jay Daratony, Revelry’s “janitor”, participating in Zwanze Day at Jolly Pumpkin was a homecoming of sorts. He’s originally from Dexter and still has family in the area.
Head brewer Ryan Coker spoke about their new barrel cellar coming online soon with up to 300 barrels and 12 foeders that will hopefully increase production to a point where they can share it here.
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“We want to do it (distribute) in the right pockets I guess so to speak, put it in the right hands,” he said, implying Michigan beer lovers are capable of appreciating it.
The Revelry crew enjoyed their visit for Zwanze Day. Coker joked “What’s cool about Dexter is I had a checklist and it was to catch a fish, ride a horse, shoot a gun, and drive a four-wheeler, and I checked all the boxes today and still made it to the beer fest on time!” Sean Fleming, a Revelry partner, added “This is fun, it’s a total honor for us.”
That’s a sentiment shared by nearly everyone who was fortunate enough to be present for the first of what many hope will become an annual tradition in Dexter.
Photography: Steph Harding

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