Times have changed from the days when your work-weary father dropped by the neighborhood bar to grab “a burger and a beer.” At Sidetrack Bar & Grill in Ypsilanti, they’ve taken that time-honored blue collar ritual and bammed it up a notch with their Beer & Burger Tasting series, which features a five-course offering of appetizer, three gourmet mini-burgers, and dessert all paired with different craft beers.

The venerable Sidetrack is a neighborhood joint if ever there was one, but they’ve been on the craft beer bandwagon for years. Event planner Jessica Jane French created the Beer and Burger Tasting in 2009 as a way to promote appreciation for craft beer as a key component of a good meal. (Sidetrack is, not coincidentally, nationally known for their burgers.)

Besnik Aliko of Rave Associates, an Ann Arbor-based distributor that carries many Michigan and other craft beers, provides commentary on each of the courses. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s also live music to accompany your meal.

While “gourmet burger” may sound like a bit of rhetorical pretentiousness, it really isn’t. The May 15 Beer & Burger Tasting featured a Turkey Burger topped with Brandied Cherry and Orange Zest Reduction paired with New Holland Dragon’s Milk, a Beef Burger topped with Beer-Roasted Figs and Goat Cheese paired with Delirium Tremens, and a Black Bean Burger Topped with Corn and Jalapeno Salsa paired with Short’s Controversi-ALE.

Needless to say, it was all delicious. Even Dad would have approved.

Find Sidetrack on Facebook or go to sidetrackbarandgrill.com for upcoming events including the next Beer & Burger Tasting.

Times have changed from the days when your work-weary father dropped by the neighborhood bar to grab “a burger and a beer.” At Sidetrack Bar & Grill in Ypsilanti, they’ve taken that time-honored blue collar ritual and bammed it up a notch with their Beer & Burger Tasting series, which features a five-course offering of appetizer, three gourmet mini-burgers, and dessert all paired with different craft beers.
The venerable Sidetrack is a neighborhood joint if ever there was one, but they’ve been on the craft beer bandwagon for years. Event planner Jessica Jane French created the Beer and Burger Tasting in 2009 as a way to promote appreciation for craft beer as a key component of a good meal. (Sidetrack is, not coincidentally, nationally known for their burgers.)
Besnik Aliko of Rave Associates, an Ann Arbor-based distributor that carries many Michigan and other craft beers, provides commentary on each of the courses. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s also live music to accompany your meal.
While “gourmet burger” may sound like a bit of rhetorical pretentiousness, it really isn’t. The May 15 Beer & Burger Tasting featured a Turkey Burger topped with Brandied Cherry and Orange Zest Reduction paired with New Holland Dragon’s Milk, a Beef Burger topped with Beer-Roasted Figs and Goat Cheese paired with Delirium Tremens, and a Black Bean Burger Topped with Corn and Jalapeno Salsa paired with Short’s Controversi-ALE.
Needless to say, it was all delicious. Even Dad would have approved.
Find Sidetrack on Facebook or go to sidetrackbarandgrill.com for upcoming events including the next Beer & Burger Tasting.

FRANKENMUTH — Paul Boissevain spent this past weekend trying to introduce more folks to his craft beer. It’s the same mentality Mark Lorenz embraced as he embarked on the annual World Expo of Beer.

Neither of the two Northern Michigan brewery owners necessarily planned to showcase any awards during the annual Expo, but both smiled ear-to-ear at having won awards.

“We’re out there making beers we like to drink,” Boissevain said of his Keweenaw Brewing Company, located in Houghton. “We’re not there for style — we’re there for something that makes you want another drink.”

“We’re very surprised, very happy,” said Lorenz, a member of Cheboygan Brewing Co., which took home a first place award for the brewery’s seasonal brew Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest, created by the brewery’s operation manager and brewmaster Tim Perry, was inspired by the 1976 Späten Oktoberfest bier from Munich, Germany. Although it was not available at the Expo (as it is a seasonal), Lorenz described it as orange in hue with a pronounced malt presence.

Meanwhile, Keweenaw Brewing Company captured second place  in the American Ale category with its Lift Bridge Brown Ale.

“It’s one of our poor(est) selling beers,” Boissevain said. “The Brown happened to win because it fit a category.”

Since both Lorenz and Boissevain say their two breweries do not emphasize brewing for a style, fitting a category to win awards from the Expo was no easy task.

With nearly 300 beers available, the Expo packed Frankenmuth’s Heritage Park inside and out Friday and Saturday. It took less than three hours after doors opened at 3 p.m. Saturday before it became somewhat difficult to shift through the crowd and maneuver to various medal-winning beers.

The event also offered the opportunity for attendees to talk to brewers, owners, distributors and managers if they happened to track them down. Although Keweenaw has been open since 2004, the Expo is the perfect event for exposure (especially since some consider the UP another Mitten). For Cheboygan, the Expo was infinitely more important — it just opened last May.

Cheboygan used the opportunity to showcase its Lighthouse Amber Altbier and La Cerveza, which were both recently expanded into new distribution areas.

“Agreements have been established with Powers Distributing Company to market our products in the Oakland and Macomb counties in Southeast Michigan,” Lorenz said. “We will also begin distribution in the Lansing and East Lansing areas with the Dan Henry Distribution Co. beginning in May.”

Boissevain, who co-owns Keweenaw with Dick Gray, encourages visitors to make the trek to his taproom, a 30,000-square-foot rustic building with a deck wrapped around — he calls it “a real cozy environment.”

For those who can’t make the trip, Keewanaw beer is available at events like the Expo and is distributed in cans to three states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota) with production increasing every year. In fact, production has more than doubled since 2008.

“I’m glad the cans are taking off in the state,” Boissevain said, adding that cans always made sense for his brewery since it’s situated in an outdoor environment. “It’s better for the beer in the long run.”

The World Expo of Beer is Michigan’s largest beer sampling event, according to organizers. Its mission is to promote great beer, all-the-while raising money for charity (all proceeds are donated to charitable causes).

ANN ARBOR — Dozens of homebrewing hopefuls descended on the Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. Den May 14 for a shot at winning the brewpub’s 6th Annual Mug Club Brew-Off. On the line? The chance to brew a batch of the victorious beer with head brewer Duncan Williams and have it served at Grizzly Peak.

Twenty-six entries — including five IPAs, three pale ales, three stouts, two Belgian tripels, two rye beers and a number of specialty brews like a double American wheat — vied for the crown, which was awarded by Williams and a panel of other local brewers. Included in the panel were Karl Hinbern of Wolverine State Brewing Co., Logan Schaedig of Arbor Brewing Co., John Ritenour of the Corner Brewery and Tim Schmidt of Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery.

Two more familiar faces again walked away with the top honor. Jeff and Susan Rankert, husband-and-wife homebrewers and winners of last year’s Brew-Off, took the prize with their cream ale. The runner-up beer was a juniper rye IPA.

The event, which is not an officially sanctioned Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) event, is held every year in May and is open only to Mug Club members of Grizzly Peak.

WESTLAND — For craft beer lovers, having beer on cask is the ultimate way to experience their favorite brews. Without the added filtering process, drinkers can truly enjoy the ingredients that go into each brew.

Saturday was a cask beer enthusiast’s dream, with 24 cask beers featured at the Cask Ale Festival. An estimated 450 enthusiasts rotated through the doors of Ashley’s during the event, fetching some unique new brews, along with some old favorites.

Arbor Brewing Company brought three beers to the event — Framboozled, Mackinaw Fudge Stout and Buzzsaw — the most of any brewery at the event. I sampled Framboozled as well as Mackinaw Fudge Stout, and was impressed with both.

Framboozled poured a red color with a small head. The sour ale tasted like a combination of a Belgian ale mixed with a lambic, and was very tasty. You could definitely taste a balsamic flavor with this as well, offset by the fruit and some nuttiness. On the other hand, Mackinaw Fudge Stout (served in a wood cask) poured black with a small head, smelling like rich dark chocolate. The taste had some bitterness, in addition to the massive amount of chocolate coming through. Its thin mouthfeel was unexpected, but the brew’s rich flavors certainly made up for it.

Wolverine State Brewing Company brought a new brew to the event, its Pineapple and Coconut Maibock. The amber beer smelled a bit sour, but was otherwise filled with pineapple. The flavors were somewhat muted, but still present, with the coconut coming on the backend. It was a good experimental beer for sure, and one that left me wanting more.

Liberty Street Brewing Company’s Clementine Lemon Thyme was a winner in my book — a ton of lemon present, along with some orange flavor as well. It was unique, a bit sour and had some spice to it (which offset the lemon slightly). It was refreshing and different take on the usual summer wheat ales I’ve come to known.

But by far the brew I was most impressed with was Midland Brewing Company’s Pine River Smoked Porter. The brew was smoky, but not too over the top, also featuring some coffee sweetness. It reminded me a of a campfire or that summer backyard barbecue, with a medium body but a unique outdoorsy taste to it.

Being the company’s first ever firkin, I was surprised with how good this was. It was one that left others talking, as well, and was one of the beers that featured a line out the patio door.

In addition to the five brews above, Shorts brought a brand new brew, Franken Pils. I couldn’t taste the pilsner attributes — everything screamed IPA to me (it’s described as an India Creme Ale). It was a bit too hoppy for my liking, but it featured earthy, root-like flavors that combined well with the IPA attributes.

Celebrating its first anniversary, MittenBrew hosted its third BeerSocialGR event Wednesday night at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids.

The event — a collaboration between MittenBrew, the L&B Portfolio and local marketing guru Josh Leo — centers around tweeting during a beer dinner, using the hash tag #BeerSocialGR on Twitter. The push is to have heavily-followed users influence their followers throughout the community, and therefore bringing interest to everyone involved in the event.

Unlike the previous two events — which featured a number of different Michigan beers from different breweries — this week’s BeerSocialGR centered around Grand Haven’s Odd Side Ales.

Guests were treated to a spring-time menu by Derby Station chef Eric DeWaard, with each plate being paired with one of Odd Side’s brews.

The evening started out with the Derelicto Pineapple IPA, which was paired with Sunset-Wheat Salad Wraps. The wraps, which featured beets, carrots, jicama and wheat berries, paired well with the sweet, yet hoppy, IPA. I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of this brew, especially compared to other IPAs I’ve tried. The pineapple is just enough to give the brew some flavor, making it very well balanced.

The 4% ABV Peach Tea Blonde was next on the list, paired with Tea Time Cucumber Sandwiches. The group described this beer as “smelling like Snapple” tea, and basically “beer for people who don’t like beer.” The very watery mouthfeel gave way to a very easy drinking ale, with a lot of peach flavoring. The cucumber sandwiches balanced it out with its earthiness quite well.

One of the favorite dishes of the night was the seared duck breast, paired with Grapefruit Wheat (4.5% ABV). “I was wary of the grapefruit wheat but my goodness is it great with seared duck and spicy blueberry sauce,” tweeted Jeremy Bronson (@jbrons). The brew smelled surprisingly bitter, but only had a minor amount of hops from what I could tell. It was very refreshing, with the duck somewhat muting the bitter grapefruit flavor.

The fourth course included a Citra Pale Ale (5.7% ABV) and Grilled Lemongrass Skewered Shrimp. Citra, which refers to a cross-breeding of hops, was watery with some citrus qualities, and was very easy drinking for a pale ale. The hops also were able to cut through some of the spiciness of the shrimp dish.

But by far one of the most popular plates of the night was dessert, which featured Coffee Cake Tiramisu, paired with Dutch Chocolate Stout (6% ABV). The thin mouthfeel of the stout was somewhat unexpected, but paired well with the heavy tiramisu dish. The dish actually enhanced the flavors of the brew, which tasted a little like a black IPA, as opposed to a stout. “Tiramisu has the creaminess that the chocolate coffee stout didn’t,” said Leo (@joshleo).

In addition to the meal, guests were treated with a Right Brain Satisfaction Ale as the session beer for the evening. Each guest was also entered in to win one of two $50 gift cards, with the winners being Adam Schomaker (@AdamSchomaker) and Meegan Holland (@Meholland).

For more information on how you can get involved at the next BeerSocialGR, stay tuned to MittenBrew.com, or follow us on Twitter at @mittenbrew and @joshleo.

ANN ARBOR – Today, May 7, is officially National Homebrew Day as designated by Congress in 1988, but approximately 7,000 homebrewers across the country and around the world celebrated on Saturday during the 15th annual American Homebrewers Association “Big Brew.”

Michigan homebrewers gathered at 15 AHA-registered sites from Kalamazoo to Warren and Monroe to Gladstone in the Upper Peninsula to brew from the AHA’s Big Brew recipes – which this year included an American Brown Ale and a Northern English Brown Ale – as well as others of their choosing.

At the Adventures in Homebrewing store in Scio Township, nearly 100 members and friends of the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, including AHA Governing Committee Chair Chris Frey, congregated around 15 different homebrew systems set up in the parking lot. Everything from the makings of a double IPA to a Belgian wit boiled away under an intermittently sunny sky, while participants shared samples of homebrewed pale ale, kolsch, breakfast stout, and even mead and wine. In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, AABG members also put out a Mexican-themed potluck spread that included pulled pork fajitas, two kinds of chili, beans, bacon-wrapped jalapeños and more.

Other brewers participated at “unofficial” sites like Witch’s Hat Brewing Co. in South Lyon, where brewers made a five gallon batch of a Belgian-style tripel ale and enjoyed discounted beers. Like many commercial brewers, owner Ryan Cottongim began as a homebrewer and is helping start a new local homebrewing club.

Other Michigan breweries hosting Big Brew demonstrations included Liberty Street Brewing in Plymouth, Bell’s in Kalamazoo, BARTS in Bay City, Redwood Lodge in Flint and Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren. Rochester Mills Brewing hosted its Big Brew event a week earlier, on April 28.

“AHA Big Brew highlights what is so special about homebrewers – their friendliness, interest in sharing with others, passion for beer, and of course, their affinity for having fun,” said AHA Director Gary Glass.

For more information on the AHA and National Homebrew Day, visit homebrewersassociation.org.

GRAND RAPIDS — MittenBrew will celebrate its first year anniversary with its third BeerSocialGR dinner, a collaborative effort between the beer-focused website and the L&B Portfolio.

This time around, the focus will be put on one brewery in particular — Grand Haven’s Odd Side Ales.

The dinner, a mixture between a casual beer dinner and a “tweet-up,” will take place May 9 at Derby Station, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Odd Side Ales is expected to send a representative to the event.

Derby Station will prepare unique small plates, paired with a particular Odd Side beer:

  • Derelicto Pineapple IPA with Sunset-Wheat Salad Wraps
  • Peach Tea Blonde with Tea Time Cucumber Sandwich
  • Grapefruit Wheat with Seared Duck Breast
  • Citra Pale Ale with Grilled Lemongrass Skewered Shrimp
  • Dutch Chocolate Coffee Stout with Coffee Cake Tiramisu

Attendees are asked to use social media tools throughout the meal to tell others about their experience. Joining MittenBrew and event organizer Josh Leo will be the following Twitter users:

  • @Kcorner
  • @georgebradshaw
  • @creister
  • @meholland
  • @adamschomaker
  • @jbrons

MittenBrew also gave away a free pass to the event. Interested followers were asked to submit what their ultimate beer would contain. David Spruit, who wrote “The heady punch of an Imperial/Double/Triple IPA while being able to not leave me face down on the ground” was chosen as the winner.

With a $10 cover charge, all attendees will be entered in a drawing to win one of two $50 gift cards to Derby Station.

For more information on how you can get invited to BeerSocialGR, send a tweet to Josh Leo (@joshleo). Derby Station is located at 2237 Wealthy St. in East Grand Rapids.