GRAND RAPIDS — Class is in session. Everyone find a seat. Take out a pen. Please don’t drink any of the beer in front of you just yet.

This is no back-to-school dream. This is reality, thanks to the new Founders University courses, now enrolling for the fall.

Last Tuesday, Founders held its first “Sensory Perception” class — the graduate-level complement, if you will — to the Beer 101 course that also opened this August. A handful of paying students (and one lucky scholarshipped reporter) sniffed, swirled and tasted their way through a series of beer samples with the goal of refining palettes and broadening beer knowledge.

The classroom was Founders’ Centennial Room, the private area accessible only by elevator in the new addition.

The professor was the jovial John Gautraud, Founders’ Education Ambassador, joined on this occasion by Dave Engbers, bona fide Founders’ co-founder.

The “desks” for the evening were tables scattered around the upstairs bar, each holding two placemats, which themselves held eight specialized beer tasting glasses, each filled with two inches of identical golden ale. A water glass and a pint of Founders Solid Gold flanked the placemat, and a bowl of crusty bread (for palette cleansing) occupied the middle of each table.

Though Gautraud offered a few good-natured jokes as the class filtered in — “Don’t worry, this isn’t a prison diet” — it was clear this would be a fairly sober class. The pint glass was a “control” beer, meant for reference more than enjoyment. The samples were all tainted beer, each corrupted by a common “off flavor” produced by a common error in brewing or storage.

Over two and a half hours, the class gradually worked through the eight mistakes. Gautraud would give students a few minutes to smell and taste the profile of a sample, asking everyone to compare notes and compare against the control beer, and then would reveal the error, describe its flavors and explain its causes.

A bite of bread and a swig of water, and then on to the next sample. Sniff, sip, ponder. Eat, rinse, repeat. This was no wine-tasting waltz through the countryside.

The emphasis on what can go wrong with a beer, instead of what can go right, and the large chemical words — acetaldehyde, dimethyl sulfide, isovaleric acid — characterize the class as something homebrewers might appreciate best. When a basement batch tastes like movie theater popcorn, it might be helpful to know what causes it (diacetyl) and how to fix it (let the beer mature longer). For most consumers, however, sniffing for rancid butter before imbibing probably won’t add much to the beer experience.

[tw-parallax image=”https://mittenbrew.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Founders7.jpg” target=”self” ][/tw-parallax]

But both Gautraud and Engbers agreed the course isn’t just meant for homebrewers. Engbers said he hopes the class will engender a “better beer consumer,” one who can hold breweries, bars and restaurants accountable and thus help improve quality across the craft beer industry.

“As a consumer, it’s your choice to say, ‘This isn’t right,’” said Engbers — and if you can explain, say, that dirty tap lines corrupted your beer with acetic acid, you might be convincing.

The class “does have a great benefit for homebrewers,” added Gautraud, “but it’s not necessarily just for them.” Ideally, he said, the sensory perception course will help participants “enjoy [good] beer, enjoy the quality a bit more and have a bit more appreciation afterwards.”

This proved true at least in the immediate context of the class: the free pint of good beer offered at the end certainly was appreciated after all the bad.

And even if no one in the class graduated a beer genius, Gautraud was still generous with his grades. “It being the first one, I’ll probably be more lenient,” he joked. “I think everybody’s getting A’s so far.”

Today many beer lovers will celebrate IPA Day, a beer holiday of monumental enjoyment for hopheads around the world.

IPA — which stands for India Pale Ale — is a beer style encompassing characteristics such as a resinous, citrusy, floral, piney smell and taste due to the hops used in creating it.

Established in 2011 by social media personalities Ashley Routson and Ryan Ross, “IPA Day is a universal movement created to unite the voices of craft beer enthusiasts, bloggers and brewers worldwide, using social media as the common arena for connecting the conversation together.”

Imbibers who check in to any IPA on Untappd will unlock the special IPA Day badge for their efforts.

Michigan is the perfect place for hop lovers. We have an abundance of growers, brewers and enthusiasts of all things hoppy. For non-beer drinkers there’s even Hop Soda, brought to you by Grand Rapids-based Proper Soda.

Hop heads galore

Ann Arbor resident Amy Whitaker loves the beer style so much she has garnered the nickname IPAmy. “I’ve always been a fan of the hop-overloaded west coast IPAs but I’ve also learned to appreciate the more balanced midwest style since moving to Michigan,” she said.

Whitaker is finding that her choice — Pacific Northwest hops, such as Chinook and Cascade — are also grown locally and used in some of her favorite Michigan brews. Her current list of must-haves include Kuhnhenn DRIPA, Greenbush Brother Benjamin, Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree and Bell’s Hopslam.

Robert “Wob” Wanhatalo, brewer at Mitten Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, is also a hop farmer. His farm, Elo Hop Farm, is a quarter-acre operation located in Elo on the Keweenaw Peninsula. He currently grows 17 varieties, of which 13 are trials to see what grows best in the area. So far Cascade, Centennial and Chinook are his most established varieties.

“In the past I have used my hops in a home brew capacity as a test to see how they taste and smell, but this year I’d like to see them used commercially,” he said. “Michigan is unique in the hop world, it’s a great state to grow in and offers good, slight variances in similar hops grown elsewhere.”

Wob’s favorite IPA from his brewery is Country Strong, while Dark Horse Brewing Company’s Smells Like A Safety Meeting tops his list of IPAs brewed by fellow Michigan brewers.

Detroit-area musician George Heritier has declared his devotion by writing a song called “I’m A Hop Head.” He’ll be toasting fellow hop lovers with his go-to IPA, Kuhnhenn Brewing Company’s DRIPA. George said he’s becoming a fan of Black IPAs as well, “the more bitter, the better,” especially Short’s Brewing Company’s Bludgeon Yer Eye.

You can listen to Heritier’s song on YouTube, and find him performing at various locations throughout the state.

Hop farms try to keep up with growing demand

Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners is the project of Bonnie and Jeff Steinman, two IPA lovers who turned their passion and talents into a business. They grow nine varieties on their 30 acre site in addition to providing sales of hops from several more acres on partner farms. Many Michigan breweries use Hop Head Farms’ product in their beers, including Bell’s, Arcadia, Founders, Greenbush and Kuhnhenn.

“I love Hopnoxxious from Walldorff Brew Pub. They are our longest supporters. It is a great IPA. Osgood has a double that is excellent — Best Day Ever,” Bonnie said. “It’s hard to keep up. Our goal is to always have the best hops — not the most, however. We want to increase acreage, but wisely.”

Bonnie sees Michigan-grown Cascade and Chinook being in higher demand due to the distinct character they possess, attributable to terrior.

Another Michigan couple that has embraced hop growing as a way of life is Brian and Amy Tennis of New Mission Organics in Omena. They are also a vital part of Michigan Hop Alliance, an organization whose focus is to be a resource for Michigan hop growers.

New Mission Organics is comprised of 30 acres, all of which are organic.

“10 acres is planted right now and we are developing another 10 exclusively for two Michigan breweries. One is Greenbush and the other one I cannot name just yet.” Brian said. He notes his favorite IPA made with hops from his hops is Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s New Mission Organic IPA — but he’ll be toasting today with Dark Horse Brewing’s Double Crooked Tree and Greenbush’s Rage.

There is no shortage of impressive IPAs to celebrate with, so cheers to IPA Day!

Growlers have always been a craft beer lover’s best friend, but what if someone who loves craft beer doesn’t have a brewery down the street to fill his or her growler?

Under the old law in Michigan, growler fills were limited to breweries, but after Senate Bill 27 passed in July, bars and restaurants became eligible to also sell and fill growlers. So now, if you are itching for your favorite Right Brain beer, but can’t travel to Traverse City for it, chances are you might find it in a craft beer friendly bar or restaurant near you.

For a bar or restaurant to be eligible to fill growlers, they must have two licenses — a specially designated merchant license (or SDM license) as well as a Class C, Tavern, Class A Hotel, Class B Hotel, Club, Class G-1 or Class G-2 license. Along with licensing, the establishment must also follow specific rules when filling growlers.

While many bars or restaurants already have both an SDM license as well as another license listed above and are already qualified to fill growlers, other establishments must obtain an SDM license in order to take advantage of the change in legislature.

Unfortunately, there is no way to obtain a list of places that to fill growlers, so, I called around to bars and restaurants in my area that typically sell a lot of Michigan craft beers to see if they have made the switch to fill growlers. One of them, Old Chicago in Okemos, did, while another, Crunchy’s in East Lansing, did not.

Stopping in at the local Old Chicago, infamous for their World Beer Tour, I asked if they were able to fill growlers. I was given an enthusiastic “yes,” along with the restaurant’s own growler policies and pricing (I researched later to find that the Grand Rapids location also sells and fills growlers; however, the Southgate and Portage locations are not yet able to).

“A lot of people have come in and got them,” Old Chicago server Jennifer Jasman said. “We have a lot of beers that you can only get if you go to the actual brewery.”

One of their 30 taps that night had Short’s Cerveza de Julie, a beer I had recently cleared off the Meijer shelves, taking the last six-pack of the seasonal brew. While this beer is also bottled, it is not as widely sold as other beers.

Regardless of availability, many will argue that draft beer is simply better and fresher, so, no matter where the closest brewery may be, going to craft beer bars have become very popular. For this reason, I contacted Crunchy’s, “East Lansing’s original craft beer bar,” to see if they filled growlers.

Unfortunately, back when the liquor license was transferred, they did not get the SDM license and are unable to fill growlers.

“It’s something we are going to do eventually,” Crunchy’s general manager Mike Krueger, said. “It will be further in the future, within the next year, I would guess.”

Right now, Crunchy’s is pushing the city of East Lansing toward allowing them to make the changes they need without excessive fees. Although Krueger wants for Crunchy’s to be able to fill growlers along with other bars in Michigan, he also seemed apprehensive about the change.

“I think it’s a cool thing,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be quite as popular as everyone thinks it’s going to be. A lot of places will have to figure out how to fill them and price them properly.”

When Crunchy’s is able to fill growlers, Krueger does not know if it will be something they will use as marketing, but rather as an option.

Just like many new laws, it will be something that will have to be figured out by everyone involved. Not only do some bars need to decide whether to go through the measures to being eligible to fill growlers, but others need to decide if it will allow the option and how it will do so.

As a growler advocate, the best way to take advantage of the new law is to call bars or restaurants ahead of time to find out if they fill growlers and what the rules are for filling them so that you are prepared.

It may take time for adjustments to be made across the state, but this one step shows huge support for the Michigan craft beer industry.

TRAVERSE CITY — If you’re looking to expand your knowledge in the world of beer, look no further than Brewtopia presented by Right Brain Brewery.

Brewtopia is a monthly educational beer and social group. It has emerged from the previous Beer B.I.T.C.H. Coalition, an education group for women brewers and beer lovers. Brewtopia is open to both men and women and provides a great opportunity to understand and appreciate beer in new and intriguing ways.

I attended the second Brewtopia meeting Thursday evening, which featured chocolate pairings. I’ve enjoyed beer with dinner, but have never thought of it as coordinating with dessert.

“We love beer. We love chocolate. And we think they go well together,” said Ryan Engemann, Right Brain’s Resident Beer Geek and Certified Cicerone.

The meeting began with Engemann teaching the group about the roasting and fermenting processes of both chocolate and beer — they are ironically similar in nature. Engemann and Right Brain bartender Jessica Laffin then served six courses of Right Brain beer and chocolate. With each course, Laffin explained the features of the chocolate and beer and why they were paired together.

The Menu:

  • Course 1: White chocolate pecan bark (from Kilwin’s of Traverse City) with Pecan Pie Whole
  • Course 2: Homemade chocolate caramel pretzel with Northern Hawk Owl
  • Course 3: Homemade peanut butter fudge with Thai Peanut
  • Course 4: Dark chocolate with dried cherries (from Chocolate Exotica) with Debauchery Wheat Wine
  • Course 5: Maya Truffle (from Grocer’s Daughter) with Fire Starter Chipotle Porter
  • Course 6: Moomer’s Mint Chocolate Ice Cream with Naughty Girl Scout

A little weary at first, I was pleasantly surprised at how well each pair complemented each other. The butterfat in the chocolate lingers in your mouth and reacts with the high carbonation of the beer. As it reacts, you experience bubbles dancing and cleansing your palate for the next course. My favorites were the peanut butter fudge with Thai Peanut and the Maya Truffle with Fire Starter Chipotle Porter.

Brewtopia truly was a new experience for me and brought about an even greater appreciation for beer. Each Brewtopia meeting has a different focus, with the first meeting featured cheese pairings. In the future, look for more food pairings, homebrewing tips, grain demos, guest speakers and more.

To get information on upcoming Brewtopia meetings and other Right Brain events, visit rightbrainbrewery.com.

TRAVERSE CITY — If you’re looking to expand your knowledge in the world of beer, look no further than Brewtopia presented by Right Brain Brewery.
Brewtopia is a monthly educational beer and social group. It has emerged from the previous Beer B.I.T.C.H. Coalition, an education group for women brewers and beer lovers. Brewtopia is open to both men and women and provides a great opportunity to understand and appreciate beer in new and intriguing ways.
I attended the second Brewtopia meeting Thursday evening, which featured chocolate pairings. I’ve enjoyed beer with dinner, but have never thought of it as coordinating with dessert.
“We love beer. We love chocolate. And we think they go well together,” said Ryan Engemann, Right Brain’s Resident Beer Geek and Certified Cicerone.
The meeting began with Engemann teaching the group about the roasting and fermenting processes of both chocolate and beer — they are ironically similar in nature. Engemann and Right Brain bartender Jessica Laffin then served six courses of Right Brain beer and chocolate. With each course, Laffin explained the features of the chocolate and beer and why they were paired together.
The Menu:

  • Course 1: White chocolate pecan bark (from Kilwin’s of Traverse City) with Pecan Pie Whole
  • Course 2: Homemade chocolate caramel pretzel with Northern Hawk Owl
  • Course 3: Homemade peanut butter fudge with Thai Peanut
  • Course 4: Dark chocolate with dried cherries (from Chocolate Exotica) with Debauchery Wheat Wine
  • Course 5: Maya Truffle (from Grocer’s Daughter) with Fire Starter Chipotle Porter
  • Course 6: Moomer’s Mint Chocolate Ice Cream with Naughty Girl Scout

A little weary at first, I was pleasantly surprised at how well each pair complemented each other. The butterfat in the chocolate lingers in your mouth and reacts with the high carbonation of the beer. As it reacts, you experience bubbles dancing and cleansing your palate for the next course. My favorites were the peanut butter fudge with Thai Peanut and the Maya Truffle with Fire Starter Chipotle Porter.
Brewtopia truly was a new experience for me and brought about an even greater appreciation for beer. Each Brewtopia meeting has a different focus, with the first meeting featured cheese pairings. In the future, look for more food pairings, homebrewing tips, grain demos, guest speakers and more.
To get information on upcoming Brewtopia meetings and other Right Brain events, visit rightbrainbrewery.com.

We talk with Doug Dorda of Siciliano’s Market in Grand Rapids, Mich., about the differences between ales and lagers.

The Michigan Beer Film is, obviously, about beer in Michigan.

But it’s also about second chances — a lot of them. It’s about a second chance for Kevin Romeo, the film’s creator; it’s about a second chance for dozens of beer makers and beer entrepreneurs; it’s even about a second chance for an entire state.

“I look at my life as a cool second start” — that’s where Romeo begins the story of this film. Romeo is co-founder, owner and president of Kalamazoo’s Rhino Media. His daily labor in photography and video production is the creative, artistic kind of work he was always good at — but not the kind of work he’s always done.

Romeo studied business in college, and then “fuddled around for a while.” He worked empty jobs. His first marriage fell apart. He wasn’t happy or fulfilled. That’s all history now, but it’s still relevant, and not just as a biographical backdrop for the filmmaker. The narrative of “second starts” resonates among most of the subjects of the documentary as well.

Romeo’s filming, which has taken him across the state and will take him to the Upper Peninsula before he is done, has uncovered several brewers who didn’t set out to be brewers the first time around. He says many of them were unhappily working in call centers, car dealerships or banks until some happy accident — like a lay-off or an injury — forced them to try something else. Now they’re brewers, living out their passion for beer in a very appreciative state.

Romeo sees these triumphant second chances as representative of Michigan, too. He hopes that microbrewing can make up for the decline of the auto industry, and he wants outsiders to know that Michigan isn’t squandering this opportunity. “I want people to say, ‘These people are gettin’ down to business. They’re rolling their sleeves up,’” he says.

Despite his obvious admiration for the industry, Romeo is determined not to manipulate the story, and he’s asking hard questions: “Is anyone selling out? Is anyone growing too quickly or growing for the wrong reasons?”

But primarily, Romeo is looking for good things: “Who’s doing something as a labor of love? Who’s succeeding because of their passion? Who’s exploding economically and artistically?”

The Michigan Beer Film is Romeo’s own labor of love. That means it’s self-funded and mostly an after-hours and weekend project, which in turn means the film is still far from finished. When it is completed — hopefully this summer — Romeo plans on something like a book tour: Viewings at individual breweries, many of which have already approached him.

Romeo isn’t sure yet how to make a profit off of the film or even how much he needs to recoup to make a profit, but he’s not worried. “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn,” Romeo says. For now, he’s focused on polishing his craft through his first documentary.

In any case, Romeo feels no need to “win;” the real triumph already belongs to beer makers and his home state. His film will be a success, he says, if his audience leaves feeling as if they’ve just watched a heroic action movie. Romeo’s film may be a documentary, but he’s aiming more for Lord of the Rings than Super Size Me.

For more information and to view a teaser trailer, go to www.mibeerfilm.com or find The Michigan Beer Film on Facebook.

Ticket scalpers messing with the Michigan Brewers Guild can think again.

After reporting via its Facebook page that tickets to the annual Winter Beer Festival sold out in less than 13 hours on Dec. 1, the Guild went on a manhunt for tickets being scalped on Craigslist, StubHub and through other means.

The results of the internal investigation were released today via e-mail.

“Through extensive research, the Michigan Brewers Guild has determined that the majority of Michigan Winter Beer Festival tickets #01-#50 (purchased exclusively at Rochester Mills Beer Company) have been traced back to two individuals who have been illegally scalping the tickets for $80-$120 each…,” said Dianna Stampfler, a Brewers Guild spokeswoman, via e-mail.  “As such, these specific tickets have now been voided and will not be honored at the gate on Saturday, February 23, 2013.”

Although tickets #01-#50 are void,  including two people who purchased a “small quantity for their own personal use” in that number sequence, replacement tickets are available for exchange through MBG’s president, Eric Briggeman. Ticket holders must contact Briggerman via email to make arrangements by Jan. 15, president@michiganbrewersguild.com.

But there is one caveat.

“(T)hat is, if you are able to provide information about the person you purchased the ticket from, which corroborates the results of our investigation,” the e-mail said.

News of the bust brought more than 30 comments on Facebook, mostly a back-and-forth between patting the Guild on the back for cracking down on scalpers versus commenters thinking the Guild should butt out of policing scalping.

“Thanks for taking a stand against scalpers,” one commenter wrote. “With as much demand as there is for these quality events the only ones profiting should be the brewers and the Brewers Guild.”

And another commented, “I’m really disappointed in you guys. Sounds like good people will be inconvenienced and/or screwed because of your cluster followed by your holy crusade.”

The Guild acknowledged the victimhood of those who purchased the scalped tickets in its initial e-mail statement, saying MBG “realize(s) those who bought tickets for more than face value are victims in these illegal activities and charges will not be filed against anyone other than the scalpers themselves.”

After continued gathering of information on the suspected scalpers, the Guild will turn over a formal complaint against them to the Michigan Attorney General.

Michigan law prohibits selling/asking for a price higher than face value for tickets to public events, “except if the request, demand, or receipt is with the written permission of the (vendor).” This misdemeanor offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $100 fine.

Meanwhile, MBG is asking anyone with information to contact Briggerman via e-mail.

“Again, we are not interested in those who have purchased these inflated tickets — we are specifically searching for those who have been profiting at the expense of the Guild and its members,” the email said.


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