Follow us on our day-trips around the state of Michigan, visiting breweries and everything in between.

great american beer fest

The popular refrain from the 1971 Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory seemed the most appropriate way to describe my excitement when I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. As a lover of craft beer I was vaguely aware of the festival but never thought I would have the opportunity to attend. I’ve been to several West Michigan beer festivals but I was not prepared for the wonders that awaited me in scenic golden Colorado. Oh, and Golden, Colorado is the home of Coors… right? Get it? Golden ticket? Never mind…

The Great American Beer Festival was started in 1982 and had 24 breweries, 47 beers, and roughly 800 attendees in the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Fast forward to 2017 where some 60,000 attendees, 3,900 beers, and 800 breweries were crammed into the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Tickets sold out in just over four hours.

In an attempt to the make the trip as affordable as possible we packed up the MittenBrew-Subaru and made our way from the Midwest to the Rockies. We agreed to make the drive casual and did so by stopping at some cool places like 3 Floyds, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, several Kum & Go gas stations as well as a Pump and Pantry (no, I am not making those last two up). Once in western Illinois, the long straight highways were lovingly hugged on both sides by vast expanses of corn, grassland, and not much else.

We intentionally arrived two days early to hit some of the amazing breweries that call Colorado home. In no particular order we hit Avery, Oskar Blues, Crooked Stave, Bull and Bush, Left Hand, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Bootstrap, Mockery, Black Shirt, and Colorado’s own—Coors. At each location we were greeted warmly, treated well, and welcomed back. It’s a town very much in love with its beer, both macro and craft.

Returning to luxurious hotel accommodations after each day of exploring might have been nice, but we chose to camp with some great friends from Railtown Brewing and City Built Brewing. Warm, clear sunny days gave way to frosty cold nights (we’re talking 3 layers to sleep cold). I dreamt of having all 4 of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents on my air mattress to keep me warm. Ok, that may have been an overshare.

Thursday, the opening day of the festival, arrived and it was lovely outside—warm, sunny and just really pleasant. We attended the Michigan Brewer’s Guild gathering at 1-UP-LODO which was a lot of fun to watch. Brewers talking beer, the local sites, and playing vintage arcade games. I used to be a decent Galaga player, I am sad to report I am not any more. I was much better at KISS pinball. After some great laughs and beers we headed to the festival.

great american beer fest

The Colorado Convention center is monstrous and appears to be guarded by a frozen two-story tall blue bear. The general admission line was wrapped around the building and I never actually saw the end of the line, and this was almost 45 minutes before the gates opened. People were enjoying the sunny weather and the glorious anticipation of tasting some of the best beers in the world. It was very much like the 5 golden ticket holders meeting Willy Wonka at the gate when we arrived at the event door to get our media credentials—except that there were 2 of us.

I have attended large techie conventions before, but to see that many brewery booths was really overwhelming. Media attendees were granted early entry so I got to walk in and see the place before the onslaught. I casually strolled in trying to maintain my composure while planning my dark beer “must haves.” While perusing the giant map and list we began to hear bagpipes which meant the festival was about to open to the attendees. Reading that 60,000 people attend over the 3 days was a neat fact but it didn’t occur to me what that would look like. There must have been 2,000 people just standing inside the main door waiting to go through the gates. It was literally a river of beer shirts, beards, cargo shorts, weird hats, costumes, and smiles. The vibe was really positive. It was also clear that many people knew exactly where they were going right away, some even running to get that first pour of their favorite libation.

From that moment on it was elbow to elbow with people laughing, smiling, and celebrating the wonderful gift of beer. I was ecstatic to get some fantastic beers that I hadn’t tried before like Double Barrel Baptist from Epic, Barrel Aged Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues, Tweak from Avery, and to close out the festival I had a pour of Utopias from Samuel Adams. What an amazing journey of beer and community.

great american beer fest

These are my tips for first time attendees:

  • Cell phones are only good for taking pictures of your drunk buddies or co-workers. Don’t plan on making calls or getting texts in the convention center during the festival.
  • Know where the bathrooms are. It’s a long walk to anywhere on the convention floor and it takes 10 times longer trying to move through the crowds.
  • Pace yourself and stay hydrated #betterdrinkingculture
  • Smile and take it all in. The sooner you settle into the scene, the sooner you’ll realize you’re with friends.
  • Try something new. I am a dark beer lover and I had a sour or two—I let my hair down.
  • If you find yourself on a brewery tour and are invited to hold a hop pellet, might I recommend that you don’t eat said hop pellet. Trust me.

 

It was an amazing adventure and while I didn’t win control of the chocolate factory I did get to meet some great people. Dates for the 2018 Great American Beer Festival are September 20th – 22nd in 2018. I’ll be seeing you then Denver, and not as a green newbie this time!

Cheerz!

 

Photography: Steph Harding & Ray Ashley

Kayak, Bike and Brew

There are a number of ways to have a memorable Traverse City adventure throughout the summer and fall. With 19 breweries and taprooms, alongside unique tour options such as TC Ale Trail, TC Cycle Pub, Brew Bus, and Paddle for Pints, there seems to be something for everyone.

Kayak_Bike_Brew (8)The most recent addition to this band of experiences is Kayak, Bike and Brew, which allows participants to explore the downtown area by pedal and paddle. Recently, MittenBrew joined a tour to get an inside glimpse at how this unique experience works.

Upon arrival, we were prompted to put together a swag bag and test out a bike. The swag set the tone for the good times ahead: sunglasses, tattooes, stickers, Kind bar, $10 Pangea’s Pizza Pub gift card, a TC Ale Trail map, and a bag to put it all in.

Our guide, Paul, made sure we were comfortable on our bikes and gave us a run-down of our route before we took off. Then, to start the tour, we pedaled across a bridge (that we would soon paddle under), went through a tunnel, and made our way onto the Traverse Area Recreation Trail (TART). We rode the trail along the water, through a downtown neighborhood, and merged onto the Boardman Lake Trail. We crossed another bridge, which led us to our first stop: Right Brain Brewery.

Kayak_Bike_Brew (1)

Once inside, we were given forty minutes to enjoy a brew or two. It was 90 degrees outside, so most opted for something light and refreshing. This particular tour group only consisted of six people (some get as big as twenty), so we were able to get to know each other as we sipped at our first stop. There was a couple from Detroit, and another from Chicago. Both were up for long weekends and a desire to explore the wide variety of beer in the area.

Our group continued on to our second stop by hopping back onto our bikes and taking the Boardman Lake Trail back around the lake to The Filling Station Microbrewery. With saison in hand, pizza on the table, and live music in the background, this was a great summer stop.

After The Filling Station, we switched from bikes to kayaks. We launched our kayaks right behind The Filling Station, along Boardman Lake and into Boardman River. We paddled past condominiums, under bridges, and around large trees to the Union Street dam.

This was our portage point for our third stop, which would be Rarebird Brewpub. Our guide stayed with us at each stop, checking in, inquiring about our beer selection, and giving out suggestions for other great local spots to stop, all while keeping us on time.

In fact, we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time, and were able to squeeze in an extra stop at Brewery Ferment. Then it was back to our kayaks for the rest of our paddling adventure. This leg of the river had more tree cover, with periodic exposure of downtown buildings and parking lots.

We paddled past many downtown landmarks and soon approached the last river bend. Part of the Boardman River’s beauty is this last bend—it is where you transition from a secluded urban river to a wide open bay. Turning this bend suddenly revealed the Grand Traverse Bay we, and would take us along the final stretch of our tour into Clinch Park.

Once the paddling ended, the tour crew loaded the kayaks, and we made our way back to Pangea’s. The whole tour lasted roughly four hours, was a smaller compliment to Paddle for Pints, and allowed for new comradery and plenty of fun.

To learn more or book your own Kayak, Bike & Brew  tour, visit http://kayakbikebrew.com.

bay tour

bay tour

“Up north is sacred,” a phrase uttered quite a few times throughout the day. Indeed, a Michigander grows up well-conditioned to survive and thrive on road trips. Children learn at a young age that rest stops (bathroom opportunities) can be fifty miles apart and parents learn to ignore the violence that occurs in the backseat between siblings. It is a sacred tradition, and with the rising craft industry in the state, the art of the road trip has evolved into something even more special.

Wintertime in Michigan is glorious. And although the winter dangers can hinder some, it should not take away from visiting some of the best regions in the state. With this in mind, MittenBrew decided to go on a day trip with friends and family through the northern bays of Michigan to explore the craft universe.

Petoskey, a lovely year-round town neighboring Little Traverse Bay, hails as the starting point for our adventure. I go into town alone (my crew was still waking up) and grab a cozy booth at Dripworks Coffee, beginning my adventure with one of their delicious frittatas. Also famous for their pastries—the owner is a classically trained French pastry chef—I grab a myriad of breakfast treats for my group back home.

With our snacks packed and our winter boots equipped, the group heads out, enjoying the scenic drive on southbound US-31 to Traverse City. The group includes my younger brother, my best friend and her sister, and my friend Kaitlyn, our Traverse City guide. To review our game plan, we duck into Brew, a coffeehouse and tap room located in the heart of downtown.

“There are almost too many!” Sami exclaims, pointing at all of the things she wants to order.

Too many coffees. Too many beers. Too many ridiculously delicious-looking muffins. Clearly, there are no bad choices here. For my brother, the hot chocolate with the homemade whipped cream and chocolate sauce is the obvious winner, perfectly suitable for today’s chilly weather.

On a sidenote for new Brew-goers, they do a super-cool dollar coffee stand inside with a pay-by-honesty policy. A great tidbit to know if someone’s on the run and needs coffee fast!

A light snow starts to fall as we head further north, our next destination puts us at Hop Lot Brewing Company in Suttons Bay. Opened last summer, HLBC boasts an indoor pub as well as an outdoor beer garden. A beautiful green space (that is currently snowy white) framed by a towering forest surrounds the pub. Large, Viking-style tables frame cozy bonfires and make for an excellent drinking atmosphere.

We grab our sampler flights and brave the crisp weather for a seat outside. Some beer highlights include: the Trail’s Edge Brown IPA, a nicely bitter brew with an excellent roasty aroma, and the Leelanau Exchange, a Bourbon Espresso Stout that is gloriously smooth and creamy with just the right amount of espresso kick at the end. Paired with perfectly melted grilled cheese sandwiches and steaming bowls of tomato bisque, we are all in a winter wonderland craft heaven.

On our way out, we run into a group of people emerging from the woods dressed in cold weather gear, looking like winter explorers.

“We’re hitting the trails around here, but beer first!” says one of the group.

I file that idea away for the next adventure as we all pile into the car, onwards to the next stop: Northport.

Nestled in Northport Bay, Northport Brewing operates in the center of town—a perfect drinking beacon for the surrounding community. The pub space is cozy rather than small, and they have a lovely outdoor space centered around a beautiful stone fireplace. A true definition of a quiet small town, Northport has become a destination on the trail north through the bays, inviting friends and family into a welcoming atmosphere.

In the middle of our flights, one of the owners, Scott Cain makes an appearance with his son. Alongside the pubtender, we all discuss the merits of microbreweries in Michigan.

“They are small spaces, but the beer still has big flavor and aroma,” said Kaitlyn.

“Our goal is to feed the thirsty!” said the pubtender.

The majority winner at Northport Brewing is their Northern Queen Stout, an easy-drinking pour that does not compromise in flavor, aroma, or mouthfeel.

With the sudden snowstorm rolling across Northport Bay, we head back towards our home base in Petoskey. Ending the day at Beards Brewery with imperial pints of Serendipity Porter and fresh, delicatessen charcuterie from Symon’s General Store on the corner, we toast the day and reflect on our adventures. Our bellies are full of quality beer and food, and we can’t help but plot the next trip around the state.