YPSILANTI — What a difference 15 years make. Some out there may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time not long ago when it wasn’t possible to choose from a vast bounty of beers from 100+ brewing establishments in Michigan like we can today. Back in the dark days of 1997, choices were much more limited. More often than not, the seeker of fine beer had to look beyond the borders of the Great Lakes State to satisfy his thirst.
But that was to change with the founding of the Michigan Brewers Guild and the advent of the Michigan Summer Beer Festival, which once upon a time attracted only a few hundred people to a smattering of breweries representing at the fairgrounds of the less-than-enthusiastic city of Livonia. Last Friday and Saturday, all the hard work the Guild has put into helping grow a thriving new domestic industry was on full display as thousands upon thousands flocked to Riverside Park in Ypsilanti to try around 550 beers from more than 60 Michigan breweries.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave — and not a beer cave — you’re probably familiar with this annual celebration of Mitten-made suds. The tents, the lines, the loud music, the food, the fun, the dunk tank (OK, that was new this year), the wet and sticky weather — although, apart from a brief shower, the customary rainstorm was nowhere to be seen, and even the humidity held itself in check. It was a perfect day to enjoy some Michigan beers.
And what beers! Your correspondent tried something on the order of 25 of them over both days of the Festival (although I maintain that a true gentleman never counts), or less than 5% of what was available. Even the best of us fall short. Below are a few highlights.
Best of Fest
Saison St. Clair, Big Rock Brewery. Mildly sour and tart with a dry finish and a slight funky, “barnyard” aroma. Crisp, complex and delicious. Watch for brewer Dan Rogers’s Griffin Claw Brewing Co., coming to Birmingham in the near future.
Barrel Aged Maillot Jaune, The Livery. Before you say “not another barrel aged beer,” you should know we’re talking about a merlot barrel, which imparted some acidic, vinous complexity to the underlying Biere de Garde style. At 8%, it was about the lowest alcohol offering from the Benton Harbor brewery yet still deceptively drinkable.
Beyond Plain Vanilla
Bean Flicker Blonde Ale, Odd Side Ales. Referred to as a “coffee blonde,” this beer was dominated by beans of the vanilla variety, which suited my coffee-averse self just fine. An interesting concept and cheaper than Starbucks to boot.
Contemplation Belgian Golden Ale, Brewery Vivant. A sweet aroma of honey, cloves and grassy hops previews the complex but light and drinkable flavors of this excellent summer brew. Vivant strikes again.
Most Violent and Longest Name
The Massacre Rye Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Dark Lager, Wolverine State Brewing. Anticipation is building for the October release of this year-aged beer. If the preview is any indication, lovers of the bourbon barrel will be pleased, while those who are a little burnt out on the whole trend will enjoy the novel concept of a bourbon-aged lager over just another stout or porter.
15th Anniversary Ale, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. To celebrate the Michigan Brewers Guild’s 15th anniversary, a number of breweries created versions of a 15th Anniversary Ale, which had an official recipe (a strong IPA) that was apparently mostly ignored. By my count, there were 26 versions of said beer at the Festival, and they were all over the map. The best of those I tried was Jolly Pumpkin’s, a wheat IPA with a more “delicate” floral hop presence over a slightly sweet flavor.
That’s all I got. Bring on the U.P. and Detroit Fall Beer Festivals!