YPSILANTI — Michigan beer fans flocked to Ypsilanti on Friday and Saturday, for the 15th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival at Riverside Park.

6% ABV, Bottle
Appearance: Dark brown — almost black – with a small white head.
Aroma: Some roasted malt and bread.
Taste: A hint of fruit, but otherwise very malty. Good roasted flavor, with a bit of dark chocolate towards the end.
Mouthfeel: The lighter side of medium bodied, with a good amount of carbonation.
Mt. Pleasant Hobo’s Breath is a brew that combines some qualities you’d typically find in stouts, with the greatness of a brown ale. Featuring a high amount of malt flavor, Hobo’s Breath has a good, roasted feeling to it, which is capped by some dark chocolate bitterness at the finish. Its mouthfeel is typical for a brown ale — medium bodied, but on the lighter side — and has a good amount of carbonation to offset some of the roasted qualities.

6% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Dark brown — almost black – with a small white head.
Aroma: Some roasted malt and bread.
Taste: A hint of fruit, but otherwise very malty. Good roasted flavor, with a bit of dark chocolate towards the end.
Mouthfeel: The lighter side of medium bodied, with a good amount of carbonation.

Mt. Pleasant Hobo’s Breath is a brew that combines some qualities you’d typically find in stouts, with the greatness of a brown ale. Featuring a high amount of malt flavor, Hobo’s Breath has a good, roasted feeling to it, which is capped by some dark chocolate bitterness at the finish. Its mouthfeel is typical for a brown ale — medium bodied, but on the lighter side — and has a good amount of carbonation to offset some of the roasted qualities.

5% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Dark reddish brown with tan undertones, foamy off-white head.
Aroma: Roasty malts. A bit nutty, but not fruity. Hints of chocolate with a clear vanilla smell.
Taste: Tongue greeted by foamy head, roasty aftertaste. None of the fruity or caramel favors found in an ale. I would say malty, but definitely done with balance in mind. There is a slight hint of sweetness — perhaps nutmeg or vanilla — but nothing that pulls away from the malty lager flavor.
Mouthfeel: A certain creaminess to this medium-bodied lager. Noticeable, but not over the top carbonation.

True to its name, Wolverine Dark Lager gives you a full-flavored lager. The key here is it’s a lager, so even though it looks like an ale, it tastes, smells and feels like a lager. Very refreshing, yet flavorful. I am stunned by the creaminess, which trails off only at the very end for a refreshing aftertaste.

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part of a five-part series profiling the state of Michigan’s brewing industry. 

As the Michigan brewing industry reaches peaks it’s never seen before, the number of breweries is also growing at an unprecedented rate.

With so much great liquid — as Founders Brewing Company co-founder Dave Engbers calls it — coming out of the state, more people are trying to jump on the trend of opening their own brewery.

While a great community has developed and many breweries are welcomed onto the scene by others, a dark shadow looms over some of the upstarts.

“People look and they think, let’s ride the wave, which can be good and bad,” Engbers said. “It’s great with additional breweries opening up, it means more exposure to the craft beer industry. The negative is that the reality is they’re not all going to survive. Our industry is highly competitive and capital intensive.

“Unfortunately, sometimes they get this idea that opening and running a brewery is very romantic, and it’s like anything, it’s a lot of hard work.”

The romance

At one point in time, Michigan Brewers Guild executive director Scott Graham knew of all the breweries in planning. Now, some will be open for nearly two months before he knows they’re open.

That’s not a bad thing, as he explains people who aren’t Michigan beer drinkers come closer when there’s a brewery around the corner. With those new breweries also come new beers, which continue to feed inspiration into the system.

“We have some great breweries that have and continue to give inspiration,” Graham said. “We have a good beer drinking community. Now we’re seeing it get a little bit of size and there’s more that’s reaching further and further.”

When those new breweries open up, they’re receiving the benefits of the forefathers before them. The benefits go beyond brewers helping each other and giving each other inspiration and encouragement, said Rex Halfpenny, publisher of Michigan Beer Guide.

“There is so much demand for Michigan beer, a place hasn’t even made a drop of beer and the distributors are knocking on the door saying sign with me,” Halfpenny said. “When I started (Michigan Beer Guide) a distributor wouldn’t even touch Michigan beer. Times change, demand is there, you can’t find a restaurant that doesn’t have a Michigan beer on tap.”

It’s growing

Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in brewery numbers, and the numbers — well over 100 — continue to climb.

That trend of breweries popping up isn’t unique to Michigan, Engbers said.

“There’s a lot of breweries that are in the planning stages, last I heard there’s around 1,800 breweries in the United States, and close to 1,000 in planning stages.”

That beer is ending up in more places, as the industry continues to grow.

“Brewpubs are popping up in all corners of the state, and most microbreweries have been going through all different stages of expansion lately,” said Michigan Brewers Guild president Eric Briggeman. “Craft beer has finally caught the attention of chain restaurants and stores so you can find it almost everywhere you go. I expect to see continued growth in the Michigan beer industry for many years, at an accelerated pace.”

With major expansions just finished up at Bell’s Brewery, Inc., and more expansions at Short’s Brewing Co., Founders and Arcadia Brewing Co., Michigan craft beer will continue to share more of the market.

Some of the breweries, such as Arcadia, have had to pull out of out-of-state markets to cover the Michigan market. Some of the major players, such as Short’s, focus purely on Michigan.

Still, all of the brewers see MIchigan as the place to make sure they please all the drinkers in the state.

“You always focus on your backyard,” Engbers said. “It’s one of the hardest things to explain. You can never turn your back on the people who got you to where you are, and we’ve had such fantastic support from Michigan.”

The shadow looms

With breweries in the United States set to just about double, could the capacity limit be reached?

Although that issue waits to be settled, Engbers and Halfpenny said it really isn’t about space, rather the product that is made. Halfpenny added that people can support as many breweries as imaginable, but the restaurants and such can only have so many in supply, and that decides the limit.

Engbers even said that many of the 1,000 or so breweries in planning won’t even open their doors.

“The reality is there isn’t enough room for everyone,” he said.  “A lot of those will never even go to fruition and then there’s a lot that will open and close, unfortunately.

“As long as people are making great beer, then it’s great for the industry, but I caution startups to focus on the product. “

In 1998 and 1999, a period of shutdowns took place because the “pipe was too full,” and Halfpenny expects to see another shakeout because of demand being filled. Those breweries you know the names of will stay, but the corner startup might say goodbye.

“That was because the amount of product on the shelf exceeded the small population that consumed it,” Halfpenny said. “When that happens, Bell’s will still be there, Founders will still be there. The people that have brand equity will still be there.

“It’s a double-edged sword; we’ve got people looking at Michigan beer as a magical elixir. We have people getting into it for the wrong reason.”

Still, there is so much untapped potential in Michigan’s beer industry, and much more growth is set to come, Briggeman said.

“The current state of the industry, coupled with the possibility of some positive changes to the Michigan liquor code, leaves us nowhere to go but up,” he said.  “The craft beer market share continues to grow on a national level, as well as in Michigan. The expansions that a lot of microbreweries are going through, in addition to proposed brewery start-ups, will help to satisfy the ever-growing demand for Michigan-made beer. We want to triple the amount of Michigan beer sold… right here in Michigan.”

11.4% ABV, Draft
Appearance: Caramel color with a small head.
Aroma: Vanilla with some dark fruit and caramel.
Taste: Vanilla is definitely present, as is caramel. There’s a bit of a roasted malt profile to this, as well as some bourbon on the backend.
Mouthfeel: On the lighter side of strong bodied. Boozy finish makes it a slow sipper.
New Holland’s Pilgrim’s Dole is a barleywine-style ale with quite the flavor profile. Aged in bourbon barrels, vanilla is the name of the game here — and coupled with caramel and some roast-like qualities, this high gravity brew is certainly a treat.

11.4% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Caramel color with a small head.
Aroma: Vanilla with some dark fruit and caramel.
Taste: Vanilla is definitely present, as is caramel. There’s a bit of a roasted malt profile to this, as well as some bourbon on the backend.
Mouthfeel: On the lighter side of strong bodied. Boozy finish makes it a slow sipper.

New Holland’s Pilgrim’s Dole is a barleywine-style ale with quite the flavor profile. Aged in bourbon barrels, vanilla is the name of the game here — and coupled with caramel and some roast-like qualities, this high gravity brew is certainly a treat.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of a five-part series profiling Michigan’s brewing industry. 

As the craft beer industry starts to roll, the Michigan government began to take notice and have picked up on July as being designated “Michigan Craft Beer Month.”

A senate resolution (No. 160, Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor)) and a house resolution (No. 102, Rep. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford)) were introduced in June that officially designated July as the state’s beer holiday.

“It is always an honor to be able to recognize thriving, Michigan-based businesses,” MacGregor said in a press release. “It should be the role of government to get out of their way and support them when we can. My resolution to recognize July as ‘Craft Beer Month’ was a small ‘pat on the back’ to a successful and growing industry in our state.”

And a small pat on the back it is, at least until the state begins to allow some loosening of rules and regulations that hamper the industry.

“Making a proclamation is one thing,” said Rex Halfpenny, publisher of Michigan Beer Guide. “It all started with American Beer Month. It changed to American Beer Week — here in Michigan we just changed it to Michigan Beer Month. It gives us an excuse to celebrate this stuff. If the state wanted to support it, they’d do what they do for the wine industry.”

And the beer industry is years behind the wine industry, according to Michigan Brewers Guild executive director Scott Graham.

The wine industry is subsidized by the state, and run by the Michigan Grape & Wine Council, and even has its own state-funded Wine Country magazine.

Change could be on its way

But as Graham acknowledges, the state is in the process of attempting to even the playing field. On June 29, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs released recommendations to help streamline various regulations in government and business operations. The recommendations included 72 changes to the liquor control regulations.

But for any of them to take affect, they have to go through the rule making or legislative process. Graham said it’s unlikely all or none would take place, but a mixture of them.

“Many of them are procedural and would streamline the licensing and a few that would be pretty significant,” he said. “We don’t want to do it without regulation, but to be able to do things wineries can do; it’s more access to consumers and market. It’s logical for growth.”

It would be a welcome relief to the industry to see some of the rules that are outdated be lifted, Graham said in a release. The industry already contributes more than $24 million in wages and an overall $133 million to the economy.

“Many of the current rules were put in place when our segment of the industry was not even a concept,” the release stated. “Michigan’s craft brewers are doing well and these changes will support continued and accelerated growth to within our industry, which will also strengthen job growth, economic development, tourism and agriculture.”

Still a nice gesture

With those recommendations in the works, the most the legislature could have done was give July the distinction of Michigan’s beer holiday. And the guild is happy with that.

“It’s great, it’s fun for them too, it’s not that way in every single state,” said Graham, noting that most states don’t recognize the brewing industry. “It does feel good for them to recognize that there’s an industry growing. It’s fun, it’s good business and good people, so it’s nice to see them recognize that.”

Other Michigan businesses are receptive to “Michigan Craft Beer Month” as well. Crunchy’s in East Lansing is having its own Michigan Month, where all foods and drinks are Michigan driven. All 27 taps are turned over to Michigan brews — generally 15-20 are. And bars across the state have turned a majority of taps to the Michigan-made beers.

“We’re a big supporter of Michigan beers in general,” Crunchy’s general manager Mike Kruger said. “I love doing it, it’s a chance to pull off all the domestics and just do Michigan beers and blow it out.”

Even in a college town, Kruger pulls his weekly specials of domestic light beers with Short’s Local Light and Atwater D-Light.

The proclamation helps further the goal of promotion the Michigan Brewers Guild is based on.

“With the summer upon us and Grand Rapids claiming the title of ‘BeerCity USA,'” it is the perfect time to celebrate Craft Beer Month in Michigan,” Warren said in a release. “We are excited about the opportunity to tout the benefits to our statewide tourism efforts and the investment in our local economy that craft beer represents.”


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