GRAND RAPIDS — The ingredients for Founders Fest are simple — beer and music.

Attracting about 6,000 visitors Saturday, the annual outdoor event featured some of Founders’ unique brews and an assortment of live bands.

“There are always surprises,” Founders Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers said. “There’s a lot I really don’t know how to explain.”

Engbers was perhaps referring to a 20-foot tall man-tree walking along Grandville Avenue. Or maybe it was the gymnasts flexing their bodies in unbelievable positions through hoops. Or perhaps Mark-Paul Gosselaar (aka Zack Morris) playing guitar in the Founders Brewing Company All-Stars band.

“It’s a little slice of — I’d like to say West Michigan — but it’s bigger,” Engbers said. “It is what we call it: A celebration of beer and music.”

Among those traveling from outside of West Michigan, Rick Gebhard of Cadillac finally made his way to Founders Fest after years of wanting to go.

“It feels more like a real summer festival than I thought,” said Gebhard. “Great music and great beer — what could be a better way to spend a day?”

For a group of Cooley Law School students, Founders Fest presented itself as the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.

“There are more people than I thought there would be,” Becky Lucas said about the festival, which stretched along the front of Founders taproom from Cherry Street to just past Bartlett Street and about halfway up Williams Street.

Besides beer and music, Lucas and her three classmates saw the festival as an opportunity for people watching. Getting a photo with Gosselaar was also on the agenda, along with trying one of the festival’s specialty beers (Blushing Monk was on Lucas’ radar).

“I’m from Wisconsin, so I kind of prefer Wisconsin beer,” said Lucas, a Kenosha, Wisc. native. “But Michigan does a pretty good job.”

Among the beers on tap Saturday were:

The MittenBrew crew put a few of the specialty beers to the test, and Cashew Mountain Brown (10 percent ABV) came out on top. With a scent of nut and cocoa, the cashew/mixed nut taste was perfectly balanced by the smooth body and medium carbonation of the brew. The dark brown beer seemed to have a hint of cocoa and a touch of maple.

Another specialty brew caught us by surprise. While Founders is known for its high volume of hops, the Founders Fest Wheat could’ve easily been mistaken for an IPA.

Creamy with hints of toffee, vanilla and caramel, the Kaiser Curmudgeon couldn’t hide its 10 percent ABV, but it was hard to resist the creamy delight.

In addition to the beer, eight bands were on stage during the 3-10:30 p.m. event. Local artist and food vendors also joined the festival, including restaurants Cottage Bar, Pita House, Maggie’s Kitchen and Corner Bar.

HOLLAND – New Holland Brewing Company has come to known some pretty diverse and interesting beers over the years, offering everything from a Golden Cap seasonal ale to the ever-popular Dragon’s Milk. But on Saturday, New Holland played a different tune. In celebration of its Mad Hatter India Pale Ale, New Holland released four new “hatters” to the public during its 14th annual Mad Hatter Birthday Bash.

The event featured nine “hatters” in all, and we were able to try out five of them. Each offered a particular spin on the traditional Mad Hatter, introducing some new flavors and giving familiar flavors a different spin on things.

Centered around a decked-out “Alice in Wonderland” themed brewery, we tried the Black Hatter, Smoked Hatter, Farmhouse Hatter, Sour Hatter and Oak Aged Hatter. And despite the obvious IPA undertones, all five of the beers seemed to bring something different to the table.

The Black Hatter (5.5% ABV) retained the somewhat bitter aftertaste I’ve come to expect from an IPA. Its dark color, though, was refreshing and a great way to start off the night. And like the Black Hatter, the Farmhouse Hatter (5% ABV) still had a hint of bitterness with an underlying IPA taste.

But that’s when the similarities seemed to stop.

The Oak Aged Mad Hatter (7.2% ABV) had no bitter taste to it at all — in fact, it was smooth, refreshing and held a slight caramel aftertaste. It’s woodsy-like flavor was accompanied by a somewhat fruity flavor and golden color. This was definitely the most rustic of the night.

And like the Oak Aged, the Smoked Hatter (5.2% ABV) was equally interesting. Being a newbie to smoked brews, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of flavor the beer let out. It wasn’t overpowering or bitter, and had a nice, relaxed flavor to it.

By far, though, the favorite of the night had to be the Sour Hatter (8.5% ABV). It was the only beer that was served to us in a flute glass (the rest were in standard pints), and was very refreshing and smooth. It’s dark brown color gave way to its slight cider taste and somewhat fruity smell. It was crisp on the tongue, but smooth thereafter. My immediate thought was that it reminded me of those sour candies I used to eat as a kid — but much more refined. It was a great cap to the night.

In addition to the five we tried, New Holland also served up its regular Mad Hatter, Imperial Hatter, Oak Aged Imperial Hatter and Rye Hatter. Surrounded by servers who were decked out in “Alice in Wonderland” costumes, everything seemed to fit together for the event — including the absolutely mad birthday cake.

The East meets the West once again.

Yes, another West Michigan brewery has reached Michigan’s eastern regions (and mid-Mitten too) as Saugatuck Brewing Company has expanded its distribution. The brewing company announced a new partnership today with Powers Distributing, O&W Distributing, Eastown Distributors and John P. O’Sullivan Distributing.

SBC’s brews will now reach the Detroit Metro, Tri-Cities and mid-Michigan markets in select retail outlets, bars, restaurants and pubs (specifically in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw,  Livingston, Monroe, Bay, Midland, Saginaw, Lapeer and Genesee counties). Among the selections now available: Oval Beach Blonde, ESB Amber, Pier Cove Porter and Singapore IPA.

Saugatuck Brewing launched 6-pack and keg distribution of their four major brands in May 2010, covering the western and central Michigan markets with I.H.S. Distributing, Kent Beverage and Nate Wines. This expansion means 34 Michigan counties now carrying the company’s beers.

A microbrewery with a traditional Irish-style pub and German-style bier hall, Saugatuck Brewing Company features handcrafted beer, wine and food. Located at 2948 Blue Star Hwy. in Douglas, the pub has 15 unique beer styles — all brewed in house — along with wine and hard cider.

I imagine — based on his story — Jason Spaulding as the character Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters.
In one of the film’s early scenes, the three ghost-hunting entrepreneurs purchase a former firehouse for their headquarters. Two of them play it coy, but not Stantz.
Admittedly, Spaulding was smitten when he first walked through a rundown funeral chapel on the Southeast Side of Grand Rapids that would become the future home of his brewpub, Brewery Vivant. And certainly from my visit, I can see why Spaulding chose the location for his brewery, which opened in December 2010.
I had a sense of awe walking into this European-feeling brewpub, as likely many of its patrons do. With original chapel lighting and stained glass windows, stepping inside Vivant is a lot like visiting a Belgian monastery (except for the monks). Wooden beams meet in a triangular formation near the ceiling with the bar nestled in front of a large archway.
Even though it is no longer a sacred space, it is still communal. The U-shaped bar lends itself to conversation with fellow patrons, and long tables create an atmosphere of sharing, not separation. There is a TV, but even that is not run by normal electricity — a bike nearby powers the screen (peddle away).
Certainly, it is peaceful for a pub and the ambiance complements the beer style – Belgian- and French-influenced concoctions. As Spaulding said, Vivant is one of the only breweries that specializes in Belgian beers with “local ingredients dominated by yeast strains” and a “controlled, wild character.”
The brews are inspired from small farmhouse breweries along the countryside of Southern Belgium and Northern France, Spaulding explained. Certainly it is apparent in the ten brews on tap.
To make it all come to life, brewmaster Jacob Derylo takes special care to ensure each brew is crafted to perfection.
“He’s a perfect brewer for us,” Spaulding said. “There’s no one I’d rather have in there than Jacob.”
A 10-year brewer for New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Derylo confers with chef Drew Turnipseed to pair entrees perfectly with each beer. If not for the food or beer, Brewery Vivant is worth the visit just by virtue of its tastefully renovated, 80-something-year-old pub. It brings a sense of awe that makes you want to say cheers to its architectural beauty.
Even so, if you can’t make the trip, the brewery recently launched packaged products — in cans — for distribution state-wide and to the greater Chicago area. If you do make it, here’s my take on the tapped brews:
Farm Hand (5.5-percent ABV) — Partly cloudy, it’s lighter in overall flavor and certain to please even the most-apprehensive craft beer skeptics with simple smell and taste.
French Fusion (5.5-percent ABV) — A very drinkable, crisp beer with a soft maltiness that really does some magic.
Zaison (8.5-percent ABV) — Likely my favorite, its high alcohol content that maintains plenty of flavor is sneaky. Orange hints that are not overpowering with a light mouthfeel and body, the tail-end taste of peppercorn is the perfect complement to the citrus.
Vivant Tripel (9.25-percent ABV) — I’d call this the most traditional Belgian-brew with its sweet banana and bubblegum smell and taste complemented by the creamy mouthfeel.
Triomphe Belgian IPA (6.5-percent ABV) — Sweeter and smoother than I expected, which helps cover up the amount of hops I find overwhelming in many IPAs.
Big Red Coq (6.25-percent ABV) — So many hops, it feels more IPA than Triomphe (I thought I was confusing the two at first). For me, the hops were so overpowering I could barely smell the flavors and certainly could not taste them — caramel, mango, pineapple and citrus. Not my kind of brew, it is a popular seller.
Solitude Belgian Amber Ale (6.5-percent ABV) — Puts the “brew” back into brewing beer with its coffee-like undertones and brownish hue — malty with hints of caramel and sweetness. Unique.
Belgian Black Ale (5.5-percent ABV) — Surprisingly both creamy mouthfeel and light-body, it’s basically a black IPA.
Kludde Strong Ale (9.5-percent ABV) — This brew speaks volumes and earns its right to be called a “strong ale”— prevalent plum, fig, anise and raisin smells/flavors, but a chocolate hint that saves it from being too bitter.
 

I imagine — based on his story — Jason Spaulding as the character Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters.

In one of the film’s early scenes, the three ghost-hunting entrepreneurs purchase a former firehouse for their headquarters. Two of them play it coy, but not Stantz.

Admittedly, Spaulding was smitten when he first walked through a rundown funeral chapel on the Southeast Side of Grand Rapids that would become the future home of his brewpub, Brewery Vivant. And certainly from my visit, I can see why Spaulding chose the location for his brewery, which opened in December 2010.

I had a sense of awe walking into this European-feeling brewpub, as likely many of its patrons do. With original chapel lighting and stained glass windows, stepping inside Vivant is a lot like visiting a Belgian monastery (except for the monks). Wooden beams meet in a triangular formation near the ceiling with the bar nestled in front of a large archway.

Even though it is no longer a sacred space, it is still communal. The U-shaped bar lends itself to conversation with fellow patrons, and long tables create an atmosphere of sharing, not separation. There is a TV, but even that is not run by normal electricity — a bike nearby powers the screen (peddle away).

Certainly, it is peaceful for a pub and the ambiance complements the beer style – Belgian- and French-influenced concoctions. As Spaulding said, Vivant is one of the only breweries that specializes in Belgian beers with “local ingredients dominated by yeast strains” and a “controlled, wild character.”

The brews are inspired from small farmhouse breweries along the countryside of Southern Belgium and Northern France, Spaulding explained. Certainly it is apparent in the ten brews on tap.

To make it all come to life, brewmaster Jacob Derylo takes special care to ensure each brew is crafted to perfection.

“He’s a perfect brewer for us,” Spaulding said. “There’s no one I’d rather have in there than Jacob.”

A 10-year brewer for New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, Derylo confers with chef Drew Turnipseed to pair entrees perfectly with each beer. If not for the food or beer, Brewery Vivant is worth the visit just by virtue of its tastefully renovated, 80-something-year-old pub. It brings a sense of awe that makes you want to say cheers to its architectural beauty.

Even so, if you can’t make the trip, the brewery recently launched packaged products — in cans — for distribution state-wide and to the greater Chicago area. If you do make it, here’s my take on the tapped brews:

Farm Hand (5.5-percent ABV) — Partly cloudy, it’s lighter in overall flavor and certain to please even the most-apprehensive craft beer skeptics with simple smell and taste.

French Fusion (5.5-percent ABV) — A very drinkable, crisp beer with a soft maltiness that really does some magic.

Zaison (8.5-percent ABV) — Likely my favorite, its high alcohol content that maintains plenty of flavor is sneaky. Orange hints that are not overpowering with a light mouthfeel and body, the tail-end taste of peppercorn is the perfect complement to the citrus.

Vivant Tripel (9.25-percent ABV) — I’d call this the most traditional Belgian-brew with its sweet banana and bubblegum smell and taste complemented by the creamy mouthfeel.

Triomphe Belgian IPA (6.5-percent ABV) — Sweeter and smoother than I expected, which helps cover up the amount of hops I find overwhelming in many IPAs.

Big Red Coq (6.25-percent ABV) — So many hops, it feels more IPA than Triomphe (I thought I was confusing the two at first). For me, the hops were so overpowering I could barely smell the flavors and certainly could not taste them — caramel, mango, pineapple and citrus. Not my kind of brew, it is a popular seller.

Solitude Belgian Amber Ale (6.5-percent ABV) — Puts the “brew” back into brewing beer with its coffee-like undertones and brownish hue — malty with hints of caramel and sweetness. Unique.

Belgian Black Ale (5.5-percent ABV) — Surprisingly both creamy mouthfeel and light-body, it’s basically a black IPA.

Kludde Strong Ale (9.5-percent ABV) — This brew speaks volumes and earns its right to be called a “strong ale”— prevalent plum, fig, anise and raisin smells/flavors, but a chocolate hint that saves it from being too bitter.

 

Sounding more like a dessert buffet than taplist, May the Short’s Be With You at The Pyramid Scheme highlighted some of the best Michigan beer has to offer with 15 unique brews from Short’s Brewing Company.
Arguably the most innovative brewery in the state, Short’s never fails to flex its creative muscles. Although the Elk Rapids-based brewery boasts an impressive series of year-round and seasonal brews, what really draws many beer geeks — myself included — is its one-off, experimental beers.
Between its Bellaire brewpub and several Michigan beer festivals, I have been fortunate enough to try many of these unique offerings. Wednesday’s event provided an opportunity to experience even more Short’s creativity. These are not your “typical” beers. And, even between the three of us at the table, opinions varied widely. Note: All beers were poured into a standard shaker pint glass.
Mamma’s Strawberry Milk

  • Appearance: Pours a dense, hazy reddish-brown hue with no head. Strawberries dominate with a dark fruit, malty sweetness.
  • Not your typical fruit beer — lacks the overpowering sugary sweetness you might be expecting. Instead, the brew presents a strong, pleasant fruit aroma and taste with a heavier, syrupy mouthfeel. It’s not something you can sit and drink four of, but a wonderful, unique offering that is definitely worth trying. The milk sugar and malt body with mild carbonation rounds out this beer nicely.

’08 Chocolate Raspberry Shorter

  • Appearance: Deep, opaque chocolate brown body, revealing a bright mahogany hue towards the edge of the glass. Thin, sparse layer of tan head.
  • Initially, it has a confusing alcohol aroma, which fades over time. Tart raspberries predominate the initial taste, but transitions to a sweeter raspberry with a bit chocolate malt on the end. With a lighter mouthfeel than expected for beer this dark, it has a moderate, slightly prickly carbonation. Not as much chocolate malt as the name may imply, but still present. A lighter beer than the deep color might lead you to think, but definitely something you could drink a few of.

Another Caucasian Gary

  • Appearance: Opaque, orange/amber with a thin white head.
  • The beer that I was perhaps most excited to try,  as I missed my chance during the Winter Beer Fest and it received rave reviews on Beeradvocate.com. Its aroma is unpleasant — smells of spent coffee grounds, not the nice roasted malt flavor you would find in a bigger stout — and carries over in the taste with a slightly sour, milky sweetness to it.  With a heavier mouthfeel (a little syrupy), ACG has good carbonation. But it’s not at all what I hoped for — this beer was just plain bad. Granted, it was brewed several months ago, and with the components of this beer I have to think that the aging process did not treat it well. Wish I could have tried this one months ago, as I get the sneaking suspicion it was an entirely different when it was fresh.

The Gambler

  • Appearance: Cloudy golden brown, thin layer of cream-colored head.
  • A bourbon-barreled IPA brewed with tea leaves, lending a tobacco quality to the beer, it has hints of smoke with a leather- tobacco scent that is apparent but not overpowering and capped with subtle bourbon notes. The taste brings a bright sweetness upfront, met with pleasant earthy hop bitterness.  A little more of the bourbon comes through towards the end, and it feels like an IPA in the mouth with a little lighter carbonation. Not my cup of tea, but very interesting — lots of flavors you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.

Key Lime Pie

  • Appearance: Pours a bright orange/amber with no head.
  • Bright citrus, predominated by the scent of sweet limes carries into the taste with initial lime sweetness that transitions to a milky, malt sweetness.  It feels heavier than it looks and definitely has a chewier, syrupy quality to it. Overall, the sweet lime flavor balanced very well with the creamy body. Really, it’s a great beer — key lime pie in a glass.  On that note, it’s not something I could sit a drink all night, but a must-try for sweet, fruity beer lovers.

Carrot Cake

  • Appearance: No head whatsoever, completely opaque with a dark copper, earthy hue.
  • Based on scent alone, they weren’t kidding when they said Carrot Cake. Similar to the smell, the creamy frosting taste gives way to a smooth, bready malt sweetness. You can definitely pick up on the carrots as you would in a real carrot cake, but it takes the back seat to the sweetness of this beer (the point of carrot cake is to hide the veggies, right?). It has a creamy, heavier body that balances well. Much like the key lime pie, Carrot Cake hits the nail on the head. Liquid carrot cake.

The Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sounding more like a dessert buffet than taplist, May the Short’s Be With You at The Pyramid Scheme highlighted some of the best Michigan beer has to offer with 15 unique brews from Short’s Brewing Company.

Arguably the most innovative brewery in the state, Short’s never fails to flex its creative muscles. Although the Elk Rapids-based brewery boasts an impressive series of year-round and seasonal brews, what really draws many beer geeks — myself included — is its one-off, experimental beers.

Between its Bellaire brewpub and several Michigan beer festivals, I have been fortunate enough to try many of these unique offerings. Wednesday’s event provided an opportunity to experience even more Short’s creativity. These are not your “typical” beers. And, even between the three of us at the table, opinions varied widely. Note: All beers were poured into a standard shaker pint glass.

Mamma’s Strawberry Milk

  • Appearance: Pours a dense, hazy reddish-brown hue with no head. Strawberries dominate with a dark fruit, malty sweetness.
  • Not your typical fruit beer — lacks the overpowering sugary sweetness you might be expecting. Instead, the brew presents a strong, pleasant fruit aroma and taste with a heavier, syrupy mouthfeel. It’s not something you can sit and drink four of, but a wonderful, unique offering that is definitely worth trying. The milk sugar and malt body with mild carbonation rounds out this beer nicely.

’08 Chocolate Raspberry Shorter

  • Appearance: Deep, opaque chocolate brown body, revealing a bright mahogany hue towards the edge of the glass. Thin, sparse layer of tan head.
  • Initially, it has a confusing alcohol aroma, which fades over time. Tart raspberries predominate the initial taste, but transitions to a sweeter raspberry with a bit chocolate malt on the end. With a lighter mouthfeel than expected for beer this dark, it has a moderate, slightly prickly carbonation. Not as much chocolate malt as the name may imply, but still present. A lighter beer than the deep color might lead you to think, but definitely something you could drink a few of.

Another Caucasian Gary

  • Appearance: Opaque, orange/amber with a thin white head.
  • The beer that I was perhaps most excited to try,  as I missed my chance during the Winter Beer Fest and it received rave reviews on Beeradvocate.com. Its aroma is unpleasant — smells of spent coffee grounds, not the nice roasted malt flavor you would find in a bigger stout — and carries over in the taste with a slightly sour, milky sweetness to it.  With a heavier mouthfeel (a little syrupy), ACG has good carbonation. But it’s not at all what I hoped for — this beer was just plain bad. Granted, it was brewed several months ago, and with the components of this beer I have to think that the aging process did not treat it well. Wish I could have tried this one months ago, as I get the sneaking suspicion it was an entirely different when it was fresh.

The Gambler

  • Appearance: Cloudy golden brown, thin layer of cream-colored head.
  • A bourbon-barreled IPA brewed with tea leaves, lending a tobacco quality to the beer, it has hints of smoke with a leather- tobacco scent that is apparent but not overpowering and capped with subtle bourbon notes. The taste brings a bright sweetness upfront, met with pleasant earthy hop bitterness.  A little more of the bourbon comes through towards the end, and it feels like an IPA in the mouth with a little lighter carbonation. Not my cup of tea, but very interesting — lots of flavors you wouldn’t encounter elsewhere.

Key Lime Pie

  • Appearance: Pours a bright orange/amber with no head.
  • Bright citrus, predominated by the scent of sweet limes carries into the taste with initial lime sweetness that transitions to a milky, malt sweetness.  It feels heavier than it looks and definitely has a chewier, syrupy quality to it. Overall, the sweet lime flavor balanced very well with the creamy body. Really, it’s a great beer — key lime pie in a glass.  On that note, it’s not something I could sit a drink all night, but a must-try for sweet, fruity beer lovers.

Carrot Cake

  • Appearance: No head whatsoever, completely opaque with a dark copper, earthy hue.
  • Based on scent alone, they weren’t kidding when they said Carrot Cake. Similar to the smell, the creamy frosting taste gives way to a smooth, bready malt sweetness. You can definitely pick up on the carrots as you would in a real carrot cake, but it takes the back seat to the sweetness of this beer (the point of carrot cake is to hide the veggies, right?). It has a creamy, heavier body that balances well. Much like the key lime pie, Carrot Cake hits the nail on the head. Liquid carrot cake.

The Pyramid Scheme is located at 68 Commerce SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

Sometimes simple is good.

The ingredients listed in Schmohz Brewery’s Zingiberene Ale are water, malted barley, ginger root and yeast. While some beer enthusiasts might consider it bland, it’s one of the more refreshing craft brews around.

Zingiberene is incredibly crisp and the carbonation comes as a surprise. The simple ingredients do actually mean simple taste, which is perhaps why I find it so refreshing. The first time I tried it I had just finished two-plus hours of playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, for certain, I chose the right beer.

Since then, I’ve gone back to it several times. And now sitting at home sipping on a bottle of it, I still have it on my list of regulars. It’s kind of like a less sweet version of a ginger ale pop (pop means “soda” or “coke” in the Mitten — this is a Michigan website, right?) with some malty, beery undertones.

Schmohz does not pasteurize its brews, so they have a fresher and fuller taste (but it also means you have to keep them cold).

There is certainly a “Zing,” to the overall feel of Zingiberene on the tongue, making the name fitting. I highly recommend using this beer to introduce friends to craft beer. It’s ideal because it is light and the flavor is not too overpowering. And, if you know a friend who likes ginger ale, Zingiberene is sure to be a hit with them.

Another good reason to introduce it to craft beer neophytes is the unique process used to make this brew — ginger is used instead of hops. Hoppy beers tend to be overpowering to those who curl up their nose at certain craft brews, especially IPAs. Ginger is a little more familiar taste to most, so the bite doesn’t seem so overpowering.

For as light as it is, you wouldn’t guess it’s 5.3 percent ABU (even if it is a craft brew), but Schmohz has quite a few beers like this. Certainly, Schmohz is worth grab off the store shelf (my other favorites are Valley City Cream Ale and Pickle Tink Ale) or at any pub serving it.

You can find a retailer or restaurant/bar by going to Schmohz’s distribution index here, but the index is a bit impractical in that you need to wait for it to scroll through various locations on its own at a slow pace. You can also visit the Grand Rapids brewery, located at 2600 Patterson SE.

All in all, I am hooked on the simple taste and zing of Zingiberene Ale.