Oktoberfest is hitting the streets of Grand Rapids in a whole new way. And it’s going to be “hopping.”

Together with HopCat and Barfly Events, several Grand Rapids-area brewers are bringing some of the best tastes of October to a new event called Hoptoberfest. The Oct. 15 festival closes Ionia Street SW between Weston and Oakes streets for an outdoor beer and blues celebration 2-11 p.m.

“The success of our St. Patrick’s Day event, Irish on Ionia, inspired the concept for a fun new beer festival downtown,” said BarFly Ventures owner Mark Sellers. “It’s the perfect opportunity to team with other local breweries and highlight the variety of choices this area offers in craft beer.”

Breweries slated to have brews on tap are HopCat, Founders Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, The Hideout Brewing Company, White Flame Brewing Company, Michigan Beer Cellar, Jaden James and Schmohz Brewing Company. In addition, HoptoberFest will feature a German beer garden, a HopCat food tent, local artists displaying artwork and a blues lineup featuring the legendary Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks as headliner. Other acts include Big James and the Chicago Playboys, Stacy Mitchhart and Rob Blaine’s Big Otis Blues.

BarFly Ventures operates downtown Grand Rapids bars HopCat, Stella’s Lounge, The Viceroy and McFadden’s, and is also part owner of The Pyramid Scheme, a live music venue. According to event organizer Shane Philipsen, a crowd of 3,000-5,000 is expected.

“This is the first year for Hopfest and it won’t be the last,” Philipsen said, adding that the event will piggyback off of the city’s ArtPrize event, which should “keep the ball rolling downtown” and give the feeling “Grand Rapids never sleeps.”

College football fans aren’t being left out either — there will be four 60-inch HDTVs showing the MSU vs. U of M game.

“Come out and watch the game and enjoy some good craft beer,” Philipsen said.

Tickets are available for $10 at TicketWeb.com and at participating local breweries and bars, including HopCat, Brewery Vivant, Stella’s, Viceroy, McFadden’s and Hideout. Tickets purchased on the day of the event are $15. By liking Hoptoberfest on Facebook, users are able to access an interactive application with plenty of extra information about the event.

Chas Thompson shows us the ropes at Schmohz Brewery in Grand Rapids, and explains the importance his brewery places on distribution.

“It tastes like nature,” said James Evans about the first course at Derby Station during Wednesday night’s BeerSocialGR. The first-time event was held at the East Grand Rapids restaurant, and featured beers from around Michigan, paired with five unique small food plates.

The event is a collaboration between MittenBrew, L&B Portfolio and local marketing guru Josh Leo. It centers around tweeting thoughts and summaries of the event, using the hash tag #beersocialGR on Twitter. The push is to have heavily-followed users influence their followers throughout the community, and therefore bringing interest to everyone involved in the event.

And like Evans stated, the event was filled with a portfolio of nature-like and fall flavors. The first course, Root Vegetable Salad, was paired with Short’s Spruce Pilsner (7% ABV). The beer was strong, hoppy, and like the name suggests, very pine-y. The sweetness of the salad brought the hops even more to the forefront than they already were.

From there it kept getting better. The second course, one of the evening’s favorites, was Beer Cheese Soup, paired with a Michigan Brewing Company Screaming Pumpkin (6% ABV). The soup was creamy and delicious — the popcorn on top made for a bit of a crunch with each bite, offering a diverse flavor and slight change to the texture of the soup. Its base was surprisingly made from a Rolling Rock beer.

The pumpkin beer, on the other  hand, was a perfect complement. The common response was that it tasted exactly like pumpkin pie, featuring hints of molasses, pumpkin and ginger. It was compared to walking into a Yankee Candle store.

Needless to say, it was fall — in every bite and sip.

The rest of the meal featured three other Michigan libations — a cask-style New Holland Mad Hatter (5.3% ABV), Bell’s Oktoberfest (5.8% ABV) and VanderMill Wit Cider (6.9% ABV). They were paired with pretzels and mustard, spaetzle and banana custard, respectively. The pretzels with German-style mustard was also a favorite of the night, offering a bit of spice after the otherwise warm, relaxing soup.

Throughout the night,Derby Station head chef Eric DeWaard and Logan’s Alley manager Tim Wille spoke to great lengths about the food and beer, and how they paired well together, noting how certain flavors of each dish complemented the different nodes in each beer.

All together, the event reached 7,142 Twitter users, all coming from the event’s 10 guests and the restaurant’s @DerbyStation account. Some of the things tweeted about included:

  • @joshleo: Piney juniper beer is very strange. Oh shorts you so crazy!
  • @czoladz: Shorts Spruce Pilsner, paired with a root vegetable salad. It tastes like camping.
  • @mommaneedsabeer: MBC Screaming Pumpkin tastes like fall! Pretty sure this is my fav of the night. #moreplease
  • @FensterV: ‘mind your p’s & q’s = mind your pints & quarts. #edumacation
  • @moorekat: @DerbyStation Please bottle that mustard & sell it. @wanttotakeithome
  • @ekuhn: New holland mad hatter on cask is sooo good. Much less carbonation lets the flavor come out.
  • @james_evans: Bells Oktoberfest w/Spaetzle. Oh my… the Spaetzle, cabbage, and bratwurst was amazing.
  • @emhorton1: I’m liking the Bell’s Oktoberfest. And even being green and kinda crunchy, the spaetzle is good.
  • @dustindwyer: “Holy s—, did they just fill up my beer again?” – final tweet from #beersocialGR

Based on the successful event, plans are already under way for the second BeerSocialGR. For more information about the event, please contact Josh Leo on Twitter, username @joshleo.

We talk with Barry Johnson of Saugatuck Brewing Company, during Beer-a-Palooza, about growth for the tourist town brewpub and some of its most unique traits. The brewery’s growing portfolio includes ESB/Amber, which was recently awarded first place in the Bitter/ESB category at the United States Beer Tasting Championship.

GRAND RAPIDS — Last week’s Beer-A-Palooza was a breath of fresh air for someone who covers a lot of beer events.

Although the event is in just its third year, Beer-a-Palooza’s got everything going for it — amazing local beer, a buffet of tasty food and live music (that was actually good). And the price tag— $25 — was not too shabby (it included eight beer sampling tickets).

Hosted on the lawn of Mangiamo!’s restaurant 6-10 p.m. Thursday, the mini-festival offered beer from:

  • Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo
  • Founders Brewery – Grand Rapids
  • New Holland Brewing – Holland
  • Arbor Brewing – Ann Arbor
  • Saugatuck Brewing – Saugatuck
  • North Peak Brewing Company- Traverse City
  • Brewery Vivant – Grand Rapids
  • Dark Horse Brewing Co. – Marshall
  • Goose Island – Chicago

“None of it would matter if the beer was lousy,” Mangiamo! manager Eric Teasley said. “We’re so fortunate to have a such great local brewers.”

Beer-a-Palooza attracted an estimated 150 attendees, which Teasley said was up from about 100 the past two years. The event was previously held in the nearby city of Ada at Thornapple Village Inn. After that restaurant closed this past year, Teasley was not about to give up on the event.

“I was fortunate enough to get a job here (at Mangiamo!) — I took the party with me,” he said, adding that attendance was likely up because of Mangiamo’s location in the middle of town.

While the beer was the primary draw to the event, music by the BeanPoles added color. Teasley described the band as “roots Americana.”

“Which I think is just perfect,” he said. “These guys have a pretty legit following.”

Among the highlights of the event was chatting with representatives from the various breweries and Kent Beverage Company (distribution) about growth trends (mostly in retail distribution). Dark Horse Brewing Co. sales representative Mike Dewar shared about the Marshall-based brewery’s 66-percent growth from a 7-barrel system this past year to its new 20-barrel system.

“Our 20-barrel system is pumping out so much more beer than we ever imagined,” he said. “We can’t get enough out — it’s been a real interesting ride.”

The older 7-barrel system will be used strictly for the pub brews and various one-off brews going forward. Dewar expects the growth to continue at a similar pace for the brewery, which was founded in 1997.

Likewise, New Holland is trying to keep up with growing sales, according to Isaac Hartman, Michigan and Ohio Beer Ambassador, who said year-to-date growth is already at 25-percent for the Holland-based company.

“Interest in Michigan beer is at an all-time high,” he said, adding that New Holland will continue to focus distribution on Michigan with Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin following close behind. “We want to make sure we have beer for our local markets first.”

New Holland retails in 13 states.

I am hopeful for the continued success and growth of Beer-a-Palooza. I admit I’m almost apprehensive to talk it up too much because sometimes a well-kept secret makes for a smaller crowd. I love the intimate setting that allows you to strike up a conversation with another craft-beer lover without all the noise and distractions of a large crowd.

Still, in good conscience, I can only give one piece of advice: Mark Beer-a-Palooza on your calendar if you’re in West Michigan this time of year next summer.

Just one quick note: MittenBrew caught up with Saugatuck Brewing Company owner/brewer Barry Johnson, so stay tuned for our video interview coming soon.

GRAND RAPIDS — Canadian Breakfast Stout will be the second release in Founders Brewing Co.’s Backstage Series, according to Vice President/Director of Marketing Dave Engbers.

The brew hits retail shelves Oct. 3 (in 750-milliliter bottles) with a taproom release party on Oct. 1.

There has been a great deal of anticipation and speculation regarding the second Backstage release after the success of Blushing Monk, the series debut, this summer. I spotted a bottle of Blushing Monk on a Grand Rapids grocery store shelf and snagged it for just under $14.

While it wasn’t what I expected, the brew at least meets its hype. Deep, blood-red in appearance, it captures both the sweet and sour elements of raspberry (so apparent in the first sniff) with a prickly carbonation that makes it sit on the tongue like a champagne.

Blushing Monk is certainly more sweet than sour. Founders’ signature, in my book, is its ever-apparent hoppy-ness. With Blushing Monk, the hops are there, but the powerful sweet raspberry flavor makes them very hard to detect and leaves almost no bitter aftertaste. Overall, it’s not your typical “beer beer,” but it certainly pleases the palate. I can see why it was chosen as one of the Backstage releases.

As for Canadian Breakfast Stout, it seems the logical choice as the second release in the series — it’s popular at many beer festivals, but you have to go to the taproom (and at the right time) for a taste of CBS.

Canadian Breakfast Stout is an Imperial Stout brewed with a blend of coffees and imported chocolates, then aged in spent bourbon barrels (most recently used to age pure Michigan maple syrup). The final product has had stellar reviews and is currently the fifth-highest rated beer in the world on www.BeerAdvocate.com.

The Backstage Series gives drinkers a chance to uncap at home some of the brewery’s “more eclectic beers that have historically only been available on the tap” at Founders and bars where kegs are distributed, Engbers says.

The series is dubbed “Backstage” because the releases are limited — and a response to the brewery’s diehard fans.

“To us, it’s kind of using the brewery as the stage,” Engbers says, making these brews backstage. “Releasing small specialty batches is a great way for us to connect to our core beer enthusiast.”

The company is not revealing any additional releases in the series, but Engbers says they will consist of many of the “popular one-offs” offered in the taproom over the years that are favorites among patrons and brewery staff. The company expects to release one more product in the 2011 Backstage Series later this year.

“I think part of what people love about Founders — besides our beer — is that we listen to what they are saying,” President Mike Stevens says. “With our new line, now we can offer them more of what they’ve been asking for.”


GRAND RAPIDS — MittenBrew is proud to announce our latest project — BeerSocialGR. In partnership with the L&B Portfolio, we’ve developed an event that focuses on pairing great beer with food, all the while being social about it.

The first BeerSocialGR starts 5:30 p.m. Sept.14 at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids. Attendees will be treated to five pre-chosen beer samples and food samplers, as well as a “staple” beer to cleanse your palate.

Attendees are expected to use social media tools — such as Facebook and Twitter — to let their followers know of their experiences with each beer and dish, while participating in a casual setting with their peers. People will be chosen to attend the event based on their social media following — all attendees must meet a variety of requirements to attend the event.

“We really hope that, with the help of Derby Station, we can promote the rising interest in Michigan craft beer as well as have attendees enjoy some great food,” said Bryan Esler, event organizer and MittenBrew co-founder. “Pairing beer with food is nothing new, but it’s definitely something that can be promoted a lot more, especially with the growth of craft beer.”

The event, which is limited to 10 people, is facilitated by Josh Leo, the founder of Charcutweeterie events at the Reserve, a wine bar in downtown Grand Rapids. Leo serves as host during the event, inviting attendees to experiment and try unique craft beer and food.

To learn more about this event, and to see how you can attend, email Bryan Esler at besler@grgrub.com. Stay tuned for more details about the event, including the types of food and beer that being served, in the coming weeks.

Update: The menu for BeerSocialGR has been released!

  • Course One: Short’s Spruce Pilsner with Root Vegetable Salad
  • Course Two: Michigan Brewing Company Screaming Pumpkin with Beer Cheese Soup
  • Course Three: New Holland Mad Hatter IPA on Cask  with Pretzels and Mustard
  • Course Four: Bell’s Oktoberfest with Spaetzle
  • Course Five: VanderMill Whit Cider with Banana Custard
  • Staple Beer: Brewery Vivant’s Farm Hand Ale

GRAND RAPIDS — John Ball Park is home to many festivals, but Saturday marked a new celebration of sorts — WGRD’s 2011 Summer Craft Beer Festival.

The festival not only showcased beers from around the state, but also let beer enthusiasts enjoy various out-of-state brews. Still, for Michigan beer drinkers, there was plenty to be happy about. Featuring brews from Short’s, Tri-City, Mount Pleasant and Dragonsmead — just to name a few — Grand Rapids beer lovers experienced their favorite beers, and then some.

Admission was $15 at the door, which included a pint glass and four sample tickets. In addition to samples, guests were treated to a wide array of seminars (such as learning to cook with beer and what mead really is).

Three beers stood out during the event, all from Michigan.

The Coal Stoaker’s Blackberry Ale (5.8% ABV), brewed by Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, featured a rich, wheat blackberry flavor. Technically, Mount Pleasant calls it a wheat ale/stout blend, and I can see why. Its dark undertones, accompanied with the light flavor, made for a perfect combination. This beer could literally be enjoyed any time of the year.

Shifting to the darker side, Dragonmead’s Under the Kilt Wee Heavy (7.8% ABV) was just that — a full bodied brew with caramel, fruit and scotch undertones. Its ruby red color surprised me at first, but the hint of lightness to the otherwise dark scotch brew was certainly welcomed.

But one beer trumped them all — Michigan Beer Cellar’s Mocha Java Stout (7% ABV) encompassed the richness I’ve come to love about craft beer. Served with a maximum head, the chocolate, malty flavor was persistent but not overpowering. It reminded me just of what you’d find in a coffee shop — a sweet, dark flavor with a hint of espresso. Full-bodied flavor, lingering nut, chocolate, and toffee-like taste — it’s definitely going on my “top” list of brews to look out for. It certainly helped, too, that I was served much more than the standard 3-ounce serving as well.

One of the biggest disappointments though had to do with the entertainment. Instead of using its own DJs, WGRD hired a local company, who consistently received text messages over the iPhone he was using to play music. It got to be annoying after a while, which could’ve been the reason the picnic tables in front of the stage were generally empty.

Further, I was let down by the number of Michigan breweries that were present. I would’ve also liked to have seen more specialty beers available (Short’s selection particularly disappointed me). Perhaps these snafus are expected for a first-year event, but improvement is certainly needed for this to become an annual event.

Some minor disappointment aside, the WGRD Craft Beer Fest was still a fun event, letting beer fanatics sample a new brew or two, and John Ball Park was the perfect atmosphere for something like this. Its relaxed atmosphere was refreshing, compared to other, more populated beer festivals throughout the state.