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15% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Red-orange hue with a medium head.
Aroma: Very boozy, almost like brandy.
Taste: Pineapple, caramel and some biscuit flavors. Some maple as well. A bit of an alcohol burn at the end.
Mouthfeel: Strong bodied.

Founders’ 15th anniversary ale, Bolt Cutter, certainly impresses with its high booziness that’s noticeable throughout each sip. Complex flavors of pineapple, caramel and biscuit turn this beer into a sweet yet savory barley wine. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart — the 15% ABV creates a bit of an alcohol burn at the end. This is a beer that can only get better with age, so if you happen to see one in stores, definitely snatch it up.

GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. has announced the release of Bolt Cutter, a brew celebrating the brewery’s 15th anniversary.

The 15% ABV barleywine will be released in November, and is part of the brewery’s Backstage Series.

Bolt Cutter will be available in Founders’ taproom through a ticketed release system, Nov. 11-16, and in stores Nov. 19. Tickets for the taproom release go on sale this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Brown Paper Tickets.

“Dry-hopped with a mountain of Cascade hops, it’s balanced by a malty sweetness and spicy complexity, resulting from barrel aging some of it in bourbon barrels, some in maple syrup bourbon barrels and some not at all (standard fermentation only),” said Founders in a statement.

Founders also announced a free anniversary party, taking place Nov. 17 in its taproom.

5.2% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Cloudy yellow with a moderate head.
Aroma: Wheat with some banana and spice.
Taste: Lots of banana with a bit of spice at the finish.
Mouthfeel: Light bodied.

Old Boys’ Birthday Heffer — in celebration of the brewery’s 15th anniversary — features strong banana and spice flavors in a Hefeweizen that’s perfect for this time of year. The brew, while light, offers great depth of flavor, with banana apparent throughout the sip, and spices kicking the beer up a notch at the finish.

5.2% ABV, Draft
Appearance: Cloudy yellow with a moderate head.
Aroma: Wheat with some banana and spice.
Taste: Lots of banana with a bit of spice at the finish.
Mouthfeel: Light bodied.
Old Boys’ Birthday Heffer — in celebration of the brewery’s 15th anniversary — features strong banana and spice flavors in a Hefeweizen that’s perfect for this time of year. The brew, while light, offers great depth of flavor, with banana apparent throughout the sip, and spices kicking the beer up a notch at the finish.

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.

Frenchiest Name

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.

Most Thoughtful

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.

Anniversariest Ale

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!

YPSILANTI — Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us, but He shows particular fondness for the state of Michigan.” Or something to that effect.

Franklin may have had a few too many Nicie Spicies. In any case, the malted warriors from the great Mitten State were flexing their might in full force Friday and Saturday, reminding Michigan’s denizens just how lucky we are to live here. More than 60 breweries displayed their craft to a crowded Riverside Park.

Normally I would complain about entering the tents of the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival at high noon, but given the the amount of beer present, I’m convinced the humidity held a respectable ABV.

The first stop of the day set the tone for me: Bell’s Brewing, whose booth was right inside the entrance. Early arrival meant empty lines — an uncommon sight for a Bell’s serving station. Since I had not checked out the tap lists beforehand, I was more than a little shocked to find the beer of the hour was the brewery’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.

I hadn’t planned on making stouts the focus of my day (not many would in the dead of summer). But I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I filled my first cup with the bourbon beast.

After making my way through most of the stands, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with master brewer and all-round good guy Joe Short of Short’s Brewing Co. As I enjoyed a bourbon barrel aged Black Cherry Porter (which gets my nod for Best in Show), we discussed the beginnings of Short’s.

Short emphasized a sense of community and history that he brings to his company’s beer.

“Growth isn’t our objective, it’s quality of life, sustainability with our company and staff,” he said. “We want everybody to have a great job and want them to love living and working in Northern Michigan.”

It was readily apparent how passionate Short is about what goes into his beers — ingredients are just a part of it.

As it was last year, Dark Horse Brewing Co. brought everything and then some. As far as sheer numbers of pub-only and limited release beers, the only competition they faced was last year’s Dark Horse lineup. I was able to try more than a few of the company’s one-offs, but the one I was most excited about was the Death Star Lover Barrel-aged Chocolate Raspberry Stout. It was certainly a strong showing once more from the guys in Marshall.

To give a broader scope of the important part of the 15th Annual event — the beer, of course — the following represents my top picks from the festival:

Short’s Bourbon Barreled Black Cherry Porter

Appearance: Beer appears black, with a deep red ruby color revealed when held to the light. A half inch of a stained, tan-colored head.
Aroma: Bright cherries and sweet vanilla and bourbon dominate the nose. Subtle notes of roasted malts sit behind the bourbon.
Taste: Massive cherries and dark fruits along with continued bourbon and vanilla from the nose.  These flavors meld well with the deep caramel and roasted malts of the body.  Finish leaves more of the warm bourbon and dark cherries.  The massive, bright flavors are remarkably well balanced, something not easy to achieve in a beer like this.  My hat’s off to Short’s; they absolutely nailed this one.  A must try for big beer lovers.

Dark Horse Death Star Lover

Appearance: Deep black, with a thin lacing of crimson-tinged tan head.
Aroma: Nose of sweet, tangy raspberries dominates a background of oak and chocolate.
Taste: Taste is similar to the nose, with the sour tang of raspberry giving way to lactic sweetness against a chocolate malt body.  Coating, full mouthfeel with appropriately mild carbonation. Finishes with more (guess what?) raspberries, with notes of oak and cocoa. A great offering from Dark Horse. Being a huge raspberry fan, I may be biased, but I think they did a great job incorporating these flavors into a unique, smooth drinking stout.

Bell’s Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout

Appearance: Pours a moonless midnight black, with a quickly dissipating brown head, yielding a thin toffee collar.
Aroma: Huge nose of pleasant bourbon and sweet vanilla.
Taste: Begins with more of the smooth bourbon, which is quickly joined by a deep chocolate and roasted malt body. Chewy, coating mouthfeel with smooth, tame carbonation. Finishes incredibly smooth, with fading sweet roasted malts leaving the warm bourbon and vanilla on its own. Truly a gem. Larry Bell’s experience shines through, achieving a perfect balance of the base beers (Bell’s Double Cream and Expedition stouts) against the big flavors lent by the bourbon. If you happen to come across this beer, you would be remiss not to try it.

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Videography by Drew Koszulinski

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

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.”