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winter beer fest

The Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Fest was (understandably) pushed back one week due to local flooding of the Grand River. With knee-jerk reactions on social media, and many shots taken at the MBG, lucky number 13 for the annual Fest proved that all events are realistically not immune to the guarantee of happening “rain or shine.” The Guild had to be the bearer of bad news when they announced the event’s postponement after accounting for safety concerns and what would’ve been a logistical nightmare hosting over 9,000 ticket-holders knee-deep in water.

With a universal good vibe in the air, sunny skies above, and dry ground below our feet, we polled a cross-section of those in attendance about what they enjoy about drinking beer outside in a parking lot in Febru… um, we mean March. Yeah, March.

winter beer fest

 

Ali Brodhacker, 31, Three Oaks, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Nine.

What do you enjoy most about them?

The entire community. It’s cool watching all these people come out and try different beers they might not otherwise be exposed to. I love seeing my brothers and sisters in the brewing community who are actually brewing the beer and pushing it every single day—these fests are a meeting of the minds.

So, you work for a brewery?

Absolutely. I’m the marketing director at Greenbush.

Any comments about how the flood affected you?

I’m actually a huge fan of how everything was handled. I really respect how the Brewers Guild reacted to the flooding. They were on top of it, and seemed pretty transparent to the public by sharing pictures of the flooding and what it could’ve done to the Fest last weekend. It was a crappy situation for everyone involved, but I have more love for them now.

 

Simion Stewart, 29, Holland, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my very first beer fest, period.

So far, what’s your take?

I love that everyone here—I mean everybody is enjoying themselves. I’m sure that there’s probably some of the best beer in the world here right now, and I get to try it. I know I’ve tasted trash before, but what’s going on here today, I gotta admit, is awesome.

I know you’re only a couple hours in, but is there anything that stands out?

Everything seems cool. I didn’t expect the entertainment or the fires, both are a nice touch. The food options, I think, will come in handy to keep people simmered. And, I like seeing the light security. They’re not in your face, but the environment is a good time and feels safe.

Why did you decide to make this your first beer fest?

It’s simple: To try something new. I’ve never had craft beer before today, but I’m sold. This has made up my mind. I’ll be back.

winter beer fest

The Watrous Family, Grand Rapids, MI: Kevin, 51, wife Cathy, 50-something, and their daughter Helen, 22

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Kevin and Cathy: 13. Seven Winter, five U.P., one Detroit.

Helen: This is my fifth.

What’s been a highlight?

Cathy: Winter Beer Fest is our absolute favorite. There’s just an untouchable jovial atmosphere. People are in costume, but it’s freezing [laughing]! We all know it’s going to be cold, but we prepare for it, and embrace it.

Kevin: The people. We’re all here—9,000 of us—to enjoy the same thing for the same reason.

Helen: Exploring new beer with my family—it’s a pretty special experience.

Helen, you’ve been to five beer fests at a pretty early age. What’s the connection?

My parents. I live in Charlevoix, so they’ve helped me fall in love with craft beer, thanks to Short’s.

Have you seen anything evolve?

Cathy: The one we’ve seen change a lot over the years has been the U.P. Fall Fest. We were there in ‘13, and we just love seeing how much it’s grown. Marquette is just beautiful, the weather usually cooperates, and the town is really starting to embrace it. We were also really surprised about the Detroit Festival. We went a couple years ago, and we hadn’t spent much time in Detroit before that. We drove in a couple days early to explore the city, and it was awesome to see its revival.

Any suggestions?

Kevin: More water stations, and for the Brewers Guild to distribute the maps and beer lists sooner.

 

Korey Stubleski, 31, Toledo, OH

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my second.

What’s stood out?

I’ve discovered very quickly that there’s way more variety in Beer City USA than Toledo.

Any Michigan breweries that have caught your attention so far?

Speciation and Transient. I’ve loved everything I’ve tried by them.

Any constructive criticism for how we do things in Beer City?

I thought there’d be more water, more easily accessible. Other than that, I dig the entertainment, and the people here have been very cool and hospitable.

 

Josh Gordon, 30, Grand Haven, MI

As Plant Production Manager at Odd Side Ales, how many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my fifth year at Winter Beer Fest, and I’ve been to four Summer, and three in Detroit. Still haven’t been able to make it up to the U.P. Fall Fest in Marquette.

What do you enjoy most about them?

We’re [employees in the industry] in a unique, special position. By far, I love the set-up on Friday—getting here early, knocking it out, and then getting to hang with all my friends. What’s also really cool is when we bring other guys from the production facility out to fests, they get to see the consumer go crazy over what we spend all day brewing and packaging. It’s those people who support our product that give us a means to make a living.

Have you seen the consumer change at fests?

Overall, they’re definitely more experienced and getting more knowledgeable about the beer everyone’s making. Keeps us on our toes.

Anything you’d like to see different?

Oh, man, that’s tough. I really don’t know what you could change, to be honest. It doesn’t have any bearing on those attending, but from an operations standpoint, the end of the night on Saturday is kind of a bummer—just knowing it’s over and we have to tear down and wait until the place clears to load out. But, the Guild takes really good care of us. I’ve seen beer fests in other states ran really poorly. This one’s pretty kick ass.

winter beer fest

Lindsey Yax, 31, Grandville, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my third.

Third time’s a charm, right? What are you digging about them?

I obviously love all of our Grand Rapids breweries, but having intimate access to sampling whatever I want from the rest across the state is pretty great.

What have you tried that you’d drive there to have again?

Right now, I’m drinking Mango M-43 by Old Nation. I’ve never had an IPA before that I’ve liked, and I looove this!

 

Ryan Sheldon, 31, Sylvan Lake, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Somewhere between five and 10.

What’s the selling point?

It’s a comprehensive selection of all styles and flavor profiles. Regardless of what you’re personally into, there’s something for everyone.

When you attend, do you have an agenda for what you want to drink?

I’m a homebrewer, so I’m always looking for beers that will challenge me to push my own envelope at home.

Is there a particular style you’re looking to explore next, and have you found an example here that’s inspired you?

Historically, the easy answer is anything bourbon barrel-aged. But, lately, I feel like it’s jumped the shark and become the sell-out. There are so many breweries that have become so sophisticated brewing big beers like these, that classic styles like pilsners, Kölsch, etc. are getting overlooked and falling by the wayside. It seems like everyone just runs to the bourbon barrel-aged beers or double IPAs with a high ABV and fancy name.

 

Despite the unavoidable inconvenience of rescheduling, the event ran like business as usual. It’s clear: the people make this thing tick. From every angle, this community is driven simply by a love for beer. It’s what makes festivals in the dead of winter, or the blistering heat of summer, continue to thrive.

 

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich – Anticipated flooding on the Grand River in Comstock Park has forced the Michigan Brewers Guild to postpone this weekend’s popular Winter Beer Festival to next weekend, Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3. All tickets already purchased will be honored on the respective Friday and Saturday of the new weekend.

After meeting with the Whitecaps staff and taking into consideration information provided to us by the National Weather Service and the Kent County Emergency Management, the MBG Board of Directors has decided to take cautious approach and postpone the festival by a week to allow the Grand River to drop below the flood stage.

Rain is forecast for Friday morning between 5am and 10am. That will contribute to the levels of the Grand River, which is expected to crest its 18-foot flood stage on Friday afternoon and rise as much as three feet above that over the course of the weekend. The Sheriff’s Department has issued Flood Warnings for this section of the Grand River untilTuesday, February 27.

“We reviewed several contingency plans and discussed multiple options before coming to this decision,” says Scott Graham, MBG Executive Director, “but in the end the safety of our attendees, our breweries and volunteers is of utmost concern.”

Over 9,000 tickets have been sold for the festival, with a “Sell Out” status for Saturday at 6440. Friday tickets are still available for purchase for $45 in advance (www.mibeer.com/winter-festival) or $50 at the event at the main Whitecaps ticket office.

At this point, the Guild expects most of the 142-member breweries to participate in the rescheduled dates and the event to run just the same.

The Michigan Brewers Guild is the network of innovative and passionate brewers that serves as the recognized advocate for the Michigan craft beer industry. The mission of the Guild is to promote and protect the Michigan craft beer industry with an overarching goal to help craft beer acquire 20% of the market by 2025. 

Michigan’s thriving brewing industry conservatively contributes more than $144 million in wages with a total economic contribution of more than $600 million. In terms of overall number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, Michigan ranks #6 in the nation – thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.”

 

 

detroit fall fest

Beer festivals happen several times a year. From fest to fest, some things are different—the weather, the breweries, the food. But many things are exactly same from year to year—the 15 tokens in the plastic glass, the good beer, and at least one discovery of a fantastic new-to-me brewpub. This year, I discovered not one, not two, but three new-to-me breweries. It was a good fest.

First, the top five brews from pubs I knew about.

Big Lake’s Leroy Brown appealed to me because of the name and the fact that there were dice on the can. It would have been cool to have the custom Continental and the El Dorado, but the dice were a nice touch. The beer was very nice too! An English brown ale made with four malts and chocolate, it had a smooth finish of toasty bread.

Schmohz Gingerbread Brown was great as always, as was the Mad Tom’s Porter. Brewer Gabi Palmer explained that this beer “is a solid porter—smoky, some chocolate. No hype, no b.s., just a solid beer.” And it was! Slightly bitter with a hint of smoke made for a tasty beer.

The Smoke on the Porter from ROAK was another excellent porter. An imperial smoked porter by style, this beer hit all the right notes. Roasty, dark, and perfectly balanced. But I would expect no less from this outstanding pub.

Unruly Brewing had the Orange Julius beer, which my husband described as “smelling like an Orange Julius, tasting like it, but then finishing like a bourbon barrel aged Belgian wheat.” Orange peel and vanilla beans make this beer what it is.

Lake Charlevoix Double Cookie Stout is one of the tastiest stouts I have had. Made with ten pounds of Oreos, it manages to not be overpowering or too sugary sweet. This is a solid, hearty beer.

The first of the big discoveries at this fest was One Well from Kalamazoo. Their Sweet Water Street was billed as a “coffee and donut” beer and it delivered. Much like the breakfast of champions itself, this beer had a hint of the sugary taste of donut plus all the roasted coffee taste one could want. They also had a Root Beer Stout that—unlike some root beer beers I could mention—managed to not just taste like thick, sappy syrup. It actually had a taste of root beer but never forgot it was a beer—absolutely wonderful!

The second new-to-me pub was Grand Armory from Grand Haven. Their Nutter Your Business Stout tasted like an honest-to-God peanut butter cup. My husband was so thrilled that he got three separate tastes of this beer, just so he could dance around delighting in the peanut butter and chocolate deliciousness (okay, he really didn’t dance around, but it’d be fun to pretend he did).

The top discovery this year was Railtown Brewing Company from Dutton. The brewery won a bronze medal at the recent Great American Beer Fest for its Good Mooed Milk Stout. And to be sure, this solid stout hit all the right notes. We also had their Peanut Butter Cocoa Time porter which conveyed the peanut butter taste while remembering it was a porter, and thus not too heavy or overpowering. The absolute hit for me was their Coffee Blonde, one of the best coffee beers I have ever had. Until this fest, I couldn’t find Dutton on a map but I can now, and I can’t wait to go there.

As I always do, I kept another tradition—ending the fest with Liberty Street’s Punkin Pie Ale. It is still the best pumpkin ale I have ever had, and nothing I’ve had since has changed my mind.

Some things change, some things stay the same, but Michigan beer remains far ahead of all the rest. It was a good fest.

 

Photography: Erik Smith

summer beer fest

The frozen washcloths helped. So did the shady trees. But the biggest relief from the sweltering heat was the beer. Because that is what this festival is about—beer. Specifically, Michigan craft beer.

Oh, I’ve read the negative reviews. The festival has gotten too big, too noisy, too full of casual drinkers who don’t know a pilsner from a pale ale. To which I say, what of it? This event, these two days in Ypsilanti, are about beer. Getting people to drink local beer—from the “gray beards” who have been brewing since before I was born to the people who were born the year I could have my first legal drink. It’s all about the beer.

And this year, I am once again proud to announce my top five beers of the 2016 Summer Beer Fest.

The Winner—Hands down, the Mauj Cucumber Lime Gose from Arbor Brewing Company won the day. It is what a mojito wants to be. It is what a refreshing beer wants to be. It is what all of us want to be. Perfectly balanced and absolutely perfect for the 105-degree heat index, this is the beer of the summer for me.

While I was at the Arbor booth, I asked Rene Greff which beer I should try, she immediately recommended this one. “It’s super refreshing for a day like today,” she said. “And Mauj means fun and frolick in Hindi and is the word one of our Indian partners uses for ‘cheers!’.” This fact just made the beer all the more enjoyable.

Other Amazing Offerings

Under the tutelage of brewer Gabi Palmer, Schmohz turns out very reliable, solid beers. This year, the women of Fermenta joined her to make a Mint Chocolate Chip Stout. At first, I doubted the idea of a stout on such a hot day, but I quickly changed my mind as I drank this well balanced beer. It was neither heavy nor syrupy sweet. The chocolate and mint tastes definitely came through, but they accented rather than overwhelmed the beer.

Another refreshing taste came from Griffin Claw’s And So It Goes. The brewery’s own Angie Williams recommended this gose beer, adding that it was brewed as part of the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. When I said that I didn’t want a beer that was too tart, she promised, “It’s got some tartness, but not enough to make your face pucker up.” That turned out to be the perfect description for this well balanced beer. Made with blood oranges, there was just the right hint of salt to add the ideal twang to this wheaty beer.

summer beer fest

Right Brain’s Cake Walk is made with Madagascar vanilla beans and that, like taking the road less traveled, made all the difference in this cream ale. Generally, cream ales are hit or mess for me—some are too heavy and sweet, others seem to have no taste. Right Brain, as usual, hit the perfect spot with this beer.

Pike 51’s Pulp Friction was another home run. I really, really try not to pick a beer based on its name; however, Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favorite movies. Also, I have never been disappointed by a beer from Pike 51, so I figured it was worth a try to see if it lived up to its namesake and to the soul of Marsellus Wallace. The beer was labeled a “fruit beer,” but it was more of a shandy. A lightly malted wheat ale with just enough citrus made it the perfect beer with which to end the very hot festival. The soul of Mr. Wallace can rest easy in that briefcase.

Another summer beer fest comes to a close. But look on the bright side! Only 363 days until the next one!

 

Photography: Erik Smith

great lakes hops and barley conference

Educators from Michigan State University Extension with support from Michigan State University AgBioResearch, and the Michigan Brewers Guild will host the 2nd Annual Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference March 16­-17, 2016 at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Mich.  

New this year, a larger venue has been chosen to accommodate more attendees.  An expanded trade show will also be featured.

Tracks will be offered for beginning hop management, advanced hop management, and barley and malt production. Participants are welcome to move between tracks to catch speakers and topics of interest.

Keynote speaker Fred Bueltmann will launch the conference on Wednesday before participants break into their respective tracks.

Those participating in the hop tracks will hear presentations covering topics including hopyard weed management, sustainable production, downy mildew management, and hop breeding.

Those participating in the barley and malt track will learn about DON management, the potential for winter barley production, and the evolution of malting and rise of the craft malting industry.

Additional presentations will highlight malting barley quality analysis and research conducted throughout Michigan.

Following the presentations, the Michigan Brewers Guild will host a Brewer/Grower networking event highlighting beers produced throughout Michigan. The conference concludes with a tour of MI Local, a new hop farm and processing facility located outside of Traverse City.

Registration is now live for the 2016 conference. To view the complete agenda, review sponsorship or vendor opportunities, or to register, visit here.  

BELLAIRE — Nearly 200 leaders in the state’s craft brewing industry were present at the Michigan Brewers Guild annual conference at Shanty Creek Resort last week, where the inaugural “Tom Burns Award” – recognizing the pioneering spirit of the “Great Beer State” – was presented to Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery.

Bell was one of four nominees for the award — the others being Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales), Fred Bueltmann (New Holland Brewing Co.) and John Linardos (Motor City Brewing Works).

The award was named after Detroit and Mackinac Brewing Company founder and brewer, Tom Burns, who passed away of cancer May 1, 1994. Burns, a “recovering attorney” whose passion was brewing, is credited with many of the advancements in brewing legislation, rules, and regulations in the 1990s which paved the way for a thriving industry which is currently ranked #5 nationally.

“Burns truly was a pioneer for the Michigan brewing industry, and the Guild felt that naming this award after him was a great way to honor Tom as a person, while recognizing his legacy that has been the foundation for the ‘Great Beer State’,” said Eric Briggeman, president of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild.

Briggeman was joined by Priscilla Burns, Tom’s widow, and Tom Brandel, close friend and founder of Tom’s Oyster Bar, for the presentation.

“Each of the four nominees were qualified candidates for this award,” Briggeman said. “Yet, given the fact that Larry holds the oldest ‘microbrewery’ license in Michigan, and he worked very closely with Tom Burns on shaping our state’s brewing legislation in the early 1990s, we felt he was the clear choice as the recipient of this inaugural award.”

Bell’s daughter, Laura, accepted the award on his behalf. “Everyone in this room has been affected by Tom’s efforts back in the nineties. His push for, and success at getting brewpub language adopted in the state laws paved the way for what is now one of the most dynamic brewery scenes in the USA,” she said.

“Though Tom’s life was too short he left an important legacy that we all can honor and that honors us all. I was proud to call him a friend and I am proud of the Guild for honoring him today. So please, let’s raise our glass and toast Tom Burns.”

Bell opened Bell’s Brewery in 1985, with a 15-gallon soup kettle and $200. Since then, he has grown Bell’s into one of the largest regional craft breweries in the country. Bell has been actively involved in the craft beer industry — serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Brewing Studies and as a Board of Directors member for the Association of Brewers. He was also Inaugural President of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild. He currently is active as an Ex-Officio board member of the Beer Institute, as well as a member of the American Malting Barley Association Board of Directors. In 2010, Bell was honored with the Brewer’s Association Recognition Award.

BELLAIRE — Nearly 200 leaders in the state’s craft brewing industry were present at the Michigan Brewers Guild annual conference at Shanty Creek Resort last week, where the inaugural “Tom Burns Award” – recognizing the pioneering spirit of the “Great Beer State” – was presented to Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery.
Bell was one of four nominees for the award — the others being Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales), Fred Bueltmann (New Holland Brewing Co.) and John Linardos (Motor City Brewing Works).
The award was named after Detroit and Mackinac Brewing Company founder and brewer, Tom Burns, who passed away of cancer May 1, 1994. Burns, a “recovering attorney” whose passion was brewing, is credited with many of the advancements in brewing legislation, rules, and regulations in the 1990s which paved the way for a thriving industry which is currently ranked #5 nationally.
“Burns truly was a pioneer for the Michigan brewing industry, and the Guild felt that naming this award after him was a great way to honor Tom as a person, while recognizing his legacy that has been the foundation for the ‘Great Beer State’,” said Eric Briggeman, president of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild.
Briggeman was joined by Priscilla Burns, Tom’s widow, and Tom Brandel, close friend and founder of Tom’s Oyster Bar, for the presentation.
“Each of the four nominees were qualified candidates for this award,” Briggeman said. “Yet, given the fact that Larry holds the oldest ‘microbrewery’ license in Michigan, and he worked very closely with Tom Burns on shaping our state’s brewing legislation in the early 1990s, we felt he was the clear choice as the recipient of this inaugural award.”
Bell’s daughter, Laura, accepted the award on his behalf. “Everyone in this room has been affected by Tom’s efforts back in the nineties. His push for, and success at getting brewpub language adopted in the state laws paved the way for what is now one of the most dynamic brewery scenes in the USA,” she said.
“Though Tom’s life was too short he left an important legacy that we all can honor and that honors us all. I was proud to call him a friend and I am proud of the Guild for honoring him today. So please, let’s raise our glass and toast Tom Burns.”
Bell opened Bell’s Brewery in 1985, with a 15-gallon soup kettle and $200. Since then, he has grown Bell’s into one of the largest regional craft breweries in the country. Bell has been actively involved in the craft beer industry — serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Brewing Studies and as a Board of Directors member for the Association of Brewers. He was also Inaugural President of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild. He currently is active as an Ex-Officio board member of the Beer Institute, as well as a member of the American Malting Barley Association Board of Directors. In 2010, Bell was honored with the Brewer’s Association Recognition Award.

YPSILANTI — As an avid enthusiast of unique and massive brews, the beer list at last weekend’s Michigan Summer Beer Festival had me absolutely giddy with anticipation.

Fortunately, through hours of running through the festival tents like a kid in a candy store, I was able to take notes and collect my thoughts and impressions of the festival and its beers. Having put the puzzle pieces of my notebook and memory back together Sunday, here are my thoughts of this year’s Summer Beer festival.

The Good

Hands down, the brewery with the best showing of the day was Dark Horse Brewing Company. It had six tables at the festival, and every single one of them had something worthwhile. From its sour “Lambeak wants” series, Smells Like Weed IPA (and yes, if you’re wondering, it really does), Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th and Super Juice (essentially a quad-IPA version of its Double Crooked Tree), Dark Horse really stepped up to the plate with the best it had to offer. Regardless of your tastes in beer, Dark Horse had something that would leave you wowed.

I was thoroughly impressed with the way Bell’s Brewery handled its tent. While many breweries opted to simply tap all of their one-off and extreme beers on whim, Bells had a separate kiosk with a set schedule of its unique offerings. This way, you were able to head off wherever you wanted to, knowing that if you wanted a taste of The Oracle or Bourbon Barrel Hell Hath No Fury (incredible beer, a must try if you find it) you knew when to get there.

Another brewery that I thought had a great showing was Jolly Pumpkin out of Dexter. I’m a big fan of its brews, and most of what Jolly Pumpkin brought were unique twists on its regular lineup. In particular, the Calabaza Blanca with Hibiscus, La Roja brewed with whole Michigan cherries and Biere de Mars Grand Reserve. These beers brought the signature JP funk and oak flavors, and added something unique to the mix. I left very happy with JP’s table.

Best of Show

If I had to pick one out of the hundreds of brews brought to this festival that I thought was the clear winner, it would be New Holland Brewing Company’s Rum Barrel-Aged Pilgrim’s Dole Wheatwine. I spent most of the day contemplating which one of the beers I sampled was the best, but my decision became much easier after I tried this beast.

As a lover of barley and wheatwines, I’m no stranger to New Holland’s Pilgrims Dole. I have not, however, ever seen it quite like this.

Aged in New Holland’s own Superior Rum barrels, Pilgrim’s Dole pours a deep copper hue with no head. A nose of massive sticky malts, caramel and rum continue through a coating body of heavy, sweet malts. Rum, vanilla and caramel dominate the flavor, ending in a lingering sweet finish and a light alcohol burn. This absolutely incredible brew blew me away — don’t pass up the chance to try this beer.

The Not So Great

It’s hard to find something to complain about at such an amazing event; nonetheless, there is always something that could have been better. As a resident of Grand Rapids, it’s tough for me to say, but I was disappointed with the showing Founders Brewing Company had this weekend.

Maybe I just expect more from Founders because it has such a massive portfolio and deep cellar, but the brewery didn’t really bring anything all that exciting. I say this with a disclaimer — I love Founders and all of its “run-of-the-mill” beers are some of the best in the country — but I would have liked to see a bit more from it. Aside from Blushing Monk and KBS, everything else there was part of its usual lineup.

I would have loved to see a Kaiser Curmudgeon, Death or Looking Glass — something along those lines. That said, if the “worst” part of my day was Founders bringing its “A” game instead of its “A+” game, that’s a pretty good day.

All in all, the beer fest was an absolutely fantastic day — I would definitely try to get to this event next year. You won’t be disappointed! Cheers!


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