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GRAND RAPIDS – After almost exactly two years in the works, the owners of Harmony Brewing Company opened their massive new restaurant and brewery, Harmony Hall, Oct. 6.

A steady flow of patrons filled, but did not crowd, the new space on its first day.

Harmony Hall has two floors of seating, 24 taps, and a menu full of different varieties of sausage. Its design is influenced by the building’s previous occupants, making for eclectic decor.

“We’re trying to honor not only the neighborhood, but the history of this building itself,” said Barry VanDyke, co-owner of Harmony Brewing Company.

The building’s exterior is painted to look classically Bavarian, which calls back to its origins as the Rauser Quality Sausage Factory. Brightly colored sculptures and original art from Little Mexico, the building’s last restaurant, adorn the first floor. The VanDykes have affectionately named it “The Monster Room.”

But Harmony’s style embodies its name—there’s nothing discordant about the German and Mexican influences in the decor.

Harmony Hall’s brewery, which is three times the size of the original system in Eastown, is also on the ground floor. Large windows frame the equipment for passers by on the street to admire.

The new system has twice the brewing capacity and three times the fermentation capacity. It will be used to produce Harmony’s mainstays.

“[Eastown] is where we’re going to do the smaller, more idiosyncratic batches of beer,” said Jackson VanDyke, co-owner of Harmony Brewing Company.

The new equipment enables Harmony to make Lagers, which require more temperature control than Harmony could previously accomplish. Harmony Hall will also be putting out more barrel aged brews. Right now, Jackson VanDyke says they’re preparing for a tequila barrel-aged Imperial Red IPA.

A walk upstairs leads to the main restaurant and beer hall, which feels simultaneously familiar and brand new. The open space is huge and has windows on every side; it isn’t as intimate as Harmony’s Eastown space. But it’s bedecked with potted greenery, lacquered wood, a pussy willow chandelier, and a giant Woosah mural. It’s still Harmony, but it’s Harmony on German-themed steroids.

The new space will be much more friendly for larger groups, said Harmony Employee Brian DenBoer. The view out of the front windows sweetens the deal even more.

“That’s what I’m most excited for, I think,” said DenBoer. “To have lunch with a friend and sit in front of the cityscape out there on a nice day. Get a little sun on your face.”

 

The sausages on the menu are diverse in inspiration. French, Korean, Creole, and German are just a few of the styles offered. DenBoer’s favorite is the Bulgogi, a Korean barbecue beef and pork sausage.

“The food here is amazing,” he said.

For now, a sit-down sausage lunch or dinner is what patrons will get at Harmony Hall, but Barry VanDyke says “phase two” of the expansion will entail sausage sold for retail out of the Monster Room.

WEST OLIVE – As he relaxed in an adirondack chair, sipping a cold Michigan beer, taking in the aroma of the nearby Lake Michigan and the crackling campfire in front of him, Bill Rogers made an important decision about next fall: he was returning to the Lakeshore Brew Fest at Camp Blodgett.

“I like the environment. I am thrilled. I will be back next year,” the Marysville resident said, noting he’d never been to a West Michigan beer festival before. “You’re out in the open. Fresh air. It’s comfortable. Very comfortable.”

His friend, Chris Graw, said he hadn’t poured out a beer yet, something he couldn’t say about every festival he’s attended.

“This is sweet,” he said, holding up a half-filled pint glass, listening to a live opening band playing chill music that echoed off the tall pines and historic buildings at the 94-year-old camp located in West Olive. “This is sweet.”

Hundreds flooded the camp, which features stunning views of Lake Michigan, on a sunny Saturday afternoon for the third annual event. The Lakeshore Brew Fest featured beers and ciders from well-known locals such as New Holland Brewing and Vander Mill Ciders in addition to notable newcomers such as Dutch Girl Brewery in Spring Lake, Trail Point Brewing Company in Allendale, and Farmhaus Cider Co. in Hudsonville.

Event organizers focused on keeping the event lakeshore-specific to make it more unique, said Tim Duflo, a Camp Blodgett board member serving Odd Side Ales beer.

The Lakeshore Brew Fest is an important fundraiser for the camp, which serves disadvantaged youth in Ottawa and Kent counties with summer camps and year-round, after-school programming.

Josh Beard of Holland, an avid Michigan beer festival fan, said he thought the vibe and fundraising component of the festival were appealing.

“It’s good. It’s chill,” he said. “And you’re supporting a good cause.”

As acoustic alternative and Americana band Leonum took the stage, festival attendees continued to enjoy the backyard cookout feel, playing with a huge wooden Jenga set and competing in cornhole, with beers in hand of course.

One cider on tap was Brunch (6.9% ABV) from Farmhaus Cider Co. The smooth, dry cider had a distinct maple syrup aftertaste that would make it ideal for drinking earlier in the day.

On the beer side, Henry Lee (8.9% ABV) from Trail Point Brewing Company received such positive reviews that some craft beer fans were recommending it to people passing by. The dark, old Strong Ale  features highlights of caramel, toffee, and dried fruit.

Self-proclaimed beer snobs, Diane Covault and Sharon Brown of Allegan, brought Brittany Covault along to the event. Brittany Covault said Totally Roasted (6.9% ABV) of Vander Mill Ciders was her favorite drink, while Diane Covault and Brown were pleased to try Trail Point Brewing Company for the first time.

The women said the Lakeshore Brew Fest glass they received with admission made the experience much more enjoyable than festivals with just a plastic cup.

“We really do appreciate having a glass,” Diane Covault said. “Beer is better out of a glass.”

GRAND RAPIDS – Once upon a time, gender roles were very clearly divided—women gathered, men hunted. Later, women tended to the home while men toiled in the fields or factories. And once upon a time, part of the duties in the home included brewing beer. Women brewed for farmhands, for families, for themselves. When beer brewing moved out of the home and into the workplace, women relinquished the role of brewer but times, as they say, are changing.

Since July 2015, Gabi Palmer has been the head brewer at Grand Rapids’s Schmohz Brewery. Schmohz opened in December 2004 and has the unique distinction of including graduates of Michigan Tech in almost every facet of the operation, including Palmer.

After graduating from Michigan Tech with a degree in Mechanical Design, Palmer’s career went “all over place.” She worked in computer-aided drafting at Ford and then freelanced for about 10 years.

“I traveled all over the world until I ended up back in Michigan,” said Palmer. “I worked for a [large, corporate cable company] until I realized that I would rather live in a box than work there one more day.” That realization led her to a job with Adventures in Homebrewing.

Palmer enjoyed the job.

“After I’d worked there awhile, some friends suggested that I should submit my resume to breweries. In fact, they threatened to get nasty with me if I didn’t!”

Having been a homebrewer since 1995, Palmer got to work on her resume and gave it to a friend at Ford, who gave it to her coworker, Jim Schwerin.

Turns out that Schwerin not only has a full-time job at Ford Motor Company, but he also co-owns Schmohz with his wife, Laurie. This is what people do for beer, folks—they work all week and then drive to Grand Rapids on the weekends to brew beer at their brewpub.  

About a month later, the Schwerins decided that they wanted to add an assistant brewer and Jim Schwerin knew he wanted Palmer.

“We would bottle on Fridays, brew on Saturdays, clean up on Sunday,” Palmer said. “Jim was the head brewer, and I was his assistant. Then he added more responsibilities to my job and I got a promotion to ‘brewer.’ At the end of July, he came up to me and said he was thinking about having me take over all of the brewing responsibilities.” Palmer didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.

Palmer said that everyone in the industry has been “awesome, especially in Grand Rapids.Everyone has been friendly and welcoming.”

Palmer is a member of the trade group, Fermenta, which supports women who are involved in the craft beverage industry.

“I landed at the right spot and I couldn’t ask for a better place,” said Palmer. “My hand is in the beer from the brewing to the carbonation to transferring to bottling to labeling.I’m involved from the very beginning until it goes out the door.”

For those who want to follow in her footsteps, she added, “You will put in a lot of hours, and you are going to be wet and sticky, and 90% of the job is cleaning tanks and kegs, but what a job it is! I don’t know of any other place where I could have this kind of experience!”

Palmer’s creativity has been rewarded in the beers she brews.

“They’ve never said no to any idea I’ve had,” Gabi said. Some of her favorites are the Zombie Pumpkin Ale, Stumbling Monk Belgian PA, Gingerbread Brown Ale, and the Jack of Spades Indian Black Ale.  

The Schwerins agree.

“She has been a godsend,” Laurie Schwerin said. “She has made our lives so much easier…we will do anything to keep her happy!”

Once upon a time, gender roles were divided and women stopped being the brewers. But now, women like Gabi Palmer are brewing up beer along with the men, and we will all live happily ever after.

I recently moved to the great state of Wyoming and one of my biggest fears was missing Michigan craft beer. Not one Michigan brewery distributes in Wyoming, and my only saving grace was the state just eight miles south. When I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, though, what excited me most was being able to once again taste home.

 Arriving at the festival, I headed straight to the Founders Brewing Company booth, almost exactly opposite the media entrance. To my surprise, the line was already backed up to the booth across the aisle. Although the beer festival had just started, it was clear that Founders beer was in demand. Its a common name in the craft beer industry, but there are not many times us Westerners are able to get it.

 While my husband and I were there for Rubaeus and Backwoods Bastard, many festival goers were there for the limited release Imperial Red Ale, reDANKulous, gold medal award winner of its category it was gone before the last session was finished.

 The legendary, rare Founders KBS, named RateBeer.coms 2014 Best Beer in Americamade an appearance at the festival as well, if you knew where to go. While the Founders booth did not have it, the Michigan Brewers Guild did, along with several other Michigan favorites.

 Our second stop was right around the corner, Shorts Brewing Company, with a line as wide as their booth and then back a ways. People knew them, and it wasnt just other Michiganians such as myself.

 As I perched myself on the side of the booth to grab some photos, a man beside me was mingling with the Shorts representatives and discussing how great their beer was. One of my first thoughts was that he must be from Michigan, but to my surprise, he told me that he was from Denver. He just knew what Shorts was and was there to soak up each experimental beer in their line-up.

 I love beers that stimulate my palate in a different way, Andy Coyle said. Shorts beers, I think, create your palate it is evolving as you taste the different flavors.

 Experimental beers are Shorts expertise, bringing home a silver medal in the category this year for Melt My Brain, a gin and tonic inspired experimental Golden Ale. Other beers they featured in their lineup included Bloody Beer, which won a silver medal in Experimental Beer in 2009, and Key Lime Pie, which won a gold medal in Experimental Beer in 2010 and 2014.

 We kind of thrive in that area,Founder Joe Short said in a press release. Like many of our beers, they are developed from many different inspirations.

 Neither Shorts nor Founders are strangers to GABF, but many of the Michigan breweries made their first appearance at GABF in 2015.

 Its the coolest thing, Michael Biddick from Saugatuck Brewing Company said about attending the festival for the first time. People from everywhere are here to taste your beer. We get to try everyone elses beer, too. Its like youre traveling the U.S. in one big room.

 Mitten Brewing Companys Wob Wanhatalo admitted that he was somewhat new to the brewing industry in comparison to some of his colleagues but that his experience as a first timer was enlightening.

 Bookwriters, homebrewers, legends are all here and are trying our beers and giving us feedback, Wanhatalo said.

 While its nice having Colorado close by with some of the best breweries in the country, GABF proved that Michigan beer, while not distributed in the area, are still very much relevant in the craft brewing industry not that I have ever doubted that. This year, Michigan took home six medals total, but what spoke most to Michigan success in craft brewing was the popularity surrounding each booth and the longing for the beer many of these people may only get to have just once a year.

 To view the complete list of 2015 GABF winners, visit https://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/winners/.

I’ve been here several evenings, and each time I was greeted with friendly conversation from Justin Buiter and Gim Lee, the owners, a packed bar, and fine beer. Railtown Brewing Company may be a little out of the way for the beer slingers and sippers of the booming Grand Rapids, Michigan beer scene, but for those of you looking to remember what a small craft beer movement looks and feels like, sit yourself down at Railtown Brewing Company and enjoy your way through some solid examples of the delicious cerveza.

 

Bike Ride Blonde

5.9% ABV

20 IBU’s

Golden and trimmed with a web of lacing, the Bike Ride Blonde isn’t just a solid “gateway” beer for the new craft drinker. This brew is a pleasant entry for anyone looking to refresh themselves with a well balanced blonde that can lend itself well to plenty of food-pairing options.

The beer has the faintest hint of fruit aroma in the nose from the contribution of a top fermenting yeast, as well as a soothing malt quality that lends notes of cracker to both the nose and flavor. I might as well get picky here and note that the nose has an aroma of a cracker that got toasted a bit more thoroughly than the others.

The hops offer next to nothing in the aroma but pick back up oh-so-subtly in the flavor and create an immaculate balancing effect for the body and finish. Those fruity esters? They’ve popped back in again for one last hurrah in the finish. Remember, though, that these esters are very subtle. I wouldn’t ever describe this as being a fruit-forward beer. This brew is right on style.

 

Citra Warrior Imperial IPA

9.6% ABV

108 IBU’s

This brew is rust in color with a yellow-tinted, bone-white head. I love attention to detail, and the bartender made sure to pour my sampler in a snifter so I can assess everything that much better. This act gives me warm fuzzies every time.

The aroma smells as if someone is ripping open dozens of citra hops and smooshing them on my nose. I get a hint of grape-nut like malt, but honestly it’s just those hops that really do the talking.

Mouthfeel for IPAs usually becomes a tough topic for me because of my frustration with grisly bitterness. This DIPA is surprisingly smooth, flavorful, and gives a nice wallop of hop bitterness while never approaching abrasive. The soft and creamy character of the beer makes it feel like clouds on my tongue. The finish offers flavors of orange rind citrus, grape nuts, and a bold sort of resin note.

This is a dynamite brew that keeps intensity and flavor intact.

 

Good Mooed Milk Stout

4.5% ABV

27 IBU’s

I’m greeted by a dark brown brew with a tan head and an initial flavor of coffee. Is this brewed with coffee? No, but that roasted malt is rearing its head and creating a big stroke of roastiness amidst the hint of sweet lactose sugar. To be honest, I expected more sweetness and creaminess from that sugar. Not that I’m disappointed, but it would be harder for me to discern this as being a milk stout if it was in a blind flight.

The flavors include bitter dark chocolate notes mixed with that hint of lactose sugar along with big bold notes of burnt bread crust and a whole lotta coffee. Tastes like my dark roast coffee that edges towards a baker’s chocolate-like quality.

Finishing this brew I find notes of roasty bitterness in the finish, as expected, and an increasing need for food. This beer is just begging for a meal to pair it with. There are pizza joints nearby as sources of nourishment, and I’d reckon that a pie loaded with meats like sausage would be just prime with this brew.

 

WarleyBine

10% ABV

62.2 IBU’s

Cloudy and a muddy burnt-amber color, this big and bold beer offers generous aromas of fig, caramel, overripe strawberry, prune, a touch of earthiness, and a reminder of Sugar Daddy candy.

The mouthfeel consists of a creamy beer and morphs itself into one of balancing acidity. It works its way into a dry finish that leaves a hint of alcohol warmth and a background kind of bitterness that grows subtly over time before the next sip.

I love barleywines. They are some of my absolute favorite styles and the fact that Railtown went the “traditional” malt-forward route with their beer is so wonderful. The brew is well balanced but still lets you know that it packs a punch. It’s bold without being cloying and I am certainly interested in drinking this handy guy alone or with food. Actually, I sure as hell hope they continue making it into the winter because I imagine myself sipping this as I get flush in the face during some holiday parties.

Railtown has hit a sweet spot for me, and I’m glad I get to share my experience there with all of you. Besides, now I can acquire more drinking companions for the next time I visit.

GRAND RAPIDS – Sample unique beer varieties while walking among the dead at Calder Plaza this fall; Zombie Beer Fest is moving its tasty and macabre festivities downtown. Beer City Festivals and Fermenta have teamed up to host an all-Michigan roster of breweries, cider producers, spirits, and more on Oct. 17 from 4-8 p.m.

In addition to enjoying over one hundred styles of Michigan beer, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a costume contest, listen to live music, play games, and take photos at a free photo booth.

General admission tickets are going for $39 and VIP tickets—which get you an hour early admission and five additional drink tickets—are going for $49. Purchase them online only at beercityfestivals.com

Part of the proceeds from the event will be going to Fermenta, a nonprofit group founded by Michigan women who support diversity, camaraderie, networking, and education in the craft beer industry. The funds they receive will support their scholarships.

 

COMSTOCK PARK – On Saturday afternoon, Perrin Brewing Company celebrated its third anniversary. A huge blue and white striped tent, adorned with hundreds of hops vines, was pitched in the back lot of Perrin Brewing Company in Comstock Park. Several vendors, including live glass blowers from Sacred Expressions, and a grassy field dedicated to cornhole tournaments rounded out the venue.

Amid the persistent thump thump thump-ing of beanbags on cornhole boards, one enthusiastic attendee at Perrin Brewing’s Backyard Beer Bash summed up the experience:

“It is a hell of a nice day, the music is fantastic, and it seems like everytime I turn around, they are tapping another firkin. It’s awesome,” said Jacob from Grand Rapids.

Inside the tent, a stage hosted a wide range of musical acts, covering everything from brass to bluegrass. Seven artists took the stage, including Gabriel’s Brass Band out of Detroit and Grand Rapids’ Fauxgrass. A varied selection of Perrin brews was available—standards as well as specialties. Eleven tappings occurred roughly every hour and included the Russian Imperial Stout Kill Em’ All, Roeselare, a sour released earlier this spring, two hops variations of 98 Problems IPA (one with Green Bullet hops, the other with Citra), a Perrin Black firkin with vanilla beans and smoked chocolate chips, and a tequila barrel-aged Veteran’s Pale Ale called Sheer Madness.

DETROIT – An homage to traditional German beer, food, and music was served up at Batch Brewing Company in Detroit this past weekend. Many guests donned Dirndl and Lederhosen as they drank from commemorative beer steins at the brewery’s first Oktoberfest celebration.

“We have a lot of love for German beer, and this is the time of year that you get to worship at that altar,” said Stephen Roginson, Founder and Head Brewer at Batch Brewing Company.

Roginson, inspired by a 2010 trip to Munich’s Oktoberfest, set out to create an alter ego for the brewery for the duration of the festival. The transformation into Batch Brauerei was complete with themed decor, a take on Oktoberfest food by Chef Matt Johnson, and four German-style beers on tap: a Fest Bier, Dunkel, Hefeweizen, and Kolsch.

One hundred forty tickets were pre-sold for each day, and the brewery saw 300 people in attendance on Saturday, and 225 people on Sunday. Ticket-holders began their celebration as early as 1 p.m. and carried on until the festival closed at 1 a.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday.

Fest-goers gathered outside the brewery in a large beer tent that was decked out in Bavarian blue and white decor. They dined on a traditional menu of Bavarian pretzels, roast chicken, spaetzle with Gruyere cheese, sauerkraut, and spiral sliced radishes. In addition to a meal, ticket-holders received a commemorative one-liter stein and a fill-up of their choice.

Dick Wagner & Die Rhinelander band provided a soundtrack of lively German classics throughout both days, and a DJ carried the party atmosphere late into the night.

Though the weekend’s celebration is over, Batch will host an Oktoberfest Stein Club through Oct. 2, offering stein fills at a reduced cost for those who purchased traditional glassware at the festival.

As for next year, Roginson hinted at plans for a bigger celebration.

“I am excited for how Oktoberfest will be developing in Detroit for the broader beer community,” he said.