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

Not that long ago, pumpkin spice did not invade every aspect of our society. Oh, sure, there were pumpkin pies, pumpkin muffins, and the occasional pumpkin cheesecake. But one couldn’t get pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin spice Oreos.

Now, of course, that flavor is everywhere—including in our beer. Pumpkin spice signals fall and all of its glories—colorful leaves, football games, warm hoodies, apple cider. Another sure sign of fall is the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Detroit Fall Beer Festival. Along with thousands of others, MittenBrew attended the festival to sample the best fall beers around, as well as to get some expert opinions on the ubiquitous pumpkin spice.

Tri-City Brewing Company featured many non-pumpkin beers, but did release their Scarecrow Spiced Brown on Saturday. Self-described “brewery ninja” at Tri-City, Jay Green, indicated that while he is not a fan of the spice himself, the pumpkin beer is a big seller. But, he adds, “you have to keep it balanced. It has to taste like pumpkin spice, but you’d better taste the base beer underneath. Like any good beer, balance is key.”

Gabi Palmer, head brewer of Schmohz Brewery Company in Grand Rapids, agreed.

“It’s the season for all things pumpkin, but you have to balance it,” she said.

Palmer loves pumpkin spice and recommended Griffin Claw’s  Screaming Pumpkin and Liberty Street’s Punkin’ Pie Ale.

“Both are great examples of well- balanced beers that still give you spice.”

CRAFT Homebrew Club President Tracy Broomfield also loves pumpkin spice.

“I hate this meme that is going around,” Broomfield said as she enjoyed Dark Horse Brewing Company’s Cocoa Bourbon Nibbler. “It says to enjoy pumpkin beer, you should throw it in the trash. Pumpkin spice beer can be great, especially when the brewer restrains herself a little and lets the base beer come through.”

Both pumpkin spice lovers and non-lovers could enjoy plenty of both kinds of beer at the festival. Over 80 breweries featured more than 675 beers for thirsty attendees.

Pumpkin Spice Standouts:

Northville’s North Center Brewing Company’s Headless Horseman Pumpkin Pie Ale, like the examples cited by Palmer, did an excellent job of providing a taste of the pumpkin spice but not overpowering the beer. Truly tasted like pumpkin pie in fermented form.

Muskegon’s Unruly Brewing Company came through with an excellent pumpkin beer called Punk’n’Rock. The real pumpkin taste stood out, but not to the exclusion of the tasty spices.

Shelby Township’s Sherwood Brewing Company featured its Smoked Pumpkin Porter. The addition of smoked pumpkin gave this dry porter a wonderful taste.

Non Pumpkin Spice Standouts:

There is a reason that Tri-City’s Brownhoist has won three gold medals at the World Expo of Beer—it’s a darn fine brown ale. Some browns tend to taste like plain beer, the malts being hidden under adjuncts or too many hops. Not this beer. It is a creamy blend of five grains and two hops, resulting in a creamy mouthfeel and smooth finish.

Lansing’s Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale had a huge winner in their Hazed and Confused coffee brown ale. One of my friends described it as “Nutella in a glass.” I took a drink and said, “Yes. If Nutella actually tasted good.” So just the fact that a Nutella fan and non-fan can agree should indicate how terrific this beer is.

Milford’s River’s Edge Brewing Company featured a beer called Karate Bonfire, a coconut vanilla stout. Sometimes vanilla beers taste like a bottle of vanilla extract. This beer, however, perfectly married coconut, vanilla, and coffee. Warm as a bonfire, but much tastier.

South Lyon’s Witch’s Brewing Company treated us to its Furious Ginger. This milk stout was aged in bourbon barrels and spiced with ginger and peppers. Would it be cheesy to say that one could not possibly be furious after drinking this wonderful beer? Too bad, because I am saying it anyway.

As always, the Fall Beer Festival had something for everyone—Oktoberfests to stouts to smoked porters to IPAs and yes, plenty of pumpkin spice. Maybe the pumpkin spice invasion isn’t such a bad thing after all.

For a complete recap of the fifth annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival, click hereTo view part one of our favorite beers from the fifth annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival, click here.

Brewery Ferment 45th Parallale: Brewery Ferment is a fairly young operation based out of Traverse City. One of their flagship brews, the 45th Parallale is light, crisp and slightly hoppy, This American Pale Ale has a nice, earthy hop up front, with a slightly sweet citrusy aftertaste. A nice, drinkable beer that could be enjoyed again and again.

Kuhnhenn Kürbis Sour Imperial Pumpkin Ale: Available only during the Michigan Brewers Guild Beer Enthusiast hour (take note, those on the fence about becoming Enthusiast members), this brew created with the second runnings of All Hallows Ale stood out as the most interesting beer of the festival. Advertised as 12.25% ABV, it was light bodied enough to sip like it was less than half that. The spices – including nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon – dominated the nose, but upon tasting faded into a well balanced blend of sour tartness and honey sweetness. The overall effect reminded of mulled wine.

Short’s Bourbon Hammer Jack: An outstanding and quite boozy barrel aged offering by Short’s. This is a strong winter scotch ale with sweet notes and malty body. Very thick palate and very bourbony upfront with the aroma. This high ABV brew clocks in at around 9%. Although it’s typically a pub exclusive, there is no doubt this one will warm your bones during the fall and winter.

Arbor Harvest Ale: This barrel aged, dry-hopped IPA delivered the full piney fragrance of fresh, locally grown Chinook hops along with a palate-pleasing balance of spicy bitterness and mildly toasted malt flavors. An impressive exemplar of what’s possible through the rapidly developing Michigan-grown hop scene.

The Livery FramBam Wild Ale: Barrel aged with raspberries, this tart delight stood out even from The Livery’s other solid offerings, which included several barrel aged brews. FramBam melded the raspberry fruitiness with oaky and bitter notes for a surprisingly dry and satisfying finish.

Odd Side Ales Bean Flicker Blonde: The draft version of this modified blonde was just as tasty as the bottle version. Coffee aroma dominates the nose and the consistency is smooth with a surprising clean body. This brew blends the best of both worlds with its light mouthfeel and stout qualities. For those who don’t like heavy stouts but appreciate the look and aroma, this one’s for you.

Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th Imperial Stout: OK, nothing new here obviously. But is there anything wrong with sticking to an old stand-by? BBPt5 is one of if not the best bourbon-barrel stouts around. Smooth, dark, creamy and strong. In a time where everything is being thrown into a barrel, Dark Horse is still showing how it’s supposed to be done. Damn-near perfection.

Compiled by Erik Hart, Mike D’Orazio and David Bardallis.

DETROIT — For the fifth year, Eastern Market played host to one of the largest all-Michigan beer festivals.

The Detroit Fall Beer Festival, presented by the Michigan Brewers Guild, was held Friday and Saturday, including almost 450 beers from over 60 Michigan breweries.

For five solid hours, heavily layered Michigan craft beer enthusiasts — some even dressed in Halloween garb — descended upon the tasting. They came prepared to hand their tokens over for some of the finest craft being poured in the heart of the Motor City.

Matt Cebula, Sales Manager for Atwater Brewery, said bringing people down to Detroit is a huge goal and accomplishment.

“This [festival] is the one that’s most important to us because our main goal is to let people know that beer is thriving in Detroit,” he said. “There are reasons to come down to the city other than a baseball or football game.”

Atwater came stocked with its normal roster of beers and also brought some single batch series beers, released once every two months.

Metro Detroit brewery Sherwood Brewing Co. also felt the pride associated with having the fall beer fest in its backyard.

“I grew up in Detroit so for me, the city’s always got my heart,” said Ray Sherwood, Owner of Sherwood Brewing Co. “Even though we’re way out in the suburbs, we love being able to bring people down to the city and to Eastern Market.

With so many breweries in attendance, festival-goers had plenty of variety to choose from.

Marshall-based Dark Horse Brewery came to the party with a slightly smaller list than usual this year, but still brought some non-flagship goodies for everyone.

“Right now we have a specialty on top called Top Fuel,” said Trent Thurston, Cellarman at Dark Horse. “It’s a collaboration we did with Local Option out of Chicago. They come over, they brew with us. We just did another one with them and we infused almost 200 pounds of tea.”

Dustin Jones, Head of Fermentology at Brewery Ferment, said the fall beer fest is rounding out the brewery’s first full season of festivals.

“We’re learning over the course of the festival what people want and how much to bring. And it seems to be weird stuff,” he said. “They want to try something new and different and things they can’t necessarily find on a regular basis or in a bottle.”

Brewery Ferment’s 45th Parallale seemed to be a huge hit even with other breweries.

“It’s all local hops and a simple recipe. But we run it through a dry hop vac all the time. Even at the festivals,” Jones said. “We’re right here next to Greenbush and the brewers there are obsessed with it. They cannot get enough. They are going around telling other people that they need to try it, which is about the biggest compliment you can get.”

The weather held out for the enthusiast crowd for nearly the entire festival, with exception of the last half hour. As the clouds hovered over and rain started pouring down, people ran for shelter in the tents and tried to cozy up to the kegs for after-hour pours.

The festival wasn’t strictly dedicated to those with tokens in their hands. According to Jones, the event also holds great significance for the ones behind the magical fermentation.

“We’re constantly making connections with other people at other places. And that’s why I love coming to festivals personally,” he said. “This is where collaborations start. This is where innovation happens. And that’s more or less why I’m in this industry and why I love it so much.”

We interview brewers from around Michigan, asking them what their favorite beer was at the 2012 Detroit Fall Beer Festival.

More Detroit Fall Beer Festival coverage:

Clouds were hovering. Wind was whipping. People were bundled. Lines were long.

But none of those things stopped Michigan craft beer enthusiasts from visiting Eastern Market in Detroit on Saturday, for the fourth annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival.

Bags of tokens were passed out to patrons whose pretzel necklaces were waiting to cleanse the pallets of those wearing them.

Winter hats on heads and gloves covering the hands holding three ounce samples of beer.

Then, the sun poked its head out and shined on festival-goers at Shed 5. And all was right with the world.

Out of 50 Michigan craft breweries and over 300 beers to choose from, here were my personal favorites.

Best Bourbon Beer: Dark Horse Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the 5th Imperial Stout

Definitely not your average find-it-at-the-party-store-and-pick-some-up-for-a-night-of-drinking stout. Imperials don’t get much better than this when it comes to bourbon barrel aged.

Best Pumpkin Beer: Wolverine State Brewing Co. Curcibita Smiles Pumpkin Spiced Lager

Big pumpkin flavor with great fall spice and a subtle vanilla finish. The balance of the beer was on point with the best of the best when it comes to pumpkin brews.

Biggest Beer List: Greenbush Brewing Co.

With over 30 beers listed, Greenbush had the biggest selection and not to mention the longest line. The Rage Double Black IPA (14.6% ABV) was outstanding. After that, I got impatient and the line became too much.

Best Beer Name: Traffic Jam & Snug Festivus Oktoberfest

Naming your beer Festivus? How could you go wrong with that? The answer is you can’t.

Beer I Wanted To Try But Didn’t: Greenbush Brewing Co. Distorter Porter over Habanero and Vanilla Bean Firkin 

One side of me said, “This sounds delicious.” The other side of me said, “You don’t like habaneros!”

Other Enjoyable Beers:

  • Dark Horse Homobourbon Sapien Trip Ale Oak Age Cherry Ale
  • Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. Final Response Ale American Barley Wine

Beers That Missed the Mark:

  • Short’s Brewing Co. Bourbon Dirty Bird Barrel Aged India Brown Ale
  • Mt. Pleasant Brewing Co. Season of the Witch Pumpkin Ale

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