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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.

DETROIT – “This is amazing. I’m used to festivals with maybe 20 breweries, two of which are Budweiser or Miller.”

The guy speaking stood before me, dressed in a red ball cap and sweatshirt with a large “N,” denoting where he recently moved from — Nebraska. In contrast to his native Cornhusker State’s beer events, the festival we were at — the sixth annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival — sported more than 75 breweries serving nearly 700 beers, all of them from right here in Michigan.

It was a timely reminder of what Michigan craft beer lovers are sometimes tempted to take for granted: we are blessed with a large, diverse array of great local brews that is the envy of most any other state in the union. Here are a few of the more interesting ones I sampled over the festive weekend, including several that confounded my expectations.

Got Their Claws in Me

Apridisiac Sour Apricot Amber Ale, Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Griffin Claw Brewing Co. (Birmingham)

Cool story, bro: last month I attended a beer dinner with Griffin Claw head brewer Dan Rogers, who told the story of how he transitioned from chef to brewer during his days in Las Vegas in the 1990s. It turns out I drank his beer at the now defunct Holy Cow Microbrewery during my one and only trip to Sin City in 1996. Happily for me and the rest of Michigan, Rogers is back home and turning out some amazing brews including Apridisiac, a hay-colored, medium-bodied ale that delivers sweet and sour apricot jam and marmalade notes with a mild funky finish. Of greatest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin, which combined three of my least favorite fads into one beer.

Livin’ on the Edge

Ctrl+Alt+Del Altbier, River’s Edge Brewing Co. (Milford)

I have yet to make the trip to River’s Edge, which opened just this past summer, but the buzz around its beers has been consistently good. This is no doubt due to the shrewd decision to bring Michigan brewing veteran Kim Schneider (formerly of Traverse City’s North Peak, among others) on board as head brewer. Ctrl+Alt+Del is fashioned as a traditional Northern German altbier, with a light malt flavor, balanced nicely by Spalt hops and a crisp, satisfying finish. Not to mention, it has a great name.

Goodd Beerr

Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter, Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing Co. (Kalamazoo)

Longtime brewer of both the home and pro variety Greg “Gonzo” Haner finally put his extensive Siebel Institute training to its ultimate use in 2013 when he opened Gonzo’s BiggDogg in Kalamazoo. Despite my reservations about the brewery’s silly name, the beers are top notch, especially the Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter, a robust, chocolatey brew with vanilla notes highlighted by the bourbon character, all smoothed out with a pleasantly silky mouthfeel.

Gravitas

440 Pepper Smoker, Barrel Aged Rye-Headed Stepchild, Original Gravity Brewing Co. (Milan)

The first time I had 440 Pepper Smoker on tap, I knew I had finally found a pepper-flavored beer I could get behind. The toasty amber malt notes are accentuated with just enough jalapeno heat to leave you with a slow burn and a thirst for another pint. The Rye-Headed Stepchild brought a brilliant balance of ginger and rye malt spiciness, overlaid with complex, woody notes from the whiskey barrel.

Hops and Oats

Oats ’N Hoes Imperial IPA, Unruly Brewing Co. (Muskegon)

Another surprise for me was Oats ’N Hoes, an imperial IPA from relative newcomer Unruly Brewing, the brainchild of homebrewer-turned-pro Eric Hoffman. Hoffman’s known for brewing beers with copious amounts of hops, and this rendition of the 8.1% ABV bitter bomb was all the more hoppy for being pushed through a Randall of, if memory serves, fresh Chinook and Simcoe cones. The malt backbone (which included flaked oats) held up nicely against even this much hoppiness. I’m not normally a fan of these types of beers (or even Simcoe hops in general), but this one managed to hit the spot. The name is apparently a reference to a rap parody by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly that I’m not hip (hop) enough to have seen.

Beer Garden

Dandelion Rhubarb Saison, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter)

Head brewer and founder Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin is known both for making some pretty funktastic wild ales as well as experimenting with various leafy green ingredients. His Dandelion Rhubarb Saison featured the well known Jolly Pumpkin sour profile, but topped it off with a counterbalance of earthy, vegetal notes. Dee-licious and gone too soon.

The Ones That Got Away

Two beers I wanted to try included Brewery Vivant’s Paris — a saison fermented with brettanomyces and aged in red wine barrels — and Bourbon Barrel Territorial Baltic Porter — a collaboration between Liberty Street and Witch’s Hat, named for a road that runs between Plymouth and South Lyon, where the two breweries are respectively located. A number of people enthusiastically recommended these beers, but I never quite got to them. Sad face.

There were, of course, many other amazing beers deserving of mention. But just like beer festivals, where time is limited, so is the word count for articles recapping them.

In the meantime, get ready for the next great Michigan Brewers Guild fest, the 10th annual Winter Beer Festival, now two days long — Feb. 27-28, 2015 — in Grand Rapids.  Tickets go on sale Dec. 4 (with pre-sale for Enthusiast members Dec. 2-3). See mibeer.com to buy online.

DETROIT – “This is amazing. I’m used to festivals with maybe 20 breweries, two of which are Budweiser or Miller.”
The guy speaking stood before me, dressed in a red ball cap and sweatshirt with a large “N,” denoting where he recently moved from — Nebraska. In contrast to his native Cornhusker State’s beer events, the festival we were at — the sixth annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival — sported more than 75 breweries serving nearly 700 beers, all of them from right here in Michigan.
It was a timely reminder of what Michigan craft beer lovers are sometimes tempted to take for granted: we are blessed with a large, diverse array of great local brews that is the envy of most any other state in the union. Here are a few of the more interesting ones I sampled over the festive weekend, including several that confounded my expectations.

Got Their Claws in Me

Apridisiac Sour Apricot Amber Ale, Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Griffin Claw Brewing Co. (Birmingham)
Cool story, bro: last month I attended a beer dinner with Griffin Claw head brewer Dan Rogers, who told the story of how he transitioned from chef to brewer during his days in Las Vegas in the 1990s. It turns out I drank his beer at the now defunct Holy Cow Microbrewery during my one and only trip to Sin City in 1996. Happily for me and the rest of Michigan, Rogers is back home and turning out some amazing brews including Apridisiac, a hay-colored, medium-bodied ale that delivers sweet and sour apricot jam and marmalade notes with a mild funky finish. Of greatest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin, which combined three of my least favorite fads into one beer.

Livin’ on the Edge

Ctrl+Alt+Del Altbier, River’s Edge Brewing Co. (Milford)
I have yet to make the trip to River’s Edge, which opened just this past summer, but the buzz around its beers has been consistently good. This is no doubt due to the shrewd decision to bring Michigan brewing veteran Kim Schneider (formerly of Traverse City’s North Peak, among others) on board as head brewer. Ctrl+Alt+Del is fashioned as a traditional Northern German altbier, with a light malt flavor, balanced nicely by Spalt hops and a crisp, satisfying finish. Not to mention, it has a great name.

Goodd Beerr

Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter, Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing Co. (Kalamazoo)
Longtime brewer of both the home and pro variety Greg “Gonzo” Haner finally put his extensive Siebel Institute training to its ultimate use in 2013 when he opened Gonzo’s BiggDogg in Kalamazoo. Despite my reservations about the brewery’s silly name, the beers are top notch, especially the Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter, a robust, chocolatey brew with vanilla notes highlighted by the bourbon character, all smoothed out with a pleasantly silky mouthfeel.

Gravitas

440 Pepper Smoker, Barrel Aged Rye-Headed Stepchild, Original Gravity Brewing Co. (Milan)
The first time I had 440 Pepper Smoker on tap, I knew I had finally found a pepper-flavored beer I could get behind. The toasty amber malt notes are accentuated with just enough jalapeno heat to leave you with a slow burn and a thirst for another pint. The Rye-Headed Stepchild brought a brilliant balance of ginger and rye malt spiciness, overlaid with complex, woody notes from the whiskey barrel.

Hops and Oats

Oats ’N Hoes Imperial IPA, Unruly Brewing Co. (Muskegon)
Another surprise for me was Oats ’N Hoes, an imperial IPA from relative newcomer Unruly Brewing, the brainchild of homebrewer-turned-pro Eric Hoffman. Hoffman’s known for brewing beers with copious amounts of hops, and this rendition of the 8.1% ABV bitter bomb was all the more hoppy for being pushed through a Randall of, if memory serves, fresh Chinook and Simcoe cones. The malt backbone (which included flaked oats) held up nicely against even this much hoppiness. I’m not normally a fan of these types of beers (or even Simcoe hops in general), but this one managed to hit the spot. The name is apparently a reference to a rap parody by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly that I’m not hip (hop) enough to have seen.

Beer Garden

Dandelion Rhubarb Saison, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter)
Head brewer and founder Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin is known both for making some pretty funktastic wild ales as well as experimenting with various leafy green ingredients. His Dandelion Rhubarb Saison featured the well known Jolly Pumpkin sour profile, but topped it off with a counterbalance of earthy, vegetal notes. Dee-licious and gone too soon.

The Ones That Got Away

Two beers I wanted to try included Brewery Vivant’s Paris — a saison fermented with brettanomyces and aged in red wine barrels — and Bourbon Barrel Territorial Baltic Porter — a collaboration between Liberty Street and Witch’s Hat, named for a road that runs between Plymouth and South Lyon, where the two breweries are respectively located. A number of people enthusiastically recommended these beers, but I never quite got to them. Sad face.
There were, of course, many other amazing beers deserving of mention. But just like beer festivals, where time is limited, so is the word count for articles recapping them.
In the meantime, get ready for the next great Michigan Brewers Guild fest, the 10th annual Winter Beer Festival, now two days long — Feb. 27-28, 2015 — in Grand Rapids.  Tickets go on sale Dec. 4 (with pre-sale for Enthusiast members Dec. 2-3). See mibeer.com to buy online.

For the sixth year running, Eastern Market hosted the Detroit Fall Beer Festival this past weekend in Detroit.

In what has seemingly become tradition, Michigan craft beer enthusiasts donned Halloween costumes in spirit of the upcoming holiday. They waited patiently in line to sample rarities and regulars from the state’s finest breweries.

Over 75 breweries participated in this year’s festival. Patrons had the options to choose from nearly 700 beers on tap.

Aaron Rzeznik, Brewer at Witch’s Hat Brewing Company, said most people were seeking out the rare beers that aren’t on tap at the pub.

“We appreciate that the Michigan craft beer drinkers are thirsty for some good beer,” he said. “We want to serve them good beer that’s unique and quality. And hopefully we do that. That’s our goal.”

Witch’s Hat’s first Brewer’s Guild festival was back in 2012, therefore making the brewery veterans compared to many of the newer breweries.

River’s Edge Brewing, located in Milford, is merely four months old and found themselves participating in their first Michigan Brewers Guild festival.

“The weather’s amazing and it’s great to be downtown,” said Owner and General Manager Ryan Wiltse.

Temperatures found themselves in the 60s on Friday and pushing 70 on Saturday for the sold out crowd, providing the perfect backdrop for the fest and those in the sheds off of Russell St. in Detroit.

Wiltse said the reception at the festival and their taproom has been “phenomenal.”

“We’ve made about 30 batches of beer so far and only about six or seven have been repeat brews,” he said. “So far we’ve brewed about 210 barrels in the last four months. Quite a bit more than we anticipated.”

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For many festival-goers, this wasn’t their first stint at Eastern Market.

Jason and Kristy Smith, second timers at the Eastern Market festival, enjoyed making the festival an over-night event by staying downtown.

“I used to just come down to Detroit for sporting events,” Jason said. “This is the only time I’ve come down here for something else and it’s a good time.”

Some of the couple’s favorite brews included the caramel flavored Karm-Ale and the Pecan Turtle Triffel, both from 51 North out of Lake Orion.

“I love the fact that it’s all Michigan breweries,” Jason said. “It’s all Michigan stuff. It’s all local.”