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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. —  Michigan’s food banks are encouraging supporters to raise a glass for hunger relief this September.

hops against hunger The campaign is called Hops Against Hunger, and it unites the state’s breweries and beer geeks with food banks serving those in need. All month, Michigan breweries will be hosting fundraisers to support the work of the state’s seven Feeding America-member food banks. Forty breweries, beer bars and restaurants from metro Detroit to Marquette are taking part.

“September is Hunger Action Month,” said Sean Little, development associate for Feeding America West Michigan, a food bank based in the Grand Rapids area. “Food banks like ours are asking people to volunteer, donate, contact their elected officials and take a whole host of actions to support our cause. We loved the idea of throwing brewery fundraisers into the mix and hopefully reaching a lot of people who might be totally new to food banking and hunger relief.”

“As we’ve begun building relationships with breweries, we’ve found that it’s an easy sell. They really care about this issue,” Little said.

According to the latest data from Feeding America, 1.49 million people are food insecure in Michigan, meaning they struggle to get enough food to lead a healthy life. That’s 15.1 percent of the population.

Since the Hops Against Hunger initiative kicked off in 2016, it’s raised more than $20,000 to support the food banks serving those people. A dozen establishments took part last year, and that number has risen to 40, showing a growing commitment to hunger relief in the state’s brewing community.

hops against hunger

Carrie Veldman, sustainability coordinator for BarFly Ventures, the company behind Grand Rapids Brewing Company and HopCat, says the motivation is simple. “By partnering with local nonprofits such as Feeding America, breweries and bars have the opportunity to invest in the community that has spent time and money investing in them.”

Grand Rapids Brewing Company and all six HopCat locations in Michigan are participating in Hops Against Hunger, each in support of the food bank serving their community.

Veldman says the partnership makes sense, because the food bank model of rescuing good surplus food and putting it to use is closely aligned with BarFly’s own waste-reduction practices. “Food recovery is one of our central values,” she said.

“Here in the U.S., our food waste is estimated at about 40 percent and we’re working to change this within our walls,” Veldman continued. “We’ve started a program at all of our locations where we donate any extra food we’ve acquired from beer dinners or monthly features to our local Feeding America food banks. All food that cannot be donated, like fruit and vegetable scraps and leftovers, is composted, so instead of rotting in a landfill, our food scraps can become nutrient-rich soil!”

Like many Hops Against Hunger participants, each BarFly location will be donating proceeds from one beer throughout the month. HopCat’s brand-new Royal Oak location, for example, will donate $1 from every pint of All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Company to Gleaners Community Food Bank.

hops against hungerOthers, like Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, are organizing one-day events. On Friday, Sept. 22, Greenbush will host their second-annual Harvest Party, featuring live music, a bratwurst-grilling competition and the release of a beer brewed in collaboration with food bank staff.

“We wanted to give breweries the freedom to put their own stamp on it. We’ve seen some breweries come to us with really cool ideas and we love that their events are highlighting the diversity of the craft beer scene in Michigan,” Little said.

The Food Bank of South Central Michigan, for example, is working with the Kalamazoo Brew Bus to organize a pub crawl with several area breweries and beer bars on Sept. 28.

Ore Dock Brewing Company of Marquette, the campaign’s northernmost participant, has been raising money for hunger relief in the Upper Peninsula for years. They will be hosting a Pack the Pub Night on Sept. 21, when $1 from every pint of True North will be donated.

“We pride ourselves on being a community-minded business and that means lending a hand wherever we can,” said Adam Robarge, production and branding manager for Ore Dock. “Quite simply, having access to healthy food is a basic necessity that absolutely no one should have to go without.”

Information about participating breweries, events and Michigan’s food banks can be found at HopsAgainstHungerMI.org.

hops against hunger

Hops Against Hunger Participants

Feeding America West Michigan Beards Brewery Burnt Marshmallow Brewing Creston Brewery Grand Armory Brewing Grand Rapids Brewing Company Greenbush Brewing Company Harmony Hall HopCat Grand Rapids New Holland Brewing Company North Pier Brewing Company Ore Dock Brewing Company Pigeon Hill Brewing Company Silver Harbor Brewing Company Terra GR Restaurant The Livery Microbrewery The Mitten Brewing Company The Sovengard Tripelroot Watermark Brewing Company

Food Gatherers HopCat Ann Arbor

Food Bank of South Central Michigan Arcadia Ales Kalamazoo Brite Eyes Brewing Company The Distant Whistle Grand River Brewery HopCat Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Brew Bus Territorial Brewing Company

Food Bank of Eastern Michigan Loggers Brewing Company Michigan on Main Bar and Grill Table and Tap Tenacity Brewing Tri-City Brewing Company

Forgotten Harvest HopCat Detroit

Gleaners Community Food Bank Farmington Brewing Company HopCat Royal Oak

Greater Lansing Food Bank EagleMonk Pub and Brewery Ellison Brewery and Spirits HopCat East Lansing Lansing Brewing Company Ozone’s Brewhouse

 

About Feeding America West Michigan. The Hops Against Hunger campaign was created by Feeding America West Michigan in 2016. Serving local families in need since 1981, Feeding America West Michigan reclaims safe surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. That food is distributed through a network of more than 900 food pantries, youth programs, and other hunger-relief agencies in 40 counties from the Indiana border through the Upper Peninsula. Each year, an estimated 492,100 people receive food from Feeding America West Michigan. For more information, visit FeedWM.org.

About Hops Against Hunger. Hops Against Hunger is a campaign uniting Michigan’s craft beer community with food banks serving those in need. Forty breweries, beer bars and restaurants are raising money for Michigan’s seven Feeding America-affiliated food banks during Hunger Action Month this September. Together, these food banks provide food to a network of thousands of local food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, and schools in every one of Michigan’s 83 counties. To learn more about Hops Against Hunger and to find a participating brewery near you, visit HopsAgainstHungerMI.org.

brew export

Phenom businesswoman Shannon Long, 24, has quickly made a respectable impression in the worldwide beer industry. Many people recognize her as host of the television show Pure Brews America, though her fame there is only part of the bigger picture. Long is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Brew Export, a company based in Michigan that works with breweries across the United States to export their beer to foreign countries.

brew export
Her business success has been earned through hard work and dedication. Long graduated from Michigan State University in December of 2014 with two degrees through the university’s renowned programs, one in International Relations from James Madison College and one in Marketing from Eli Broad College of Business. While in school she served as the President of the MSU Marketing Association as well as Vice President of the MSU Entrepreneurship Association. She also worked for the Food Export Association of the Midwest, the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s International Marketing program, and CH Robinson Worldwide Logistics, solidifying her knowledge of how to move a product through the channels of trade.

Long points to her Senior Capstone project as fuel for the decision to create Brew Export. In the final semester “I had a professor walk in on the first day and say ‘take one product and export it to one market.’ All of the other people in the class were picking things like peanut butter to Germany or the water bottles with the filters in them to Africa.” She thought those were all fine and good, but not for her. She said “screw that, I’m doing beer, and I’m going to do Founders craft beer to Singapore.” The subject was based on her growing appreciation of the craft culture. “I was deadset and gathering tons of information. I was way more excited about this thesis than everyone else and I went all out and ended up getting the highest grade in the class,” she added.

brew export

There were several job offers available for her to earn $50-60,000 a year right out of college but that “wouldn’t have been fun, that wouldn’t have been exciting, and it wouldn’t have been ‘me’, I couldn’t do it,” she said. Within weeks of graduating she entered The Hatching business pitch competition in Lansing and won. That convinced her to form the Limited Liability Company in March of 2015 and begin the arduous task of establishing an alcohol export business. While the TV show development was happening simultaneously, she built the brand portfolio of breweries and fielded multitudes of international requests for her company’s services.

She obtained a TTB wholesalers license and approached the Michigan Liquor Control Commission for approval to operate. “It took them 9 months to license my business. I didn’t get licensed until May of 2016. They had never heard of an export company, even anything of the concept that I was planning on doing,” Long said. Many meetings were required as both sides worked toward a definitive description of the business and researched applicable laws. Without a set precedence to follow “they were literally making up the rules in front of me, essentially,” she said.


According to Long, there aren’t a lot of companies in her line of work. “No one’s doing it quite like I’m doing it, that’s for sure. A lot of people will just sell the beer, kind of in a broker situation,” she said. “They’ve got some extra beer so they just move it. I’m only aware of four other people in the entire United States doing anything close to what I’m doing,” she asserted. Importers could theoretically work directly with the breweries but that’s potentially overwhelming for the brewery. “What Brew Export and I really try to offer is the increased sales, you’re growing your international sales without the increased overhead of hiring internally an international salesperson,” she added.

Long created detailed Standard Operating Procedure checklists for each country and fine-tunes them to suit individual shipments. Approximately 25 pages of documentation are required per transaction, including a notarized Certificate of Origin sent ahead by mail. If the pallets being used aren’t plastic they must be fumigated and certified pest-free. Each product requires a label declaring it as an export, as well as having the ABV stated and the date it was packaged. A Bill of Lading describes the shipment’s contents. Upon arrival in the receiving country another label is added with their mandatory information similar to the United States Surgeon General warning. These legal details are among the reasons a brewery may not want to take on the responsibility of exporting themselves.

brew export

Brew Export’s first shipment went out in June of 2016 containing beer from Back Forty Beer Company of Gadsden, Alabama. Since then over a quarter of a million bottles have made their way across the Pacific Ocean. By the end of this year the company aims to be actively exporting to France, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. They’re projected to ship 3.5 to 4 million bottles from more than 15 American breweries in 2017, the company’s first full year of operation.

In late September of this year, a truck hauling a refrigerated shipping container loaded with pallets of Michigan brewed goodness from Arcadia Ales, Dark Horse Brewing Company, and Greenbush Brewing Company left the warehouse dock at Arcadia’s Kalamazoo facility on its way to Asia alongside more product from Back Forty. The container carried 32,832 bottles and 40 one-way kegs. In an ambitious 5 day push including this shipment, the company sent an impressive 115,776 bottles and 129 kegs total. Long said so far her shipments have been maxed out by weight rather than container space because canned beer doesn’t sell well yet in Asia so they have to send glass bottles in spite of their relative heaviness.

brew export
Throughout the beer’s lengthy journey it is constantly kept at an ideal 4.4 degrees Celsius (approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit) to ensure freshness of the product. Brew Export’s commitment to fully supporting their clients includes assistance in selling the beer once it reaches its destination. They use trusted subcontractor employees to do so, but when the September shipment finally arrived in China in mid-November, Long herself was there with a group of American industry people to receive it and participate in events showcasing the exported brews in Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei, Taiwan planned for every day of the trip.

Long said she chose to export to China first because she sees the country is ready to move high volumes of American beer. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far. “They’re the largest beer drinking country on the planet and they love our beer,” she said. Translating beer names from English to Chinese is a challenge though. Cultural meanings and subtle word play get lost in translation, meaning beers like Cheap Date and Jaw Jacker are renamed by a bilingual brand building team in an attempt to maintain some of their character. Back Forty beer names such as Naked Pig and Freckle Belly may have southern connotations that Long, as a Michigander, admits she probably wouldn’t understand. It’s an aspect of the job that changes with every shipment and keeps things interesting.
brew export
While she enjoys being involved in Pure Brews America and her presence on television will continue for the foreseeable future, Long admits “Brew Export is my baby at the end of the day, this is where my passion is, and my life goal.” Both projects play roles in helping the other succeed as opportunities often happily coincide. “My true north,” she added, “is to position American craft beer as the preeminent source for beer around the world. When you think Napa Valley you think of the best wine in the world, when you hear Michigan I want people to think it’s the best beer. Every thing I do points toward that.”

brew export


MittenBrew.com gives a special thank you to Arcadia Ales Kalamazoo for opening their facility to us during the loading of their shipment and allowing us the freedom to follow their staff so we could share the actual export process with you. Cheers!

 

Photography: Steph Harding

8.9% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Black with a small head.
Aroma: Raisin with some oat and malt.
Taste: Sweet, dark fruit with some malt.
Mouthfeel: Strong bodied.

Greenbush Ursus is an Old Ale with qualities of a stout — some sweetness up front that balances itself out at the finish. Some dark fruit — specifically raisin — make for a flavorful brew with malt, oat and some grain-like qualities.

10.1% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Cloudy caramel with a medium head.
Aroma: Hops with a bit of a fruity smell.
Taste: A bit of citrus, tangy fruit with some moderate bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied.

This imperial IPA from Greenbush is full of flavor. Featuring an orange and grapefruit front, this brew is moderately bitter to help balance it out. Despite its ABV, Brother Benjamin is a surprisingly drinkable IPA.

5.9% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Cloudy orange with a small head. Some decent lacing.
Aroma: Floral, with some hops and malt smell.
Taste: Lots of floral flavors, with some moderate hops, creating a slight bitterness. Some malt and bread-like qualities too.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied.

Greenbush’s Closure is one of the brewery’s first bottle releases, and it comes in with a unique style for a pale ale. Floral qualities blend this beer well with the typical hop-forward front, making for a well-balanced pale ale with some interesting tastes.

COMSTOCK PARK — Preparations are under way for the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth-Third Ballpark, just outside of Grand Rapids. And, like many of our readers, we’re anticipating some great beer.
We’ve looked over the beer list and we’ve selected our top five beers to try, and top five breweries to visit this year.

Top five beers to try

A record number of beers (625, to be exact) will be available to try at this year’s festival, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the lineup.
1) Bell’s Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout — Bell’s bourbon-aged beers are always good, but combine a cherry stout with some more booze? It can’t get much better than that.
2) Brewery Vivant Helen Wine Barrel Sour Ale — Vivant is widely known throughout the state for brewing some great beers. And that doesn’t stop with its sours — in fact, Vivant’s sour ales are some of the best around. Being such a limited brew, Helen won’t last long.
3) Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock — BeerAdvocate ranks this as a 98, and with chocolate, raspberry and caramel notes, Raspberry Eisenbock will certainly impress. And the fact that it holds a captivating 13.5% ABV only adds to its anticipation.
4) New Holland Rum Barrel Aged Dragon’s Milk — New Holland’s signature stout gets a rum treatment that should make for a rich, tasty, boozy drink that’s perfect for those cold temperatures.
5) Dark Horse Brewing Co. — While we didn’t mention a specific beer to try, you should definitely make it to one of Dark Horse’s four tables during the festival. At least once. Or twice. You’ve probably heard of Plead the 5th? Well, that’s just the beginning.

Top five breweries worth checking out

There are 19 new breweries showcasing beer at the Winter Beer Fest this year. While no new brewery can match the tap list of a Bell’s or Dark Horse, new breweries bring something different to the table, and no doubt will be popular with attendees.
1) Pike 51 Brewing Company — In my recent visit to the new Hudsonville brewery, I was overly impressed with its beer. Former HopCat brewmaster Jeff Williams heads up a lineup of flavorful beer that will keep you coming back for more. Beers served: The Kush IPA; Sabotage Milk Stout with Coffee; Sinister Kid Imperial Porter; Weizenbock; Knight’s on Mastadons Imperial Brown Ale with Coffee; Batch 51 Rye Wine; Mojo Hand Single Hop Black IPA; Cherry Triple.
2) Greenbush Brewing Company — Greenbush and Dark Horse always seem to battle with which brewery can bring the most beer for each festival. This year, Greenbush is bringing a whopping 48 taps to the festival, many of which are barrel aged. On my list? Chai Life and Bourbon Barrel Vanderbush. Beers served: Too many to mention.
3) The Livery — Being that many brews are aged and brewed months before festivals, this may very well be the last chance you get to experience Steve Berthel’s influence at Benton Harbor’s top brewery. With three barrel aged brews being served, and a few other brews that sound quite tasty, The Livery is definitely on my list. Beers served: McGillan’s American IPA; Basket Case Imperial Chocolate, Rye, Oat, Milk Stout; Agent 99 Belgian Quad; SMaSH Summit American IPA; Double Paw Double IPA; Barrel Aged 33 1/3 Lager; Barrel Aged Verchousity Dark Trippel; Barrel Aged Bastard Cousin Stout.
4) Founders Brewing Co. — Founders always brings an A-list lineup to the Winter Beer Fest, and this year is no exception. Serving up all of its Backstage Series beers, in addition to some regular staples, Founders is a brewery you have to hit at least once. Chances are all of the Backstage Series beers will be timed releases, so keep an eye out, especially for when KBS and CBS is tapped. Beers served: Centennial IPA; All Day IPA; Red’s Rye PA; Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale; Porter; Spite Pepper Ale; Frangelic Mountain Brown; KBS Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Blushing Monk Belgian Raspberry Ale; CBS Maple Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Curmudgeon’s Better Half; Bolt Cutter Barley Wine.
5) Short’s and Bell’s — Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could limit this list to five. Two of the best breweries in the state — if not the country — again showcase some extraordinary beers. Bell’s brings out its Bourbon Barrel Aged Batch 9,000, probably one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Short’s, on the other hand, has a plethora of seasonal one-offs, including its Gingersnap English Brown Ale. Beers served: Too many to mention.

General Information

This year the Guild has changed the way beer tokens work, ever so slightly. A total of 39 beers are worth two or three tokens instead of the standard one token per pour. You can read more, and see the full beer list, at mbgmash.com. You can also download the festival program.
The Mash website also has information on bus schedules and hotel information.
This year’s festival sold out in a record 13 hours. Don’t have tickets for this year? Several local breweries and bars are participating in GR Beer Week, and will have events going on throughout and leading up to the weekend. Check out the GR Beer Week Facebook page for a full event listing.
__
Alex Brown contributed to this article.

COMSTOCK PARK — Preparations are under way for the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth-Third Ballpark, just outside of Grand Rapids. And, like many of our readers, we’re anticipating some great beer.

We’ve looked over the beer list and we’ve selected our top five beers to try, and top five breweries to visit this year.

Top five beers to try

A record number of beers (625, to be exact) will be available to try at this year’s festival, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the lineup.

1) Bell’s Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout — Bell’s bourbon-aged beers are always good, but combine a cherry stout with some more booze? It can’t get much better than that.

2) Brewery Vivant Helen Wine Barrel Sour Ale — Vivant is widely known throughout the state for brewing some great beers. And that doesn’t stop with its sours — in fact, Vivant’s sour ales are some of the best around. Being such a limited brew, Helen won’t last long.

3) Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock — BeerAdvocate ranks this as a 98, and with chocolate, raspberry and caramel notes, Raspberry Eisenbock will certainly impress. And the fact that it holds a captivating 13.5% ABV only adds to its anticipation.

4) New Holland Rum Barrel Aged Dragon’s Milk — New Holland’s signature stout gets a rum treatment that should make for a rich, tasty, boozy drink that’s perfect for those cold temperatures.

5) Dark Horse Brewing Co. — While we didn’t mention a specific beer to try, you should definitely make it to one of Dark Horse’s four tables during the festival. At least once. Or twice. You’ve probably heard of Plead the 5th? Well, that’s just the beginning.

Top five breweries worth checking out

There are 19 new breweries showcasing beer at the Winter Beer Fest this year. While no new brewery can match the tap list of a Bell’s or Dark Horse, new breweries bring something different to the table, and no doubt will be popular with attendees.

1) Pike 51 Brewing Company — In my recent visit to the new Hudsonville brewery, I was overly impressed with its beer. Former HopCat brewmaster Jeff Williams heads up a lineup of flavorful beer that will keep you coming back for more. Beers served: The Kush IPA; Sabotage Milk Stout with Coffee; Sinister Kid Imperial Porter; Weizenbock; Knight’s on Mastadons Imperial Brown Ale with Coffee; Batch 51 Rye Wine; Mojo Hand Single Hop Black IPA; Cherry Triple.

2) Greenbush Brewing Company — Greenbush and Dark Horse always seem to battle with which brewery can bring the most beer for each festival. This year, Greenbush is bringing a whopping 48 taps to the festival, many of which are barrel aged. On my list? Chai Life and Bourbon Barrel Vanderbush. Beers served: Too many to mention.

3) The Livery — Being that many brews are aged and brewed months before festivals, this may very well be the last chance you get to experience Steve Berthel’s influence at Benton Harbor’s top brewery. With three barrel aged brews being served, and a few other brews that sound quite tasty, The Livery is definitely on my list. Beers served: McGillan’s American IPA; Basket Case Imperial Chocolate, Rye, Oat, Milk Stout; Agent 99 Belgian Quad; SMaSH Summit American IPA; Double Paw Double IPA; Barrel Aged 33 1/3 Lager; Barrel Aged Verchousity Dark Trippel; Barrel Aged Bastard Cousin Stout.

4) Founders Brewing Co. — Founders always brings an A-list lineup to the Winter Beer Fest, and this year is no exception. Serving up all of its Backstage Series beers, in addition to some regular staples, Founders is a brewery you have to hit at least once. Chances are all of the Backstage Series beers will be timed releases, so keep an eye out, especially for when KBS and CBS is tapped. Beers served: Centennial IPA; All Day IPA; Red’s Rye PA; Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale; Porter; Spite Pepper Ale; Frangelic Mountain Brown; KBS Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Blushing Monk Belgian Raspberry Ale; CBS Maple Barrel Aged Imperial Stout; Curmudgeon’s Better Half; Bolt Cutter Barley Wine.

5) Short’s and Bell’s — Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could limit this list to five. Two of the best breweries in the state — if not the country — again showcase some extraordinary beers. Bell’s brings out its Bourbon Barrel Aged Batch 9,000, probably one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Short’s, on the other hand, has a plethora of seasonal one-offs, including its Gingersnap English Brown Ale. Beers served: Too many to mention.

General Information

This year the Guild has changed the way beer tokens work, ever so slightly. A total of 39 beers are worth two or three tokens instead of the standard one token per pour. You can read more, and see the full beer list, at mbgmash.com. You can also download the festival program.

The Mash website also has information on bus schedules and hotel information.

This year’s festival sold out in a record 13 hours. Don’t have tickets for this year? Several local breweries and bars are participating in GR Beer Week, and will have events going on throughout and leading up to the weekend. Check out the GR Beer Week Facebook page for a full event listing.

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Alex Brown contributed to this article.


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