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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

international women's collaboration brew dayREGIONAL—The days until the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day (IWCBD) are being counted down all over the world. March 8, 2016 will be a day when breweries globally come together in the name of beer and women in the industry. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the day will embrace the cultural, social, economic, and political achievements of women everywhere.

As interest and passion for the brewing culture grows globally, progress and opportunity are also flourishing. Beer encompasses so many different contexts and backgrounds—all it takes is a curiosity and passion for learning. Brewing is a social event as much as it’s a science. It’s quietly beautiful and intricate and creative. It celebrates innovation, community, and camaraderie. Beer is the bridge across many different practices, and on this day, it connects the world together.

The inaugural IWCBD took place in 2014. The recipe was a Pale Ale and the first participant to brew hailed from Australia. Last year breweries put their own twist on a Red Ale recipe born out of England. Michigan breweries celebrated by not only brewing, but also with a friendly competition and tasting at different locations around the state.

This year there is no recipe. No guidelines. No rules. The craft beer world will unite under the theme of “Expression.” To best represent the craft industry, brewers will simply create their own unique recipe to brew, share, and enjoy.

international women's collaboration brew dayIf interested in participating—and please, everyone is invited (21 years and older please)—you can find IWCBD events on Facebook through Fermenta: Michigan Women’s Craft Collective. This year, quite a few regions are hosting open, interactive events. Griffin Claw Brewing Company (Birmingham) will be kicking off the the international celebrations early, hosting a brew day March 5 starting at 9 A.M.. The recipe will be a Gose and the brewery staff will also be offering short seminars on tank cleaning, yeast harvesting, and other various lab procedures. For northern Michigan residents, consider attending Beards Brewery’s (Petoskey) brew day on March 6 starting at noon, the recipe to be announced. On March 7th, EagleMonk Pub and Brewery (Lansing) will be brewing their own recipe beginning at 8 o’clock in the morning. Batch Brewing Company (Corktown) has decided to open their doors on the actual day of international celebration, March 8, starting at 7:30 A.M.. To learn further details, check the Fermenta events page.

Alongside these breweries, Grand Armory Brewing (Grand Haven) will also be brewing a IWCBD recipe to honor the celebrations, but will be keeping their brew day closed to staff only.

These Michigan breweries will be joining other breweries across the nation and across the world to support this day of awareness. Even if one cannot attend a brew day, the IWCBD encourages interested parties to homebrew their own recipe or simply raise a glass to toast the occasion. Either way, you will be toasting women in the craft industry with the entire world.

Innovation is a driving force in the craft beer industry. Brewers push the boundaries of what a beer can be with new flavors, new ingredients and new techniques. But innovative changes aren’t just found in how a beer tastes, they’re also found in how it’s packaged. If you love bringing home your favorite beers from your favorite breweries, it may be time to say “goodbye” to the growler, and “hello” to the Crowler, the newest innovation in take-out beer.

The Crowler is a one-use, recyclable 32-ounce can that is filled and seamed right at the bar. The can is sealed air-tight by a modified canning machine developed by Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery and its partner, Ball Corporation. Oskar Blues is the exclusive distributor of the Crowler machine, a logical extension of the brewery’s pro-can philosophy.

“We’re really big fans of cans and all the advantages of cans,” said Jeremy Rudolf, Production Manager. Those advantages include recyclability, an air-tight seal that preserves carbonation and an opaque package that keeps sunlight out. It is also cleaner than your usual growler.

“Growlers come from all these people who just empty their beer, rinse them out and throw them in the car and just grab them when they need to. That doesn’t do the beer any favors,” said Rudolf.

Bill White, owner of White Flame Brewing Company in Hudsonville, was the first brewer in Michigan to offer Crowlers. He was a believer from the first time he saw it.

“My wife and I participated in a festival in Chicago last summer. Someone popped open a cooler with these quart-sized beer cans in it and I was amazed. When we returned that week I looked it up and said, ‘How do I get one?’”

In just a couple of months, a Crowler machine was purchased, and White Flame patrons were introduced to the newest way to get craft beer on-the-go.

“It’s been a huge boost for to-go sales, for sure,” claimed White. “It’s more portable than the growler.  For us, going forward, we’re going to try to push the can package.”

The Crowler machine is a modified food-canning system for the home that’s small enough to fit on the counter behind the bar.

“We took an existing machine, and we kind of pulled the machine apart and built it back up and evolved it over the last year and made many improvements for these custom cans,” said Rudolf.  The machine also includes a CO2 purging station that removes any oxygen from the can before it’s filled with beer.

Oskar Blues has sold over 200 Crowler machines around the globe, including White Flame and Perrin Brewing Company, which Oskar Blues acquired in March.

The Perrin Crowlers have been well received by both novice and savvy clientele. Bobby Klene of Indianapolis was at Perrin on a brewery tour with his wife when he noticed the new, canned take-out option.

“I was excited when I came in and saw they had the Crowlers. The first thing I thought in my head was, ‘I’m getting that!’” Beer aficionados like Klene are also anxious to spread the Crowler gospel. “Oh yeah, it’s getting put on Twitter tonight…there’s no question about that,” said Klene.

Chris Keskitalo of Grand Rapids had never heard of the Crowler, but had just made his first purchase and was already sold on its merits.

“I bought this because I’ve never had it before.  It seems easier for coolers, and you can just recycle it on your trip to the beach,” Keskitalo said.

In addition to White Flame and Perrin, Crowlers are also becoming popular at several other Michigan breweries and bars, including Griffin Claw Brew Company (Birmingham) and BFD Clubhouse in Detroit.

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Even though the Crowler is generating buzz, growlers are still extremely popular, and not all beer drinkers will be ready for a switch. But for Bill White, the benefits of the increased shelf-life is a huge selling point.

“I’ve had them months and months later and they’ve still been great,” White said.

The combination of a longer life and a smaller volume has beer lovers like Klene favoring the Crowler.

“The moment you crack open a 64-ounce growler you have a time limit on when you can actually finish that and get the same quality product out of it,” Klene said.

Perrin customer Travis Andresen of Grand Rapids also sees a hidden benefit to the smaller 32-ounce can.

“It eliminates the sharing responsibilities because it’s just in one can, so I get it all to myself,” he joked.

Jeremy Rudolf from Oskar Blues does concede one possible drawback of the Crowler, and that’s the environmental concerns from using a new package for every purchase. But he believes those concerns can be answered as well.

“The one drawback of the whole thing is that it’s a one-way package. Now, the benefit of a one-way package is that it’s clean and it’s new every time. And it is infinitely recyclable. As long as you’re not a jerk and [you] throw it in the recycling bin, that will become a new can in less than two months.”

Beer lovers are always game to try the latest, greatest flavor innovation. Will that same attitude apply to the Crowler as well? Only time will tell. But these big, shiny cans may be making an appearance at your favorite brewery very soon.

To learn more about the Crowler, check out the Oskar Blues website.

March 8 marked a brilliant day for craft beer on a global level — it was International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. On this day, across all of the time zones, craft industry professionals and enthusiasts worked to create a unique spin on one recipe.

The result: Unite Red Ale, revisited (original recipe created by Sophie du Ronde, Muntons Malt — England). The collaborative effort was tapped and celebrated at Clubhouse BFD (Rochester Hills) on Wednesday, with representatives from Griffin Claw and MillKing It Productions present.

“There’s the Milking It [Productions] version, which is a much more traditional-style red, and then there’s Griffin Claw’s — it’s spicier and not as hoppy,” says Griffin Claw’s Angie Williams.

HopCat Grand Rapids will also debut its version today.

Although the event was slotted as a beer versus beer competition, everyone there wasn’t picking favorites; rather, they were reminiscing about the day and toasting the journey of such a neat idea. The labels for the brew showcase a collage of photos from the brew day, attributing the success to the united effort of women across the world.

“The coolest part about all of it was knowing that brewers on the other side of the world had already begun brewing before it was March 8 here in Michigan — the anticipation took the excitement to a whole new level,” added Williams.

United she mashed and divided she brewed this past Sunday for the Pink Boots Society’s International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day.

In over 70 breweries nationwide, women gathered to brew this year’s Unite Red Ale recipe, created by Sophie du Ronde of Muntons Malt in England.

Locally, brewing took place at HopCat Grand Rapids and Griffin Claw Brewing Company to create a version of the Unite Red Ale. Sheryl Rose, Momma Cat of the PussyCat Beer Guild, met at the group’s stomping grounds — HopCat Grand Rapids — to brew its version.

“We used equinox hops for their floral, herbal, apple, papaya characters, as well as adding some black patent malt to make it darker red,” said Rose.

After adding their twist to the recipe, the women spent the morning being a part of each step in brewing their recipe.

Since the brewing process can only handle so many hands, and the space (at both locations) can be limited, a gathering was held after the brewing process for more women to attend to celebrate the fruits of their labor as well as one another.

This type of event is about “bringing positive attention to women in general, and helping to forge bonds between them, not just those in the industry,” says Rose.

Manda Geiger, Brewster at Pike 51 Brewing in Hudsonville, attended the event at Griffin Claw, which featured brewers from Fermenta.

“I think anytime you can get people together to share knowledge about brewing is very exciting. I love passing on the things I have learned along the way and it also teaches me things too,” she said.

All in all, the event was a huge success — so huge that the Pink Boots Society believes the day may have qualified for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Once on tap at HopCat Grand Rapids, the profits from the sale of the Unite Red Ale will be split 50/50 between Pink Boots Society and Women’s Resource Center of Grand Rapids. Be on the lookout for both beers to appear at HopCat Grand Rapids and Griffin Claw, respectively, in the near future.

COMSTOCK PARK — The end of winter in Michigan means only one thing — Winter Beer Fest. Despite the coldest February on record (we checked), the additional organization required to shape the first ever two-day version of the event and brief issues with frozen tap lines, the 10th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival was one to remember.

Over 100 breweries from around Michigan descended on Fifth Third Ballpark on Friday and Saturday.  Easily navigable rows of breweries were flanked by merchandise and tokens, food and an ample amount of porta johns (very important).

The flow of this year’s fest was wonderful, and even though it was packed with a sell-out crowd on Saturday, it never seemed like the lines were too long or any one tent too crowded. The Michigan Brewers Guild festival teams did an excellent job making sure everything moved smoothly in all aspects.

Navigating and visiting with all of our favorite breweries was almost impossible, but we did get the opportunity to talk to the good folks from many wonderful places across the state.

Brewery Vivant: Kate Avery, designated Abbess of Beer was on hand. She poured the brewery’s newly tapped ‘Sous Chef’ — a Red Wine Barrel Aged Belgian Inspired Strong Ale — essentially their popular ‘Escoffier’ base, but not aged on a brett yeast.

“This beer is super complex, and even despite the cold temperatures, you’re able to taste the bold flavors,” shared Avery.

Another popular favorite was the Wizard Burial Ground, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad that comes in at 10.4% ABV. Notes of vanilla and oak from the long cellaring are pleasantly present, and, lucky us, it’s now available in cans.

BarFly Ventures — Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) and HopCat: Grand Rapids staples, both HopCat and GRBC brought some award winners for the crowd. Distinguished Eagle from GRBC, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, is a totally organic imperial stout, aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Strong notes of vanilla, and cherry are readily assessable, and it was a tasty treat and a nice warm up on a cold (very cold) day.

Another award winner was HopCat’s Red Nymph, a Flanders Red with a nice slightly sour, tart cherry note.

Jake Brenner, Head Brewer for BarFly, said the pubs made sure to select tasty, high gravity beers to help keep everyone warm. The cold did present some problems though. “It’s been really laid back and a lot of fun, but one of the jockey boxes froze up Friday. So far, today everything is looking gorgeous.”

Northern United Brewing — Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak: Jolly Pumpkin always brings something unique to the table, and this year was no exception. Sour beers are its game, and some include its variety of Sasions — Sasion X, brewed with candied ginger, orange and lemon peel, and a blend of peppercorns was a standout — a nice citrusy, ginger flavor with that wild yeast, Jolly Pumpkin signature ‘funk’, we know and love.

North Peak brought a lot of signatures, and Maylem — a Midwest heavy/old ale from its Grizzly Peak Imperial Series. North Peak’s taproom will host this particular beer, aged in run barrels, soon, so that’s something to look forward to.

Folks in Detroit should also be on the look-out for a Jolly Pumpkin build-out sometime in April.

Newer breweries were showcasing its wears as well, and MittenBrew had the chance to visit three of the WBF newbies.

Railtown Brewing: This might be the newest of the new; this brewery in Caledonia opened its doors in December of 2014. Jim Lee, Co-Founder, let us explore the selection and gave us some insight in to what Railtown is all about.

“We brought a lot of our mainstays to show off what we do on a normal basis, along with some fun one-offs,” says Lee. “Our Citra Warrior (an imperial IPA) is very popular in our tap room right now. We are stylistic brewers, and don’t do a lot of heavy adjuncts — clean flavored, medium-style beers, nothing over the edge. We are definitely a small town brewery with a loyal local clientele, and that’s what we want to be.”

Pigeon Hill: Who doesn’t want to drink something called Wild Rumpus? A barrel aged Flanders Red, this beer has a wonderful complexity, fruit notes and sour notes have a great balance.

Chad Doane, co-owner and head brewer, let us in on Pigeon Hill’s philosophy.

“We want to make delicious beer. We keep it simple, but use that classic base and do something funky with it. Pigeon Hill is about community, and our pub has a coffee shop feel. The space is for adults and their families. We want it to be a place the community (of Muskegon) can come and hang out in.”

Other interesting riffs on classics include the Walter Goes to Bang Coq Blonde Ale, brewed with Thai chilies and lemongrass — a little heat, peppery bite and gingered spice.

Territorial Brewing: This very new, Battle Creek-centric German influenced brewery brought a lot of their staples to showcase at their first WBF. Nick Yuill, Brewer at Territorial, shared its Spedunkel, a traditional style Munich Dunkel and their Red Headed Rauchstar, a ginger Rauchbier — a little twist on the classic.

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The consensus by attendees? Great beer, all around, with IPAs and Imperial Stouts ruling the day.

Some standouts mentioned frequently included White Flame’s Black Flame, an Imperial Stout and perennial favorites by Kuhnhenn and Griffin Claw, so we had to visit a few of those booths too.

Griffin Claw Brewing Company: Its booth was hopping, so apparently word got around. Project Clementine seemed to be a favorite of the weekend — a double IPA with clementines added during the mash.

The Birmingham brewery plans to double in production in the next year, and also distribute state-wide.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company: “It’s amazing,” says Eric Kuhnhenn, co-owner. “For being so cold out and this many people attending. There’s over a thousand different beers here, the camaraderie — it’s great.”

Kuhnhenn likes to do a lot of aged beers, and brings at least one every year to WBF. This time, it was a Russian Imperial Stout.

“It’s a big robust stout aged on bourbon barrels for almost a year,” explains Eric.

The Crème Brule Java Stout was also well received by many people we talked to. Kuhnhenn tends towards the higher ABV, and Eric shares why. “We found out we could get more complexity, more flavors, this way.”

Kuhnhenn wants to put in the time, the effort, to take the old stylistic types of beer and take it one step further. Recall its ever-popular Raspberry Eisbock?

If you weren’t able to attend this year, we leave you with the words of Brad and Kevin — home brewers and frequent festival attendees.

“This is the first year that we came in with an Enthusiast membership pass. We were always jealously looking at the people who got in early. Everyone should do that, you have time to get in and don’t feel rushed.”

Other, timely advice: “Get your ticket as early as you can. Dress warm. You can never have enough clothes on, and, of course, wear shoes that don’t get wet! If you are coming from out of town, book your hotel in advanced and stay safe — arrange for transportation to get you here.”

Despite the cold and ever pervasive Michigan wild winters, the WBF continues to be one of the most well attended. Perhaps Vivant’s Kate Avery best sums up the popularity of the event: “The Michigan Beer Scene conquers 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.