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YPSILANTI — Sometimes it’s hard to write anything new about the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, our state’s oldest and largest annual gathering of hundreds of breweries and thousands who love them. But this year’s edition offered a few novel items to this jaded reporter.

The first was that — thanks to a summer cold that turned my voice into a barely understandable raspy croak — for a change I actually did more beer tasting than talking with friends old and new. The second was the debut in a big way of Fermenta, a group started by and for women in Michigan’s burgeoning craft beverage industry.

These two new things merged beautifully in my tasting cup as I was able to try several of the dozen or so collaborative beers crafted by Fermenta members at their respective breweries and released just for the festival. Creativity abounded.

From Short’s, It’s About Thyme IPA showcased, well, thyme, along with orange blossom honey. And for another unique twist, Unity Vibration brought out Umani Smoked Peach Kombucha Beer, made with South African spices and Michigan-grown peaches.

Unfortunately, I was too late out of the gate to sample the Salted Caramel Brown Ale brewed by the Fermentas at Witch’s Hat Brewing in South Lyon, but those who had it spoke glowingly of its rich, malty notes. I did score a sip of DragonTrax, a bourbon barrel aged version of the brewery’s Night Fury Barleywine with peanut butter, designed to evoke a sense memory of Moose Tracks ice cream, and boy did it.

My first taste of beer from Ore Dock, the Upper Peninsula brewery whose reputation has spread rapidly even amongst us “trolls” (or lopers, if you prefer), did not disappoint. Brett Bound and Down Witbier brought the funk and its Porter was on par with any of my perennial favorites, including Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Original Gravity’s Primordial.

Breweries whose beers I’m mostly familiar with also offered new delights. Pat Meehan, recently named head brewer at Ann Arbor’s Blue Tractor, did a fantastic job with his Cucumber Witbier. Griffin Claw added, in addition to its superb Berliner Weiss, two more amazing tart treats: Undertow Blackcurrant Saison and Apridisiac Sour Apricot Amber. Bell’s put its Kalamazoo Stout in bourbon barrels, providing a mellower fix than the fumey, high-gravity Black Note. And Jolly Pumpkin blended its La Roja, Bam Biere and Lambicus Dexterius to produce Rambic, a marvelous mix of lactic sourness.

One other new thing was the weather: instead of the usual combination of miserable, humid temperatures in the 90s and drenching summer monsoons, it was actually warm but comfortable in the 70s and dry for the entire weekend. This may have been a first.

Sadly I don’t think this is the year I make it up to Marquette for the U.P. Fall Beer Festival in September, but I expect to be prowling the grounds of Eastern Market come October for the Detroit Fall Beer Festival (maybe I’m not quite so jaded, after all). Tickets are on sale now for both events at mibeer.com.

There was an eye-catching addition to this year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti this weekend.

Marshall’s Dark Horse Brewing Company brought a giant wooden set up to this year’s festival which stood out and above the rest of the state’s 88 breweries in attendance. The brewery often drops some jaws with the amount of beer they bring to the festival, but this year’s included t-shirt guns and a giant ice slide for beer.

Above the wooden structure sat their “DHN” sign, for Dark Horse Nation, the brewery’s new TV show that begins airing tonight at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.

The rest of the festival was highlighted by the fantastic weather on Friday and Saturday, as some sweltering heat was subdued by light rain, brief cloud cover and a slight breeze.

The state’s breweries proved to be at the top of their game as the nation’s brewing industry continues to grow at a double-digit pace. Perhaps it was the choice in beer samples, but only one I couldn’t finish, with many being excellent.

Pepper beers were all the rage this year, or so it seemed. Some seemed too hot, while others mixed in the perfect amount of spice with the pepper’s flavor.

Arbor’s Flambouyant Wild Sour Red was an amazing lip-puckering experience. As were many of the beers Brewery Vivant brought to their table.

As usual, bigget breweries often had the longest lines, including Founders Brewing Co., which saw a noticeably long line begin to wrap around a tent for its KBS release at least 15 minutes before the scheduled tapping.

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Kuhnhenn took some Michigan pride to the festival with its Pure Michigan series, including beers featuring Michigan cherries, blueberries, peach and more Michigan ingredients. The brewery also brought a few of its spectacular signatures including DRIPA, The Fluffer Session IPA and Raspberry Eisbock.

Several breweries completely ran out of beer fairly early into Saturday. Right Brain was the first I heard go, so I felt lucky that I was able to try the brewery’s Cucumber Saison it brought, which was mighty refreshing during the summer festival.

I didn’t get to try the Rockford Brewing Company / New Holland Brewing Company collaboration, Solar Coaster, but was told it was a fantastic beer.

Saturday was capped off by a rousing performance by the Detroit band Sponge.

GRAND RAPIDS — Relive the ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival with our gallery below. Photos by Alyson Eibam, Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam.

GRAND RAPIDS — The 2014 Winter Beer Fest, as always, was packed. By now, you all know the numbers. 89 breweries, 768 beers and a miraculous amount of portable toilets but somehow people still had to wait in line.

There were the perennial favorites like Founders and Short’s, with standards and fun one-offs and long, long lines. While we all know and love KBS and Short’s clever flavors like Carrot Cake, I sought out some smaller breweries by suggestion of the crowd at-large and found some gems that I wouldn’t have tasted otherwise.

Aaron Rzeznik, a brewer at Witch’s Hat Brewing Company, spoke with us about the brewery’s samplings and what Witch’s Hat is all about.

“This is our third year at the Winter Beer Fest, and as you can see (acknowledging the long line through the tent), it’s going pretty good. We are very excited to be there, there was a huge vibe before the festival. We’re pumped.”

Night Fury, an imperial stout at 10.2% ABV is one of Witch’s Hat’s seasonal offerings, and much of the hype beforehand was on the variations the brewery was bringing. The Cookies and Cream, which, yes, tastes exactly like what you think it would, was one of my favorites. “We use chocolate malt and a little bit of cocoa nibs that we age in after fermentation and actually coconut and vanilla bean, believe it or not. It’s a big hit, the keg’s gone now.” We got the last of it.

Aside from the Cookies and Cream, Witch’s Hat brought a bourbon barrel aged variety, a vanilla bean bourbon barrel aged Night Fury, and a Chocolate Espresso option, made with coffee beans from a roaster out in Leelanau Peninsula.  

“Quality is our focus, we like to experiment, and we are family oriented. We’re in a small town and that’s what we focus on.”

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Our next stop was Brewery Ferment out of Traverse City where we speak with Dustin Jones, bearded owner/brewer. “This is our first full year of the beer festival circuit. We heard so much about this place, so we had to come here this year. Each festival has different crowds, different feels, and that’s what fun about them. You get to know the idiosyncrasies between them, feeling out what the people want and getting to meet all the different people who come and support the things we do.”

We sample the Lady Belma, an Imperial IPA. “This is made from all belma hops — a brand new variety — so it’s pretty different from all the other IPAs you are gonna have. It’s a unique flavor,” he said. “We try to keep a good range of things, at the same time keeping an eye towards what’s popular. We also play around with a lot of other flavors. We have the Captain Scorch, a stout with ghost peppers. How hot is it? It’s really hot.”

Yep, it’s pretty damn hot, like the hot that makes you want to drink more to make the hot go away. Brewery Ferment also used the same stout base made with salted caramel that had a much anticipated release time of 3 p.m.

MittenBrew also sampled the Big Busty B.A.R.B — a barrel aged rye barleywine, and a few of Ferment’s sours.

Brewery Ferment seems to really love its sour beers, which was great because we also love our sour beers. We tasted their Cornucopi-Ale, a cranberry wheat sour and their Spring in Sri Lanka — a sour stout with green cardamom and bitter orange peel.

When asked to sum up Brewery Ferment in three words, there wasn’t any hesitation. “Local, small and unique,” Jones answered.

We are definitely glad we stopped by Ferment’s booth.

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One booth over from Brewery Ferment we stop and chat with Greg Korson, one of the owners of Tapistry Brewing. “This is our first year at the Winter Beer Fest — we’ve been around for eight months, so it’s perfect timing,” he said. “We’re located in Bridgman, right on Lake Michigan, about 15 minutes south of St. Joe.”

We sip on Happy Colored Marbles — a Belgian Oatmeal Stout, one of the 20 beers Tapistry brought with them. The beer styles run the gamut, and really, that’s what they are all about.

“One of the big premises [of Tapistry] is the combination of artistry and chemistry, that’s how we look at it. There are hundreds and hundreds of different styles of beers, and we try to teach people about each of them. That’s part of what a microbrewery does, right? We provide education,” said Korson. “

“There’s all these different type of flavors and styles, and that’s why today we’ve got these taps that all different types of beer beers. If it’s an English style beer, we use all English grains, English yeasts, English hops, even modify the water to get the same profile of London, say. If we are doing an American pale ale, we’re just playing at that point so we’ll do whatever we want.”

Korson laughs and we sample The Hypnotist — a Dark Saison with smoky undertones.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area, you may be able to find Tapistry on tap, but you’ll have to wait until Friday if you are in Lansing or Ann Arbor.

“The vibe here in incredible, I mean it’s incredibly cold for one, but the people and sun have helped a little bit. The crowds are great, the reception has been great, and everyone is loving the beer.

“It’s been a fun little ride so far, and this is a great kickoff.”

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I run into Jenna Arcidiacono, owner and Chef at Amore Trattoria in Grand Rapids between beer tents.

“I got here at 10:30 so I could have breakfast with the Arcadia Food Truck and went on in with these two hookers,” laughs Arcidiacono, pointing to Grand Rapids photographer Terry Johnston.

This is my first year, and it’s been fun. This is Big Willie from White Flame, she holds up her cup, a double IPA and its really nice. My favorite so far.

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To finish out our round of interviews and taste-testing, we stop by Blackrocks Brewery, based out of Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior. Chatting with Andy Langlois, whose official title is Co-Founder and Brewsician, he shares his thoughts and beer at his second year attending Winter Beer Fest.

“As always, it’s fantastic. Craft beer drinkers are a wonderful breed of people who enjoy a good Michigan made beer. It’s just fantastic to see a lot of familiar faces and meet new people.”

In addition to bringing some interesting one-offs like Whiteout — a black brew with fennel seed, Blackrocks was excited to share the three beers they are canning — the 51K IPA, Grand Rabbits Cream Ale and Coconut Brown.

“[Canning is] a really exciting thing for us, and we are really kind of blown away that we are at this point. We are just now distributing UP-wide, and we’re sending a pallet here and there to the Grand Rapids area,” said Langlois. “What I’m most excited about is the crew we brought down with us. There’s a lot of good guys here, and to bring a crew of seven guys down from a small brewery to an event like this — we’re really enjoying Grand Rapids.”

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If you weren’t lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out festival, mark your calendars for the Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti, slated for July 25 and 26. Tickets go on sale May 1; details can be found at mibeer.com.

GRAND RAPIDS — The ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival took place Saturday, giving craft beer aficionados the chance to try some of their favorite, as well as some rare, Michigan brews.

Everything from sour fruit beers to habanero porters were featured, allowing for a wide variety of different flavors and beer experiences.

Some of the best brews of the day came from Traverse City’s Brewery Ferment, which brought several sour brews for guests to sample. 

The Root Beer Stout (7% ABV) looked just like the soda shop classic that we’re used to, but brought up with a bit of booze. Its endlessly complex scent and taste — the result of an ingredient list that included allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, vanilla bean and more — made for a great adult twist on the classic drink. This was by far our favorite of the day.

Ferment also brought its Cornucopi-Ale (7% ABV), a sour cranberry wheat beer that was a mix of tart and sweet cranberry flavor that really packed a punch. It was very easy drinking, allowing for a nice break from the heavier beers that were sampled throughout the afternoon. Finally, Spring in Sri Lanka (7.25% ABV) was a sour stout that featured green cardamom and bitter orange peel. It had a surprisingly light body and clean finish, despite the sourness present. Both brews were both inviting yet unique.

We wanted to sample other breweries throughout the state that may not have been as well-known. So, our other favorites throughout the day included, in no specific order:

  • Tapistry Brewing Peck’s Habañero Porter: 6.5% ABV. Deep brown, almost black color with a tan head. Get the rick malt porter taste on the front of the tongue, which is then met with the fiery pepper throughout the rest of the sip.
  • 51 North Snow Bank Winter Warmer (Chocolate Honey Black Rye): 8% ABV. Black with a thin amber head, features a complex bitter taste that’s moderated slightly by the sweetness of the honey and rye. Very full mouthfeel.
  • Griffin Claw Sour Dough (Sour Wheat Wine): Virtually no head, with an orange color. A bit smoky in the mouth, but the sour scent carries through to a strong sour taste and somewhat grainy residue.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Barrel Aged Neapolitan Milk Stout: 6.5% ABV. Very dark, virtually no head. You’re immediately hit with the strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors, mixed with the booziness you’d expect from being barrel aged.
  • Our Brewing Tobacconist Porter: 6.8% ABV. I was very hesitant about this brew, having a few other tobacco-heavy brews in the past that I didn’t care for. Yet Our Brewing puts the emphasis more on the smokiness, rather than the cigarette/nicotine taste I was hesitantly expecting. It makes for a good, easy-drinking smoked porter.

Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam contributed to this report.

UPDATE: West Michigan Whitecaps officials have stated they plan to be ready to host this year’s Winter Beer Festival. Michigan Brewers Guild Executive Director Scott Graham has also released the following statement:

“We have been in contact with our friends at Fifth Third Ballpark since the unfortunate fire which damaged a portion of the property and we are happy to report that all ballpark staff are safe and unharmed. We have also been assured that as they work through the rebuilding process they will be ready to host the Winter Beer Festival February 22, 2014 as planned. We wish them all the best.”

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COMSTOCK PARK — The location of this year’s Winter Beer Festival may be in question just six weeks before the Mitten’s largest beer gathering.

Fifth Third Ballpark caught fire today around 11 a.m., according to WZZM-TV. Firefighters from several municipal departments are still fighting the blaze, the Grand Rapids news station reported.  

A source tells MittenBrew that the fire was out as of 1:30 today, thanks to the work of nearly 50 firefighters from five departments during a two and half hour effort.

The Michigan Brewers Guild has sold more than 6,000 tickets for the Feb. 22 event. Executive Director Scott Graham did not speculate on the Guild’s plans for Winter Beer Fest moving forward, but did express concern about the event’s location and for West Michigan Whitecaps staff — Fifth Third Ballpark is home stadium for the minor league baseball team.

“The Michigan Brewers Guild is certainly concerned about our upcoming beer festival at the Fifth Third Ballpark, but our first concern is for all of our friends at the West Michigan Whitecaps,” Graham said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the staff at the ballpark today.”

It appears the loss in the stadium is significant; however, Winter Beer Fest is primarily held outside the park in the adjacent parking lot. 

“We will assess what it means to the Guild after the damage…can be assessed,” Graham said. “Because our event is held outside the ballpark in the parking lot we are hopeful that it will turn out well.”

Vendor events and an after party for staff take place inside the ballpark facility.

“We will do our best to keep fans of Michigan beer informed in coming days as we learn more,” Graham said.