The weather has gotten cooler, the leaves have started to change color, and the hops have been harvested; it must be fall in Northern Michigan. To commemorate the harvest season, breweries from throughout the Northwest region gathered in Empire on Saturday at the Empire Hops Festival.

The Empire Hops Festival exuded Northern Michigan charm and celebrated the success of the area’s harvest.

There were eleven breweries present at the festival, including: Workshop Brewing Company, Stormcloud Brewing Company, Lake Ann Brewing Company, Short’s and Right Brain Brewery. Many of the breweries at the festival use hops from the Empire Hops Farm throughout the year. Several breweries even brought wet-hopped brews or brews that contained local hops to the festival.

Local food vendors, including Art’s Tavern, Firedog Pizza, and Little Traverse Inn were at the festival. Black Jake and The Carnies as well as the Benzie Playboys kept the local spirit alive with their dynamic folk music.

The use of local hops has drastically increased in the region and throughout the state. The Empire Hops Farm, in Empire, recently boasted the largest hop crop in Michigan: 2,400 pounds per acre. And, earlier this year, MI Local Hops purchased over 200 acres in Acme to start yet another farm.

“I look forward to this one time of year,” said Stormcloud Head Brewer Brian Confer. “We drive up to Empire, get a coffee, and stop at the farm. The van smells great on the way back.”

Stormcloud brought three harvest brews to the Empire Hops Festival, all of which highlighted freshly picked local hops. The Harvest Saison, a favorite at the festival, was brewed with only Michigan products. The ingredients included freshly harvested Empire Hops (a proprietary Michigan only hop variety from the Empire Hops Farm), Michigan grown malt from Pilot Malt House, and a unique strain of yeast from Creature Culture Yeast Labs.

Northport Brewing Company was also at the festival, and is another brewery that uses local hops and ingredients throughout the year.

“When you think of a stout, you think of Ireland; an ale makes you think of England. We need beer that makes you think of Michigan,” said Northport Brewer and Owner Scott Cain.

In a region known for its rich agricultural yield, brews featured at festivals such as the Empire Hops Festival highlight and celebrate flavor profiles that can only be from Michigan. The pride for such brews was evident throughout the festival on Saturday. Brewers from the eleven breweries weren’t just seen behind their respective tables. Many could be seen building new partnerships, tasting each other’s brews, and celebrating together.

Short’s Brewing Company’s parties are legendary in the state of Michigan, especially since they are never one and the same. While the anniversary party can be described as brilliant madness to kick off the spring and summer, Short’s Fest, which took place at the Short’s production facility, is the relaxing come-down from all of the mania.

Well, mostly.

There were still a lot of things to do, but the atmosphere was definitely one of kicking back with a good brew in hand. Short’s staff, marked in their blue festival t-shirts, were easy to spot, whether they were pouring beer, talking with festival goers or giving tours of the production facility.

“It’s about having a really good, relaxed time. A lot of people still working, but a lot of people out just talking and drinking, too,” said Scott Newman-Bale, Short’s partner and business developer.

“I was on the tour, and it was great—really thorough! But then I ran out of beer, so I came back outside,” said Peter Manthei, an attendee from Beards Brewery in Petoskey.

And of course, the drinking options were many. There were not only the usual summer favorites like Nicie Spicie and Space Rock, but also new releases specifically for Short’s Fest. Mega la Mucho, an Imperial Pilsner with lemon and orange zest, joins the summer series with some sweet and citrusy aromas and flavors. Blanco Suave is a Belgian Wit brewed with lime, agave, coriander, tangerine peel, and grains of paradise, another great complement to this celebration of summertime.

Alongside all of the beers were also concoctions from Short’s newest brand, Starcut Ciders. The appearance of Starcut Ciders at Short’s Fest begins the August countdown to the bottle release happening at the end of the month.

“We’ve had Starcut at a few festivals, and the response has just been great. We’re all getting ready for the launch coming August 30,” said Bridgett Beckwith, Director of Marketing at Short’s.

Short’s Fest also seemed to be the marker for Short’s employees to start thinking about the next year. According to Newman-Bale, the team has already begun discussions around the brewing schedule.

“There are a lot of opinions,” he said, laughing. “Over 300 recipes to choose from, and we’re looking back to some of our older recipes as well.”

He refused to get any more specific than that, but knowing the levels of creativity that Short’s normally delivers, it’s safe to say we can all be excited for next year’s mysteries and adventures.

Excellent performances from The Moxie Strings, Luke Winslow-King and Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers provided fun and easy listening all evening, with fest-goers lounging on the green space or dancing in front of the stage, beer and cider in hand. Fireworks from the surrounding Harbor Days festivities added to the celebration atmosphere, making it truly a glorious night to drink Michigan craft.