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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.

TRAVERSE CITY — From the Empire Spear beer brewed with asparagus to the Ancho Chili Double Dutch Chocolate porter, Right Brain Brewery doesn’t shy away from much at the brewing kettle.

Founded in 2007, the craft brewery has made a name for itself brewing some of the most innovative and unique beers in the state. After one pint in the warehouse-district brewpub, it’s immediately apparent that they take the name “right brain” to heart.

Almost everything in this pub — from the furniture to the beer mugs — strays far away from the ordinary. The walls are covered with an eclectic collection of local art that includes paintings, photography and everything in between.

Taking a seat at the bar, on a couch, or even a refurbished dentist’s chair, you’ll be drawn in by the social atmosphere of Right Brain. Instead of a bar lined with TVs, you’ll find patrons playing board games, throwing darts or simply enjoying the company of their friends over a beer.

Right Brain boasts an impressive line-up of rotating beers, including Will Power Pale Ale, CEO Stout and Black-eye PA to name a few. The “beer board” is well-populated, so finding something to your liking is never an issue. That said, Right Brain usually has a few extreme beers on tap for the more adventurous drinker.

Personally, I’m under the belief that the bourbon barrel is the best thing to happen to beer since yeast. That said, Right Brain delivers one of my all-time favorite barrel aged stouts — Distill My Heart Bourbon Barrel Aged stout.

Aged in Woodford Reserve barrels, this beer pours jet black, with a thin veil of tan head. Notes of vanilla and bourbon on the nose continue through a balanced body of roasted malts and coffee. If you get the opportunity to try this one, you will not be disappointed.

But I digress. This is July in Traverse City, and my most recent visit to Right Brain was for their summer line-up of fruit beers, featuring — you guessed it — cherries.

  • Cherry Pie-Whole: Right Brain collaborated with the Grand Traverse Pie Company to create an ale brewed with whole cherry pies. This beer pours a clean golden-amber, with a thin layer of white head that dissipates quickly. A pleasant nose of sweet cherries continues through a body of toasted malt with a fluffy mouthfeel. The cherries take the front row to this beer, rounded out by a very well-balanced body. An experimental success that is definitely worth trying.
  • Strawberry Fields: Served with a strawberry in the glass, this is lighter ale that pours a hazy golden straw with a very subtle pink tone. Nose of sweet strawberries fades a bit to a warm body of bready malts and a smooth mouthfeel. Carbonation lends to a pleasant crisp finish that lingers with the sweet strawberries found in the nose.
  • Dead Kettle IPA: A hazy, light amber beer with a clean hoppy nose of grapefruit and citrus. A pleasant malt body takes a seat to the predominate citrusy hop flavor. Lighter mouthfeel with good carbonation, the hops continue and round out a nice clean, crisp finish.

Want more Right Brain? Check out our video interview from the 2011 Michigan Summer Beer Fest!

TRAVERSE CITY — From the Empire Spear beer brewed with asparagus to the Ancho Chili Double Dutch Chocolate porter, Right Brain Brewery doesn’t shy away from much at the brewing kettle.
Founded in 2007, the craft brewery has made a name for itself brewing some of the most innovative and unique beers in the state. After one pint in the warehouse-district brewpub, it’s immediately apparent that they take the name “right brain” to heart.
Almost everything in this pub — from the furniture to the beer mugs — strays far away from the ordinary. The walls are covered with an eclectic collection of local art that includes paintings, photography and everything in between.
Taking a seat at the bar, on a couch, or even a refurbished dentist’s chair, you’ll be drawn in by the social atmosphere of Right Brain. Instead of a bar lined with TVs, you’ll find patrons playing board games, throwing darts or simply enjoying the company of their friends over a beer.
Right Brain boasts an impressive line-up of rotating beers, including Will Power Pale Ale, CEO Stout and Black-eye PA to name a few. The “beer board” is well-populated, so finding something to your liking is never an issue. That said, Right Brain usually has a few extreme beers on tap for the more adventurous drinker.
Personally, I’m under the belief that the bourbon barrel is the best thing to happen to beer since yeast. That said, Right Brain delivers one of my all-time favorite barrel aged stouts — Distill My Heart Bourbon Barrel Aged stout.
Aged in Woodford Reserve barrels, this beer pours jet black, with a thin veil of tan head. Notes of vanilla and bourbon on the nose continue through a balanced body of roasted malts and coffee. If you get the opportunity to try this one, you will not be disappointed.
But I digress. This is July in Traverse City, and my most recent visit to Right Brain was for their summer line-up of fruit beers, featuring — you guessed it — cherries.

  • Cherry Pie-Whole: Right Brain collaborated with the Grand Traverse Pie Company to create an ale brewed with whole cherry pies. This beer pours a clean golden-amber, with a thin layer of white head that dissipates quickly. A pleasant nose of sweet cherries continues through a body of toasted malt with a fluffy mouthfeel. The cherries take the front row to this beer, rounded out by a very well-balanced body. An experimental success that is definitely worth trying.
  • Strawberry Fields: Served with a strawberry in the glass, this is lighter ale that pours a hazy golden straw with a very subtle pink tone. Nose of sweet strawberries fades a bit to a warm body of bready malts and a smooth mouthfeel. Carbonation lends to a pleasant crisp finish that lingers with the sweet strawberries found in the nose.
  • Dead Kettle IPA: A hazy, light amber beer with a clean hoppy nose of grapefruit and citrus. A pleasant malt body takes a seat to the predominate citrusy hop flavor. Lighter mouthfeel with good carbonation, the hops continue and round out a nice clean, crisp finish.

Want more Right Brain? Check out our video interview from the 2011 Michigan Summer Beer Fest!

Russell Springsteen talks all things Right Brain during the 2011 Michigan Summer Beer Festival. Springsteen gives us an outlook into the start of the four-year-old Traverse City brewery, its inspiration of the famous asparagus beer, and the future of its brews.

Want more Right Brain? Check out our review of its fruit beers!

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