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

HUDSONVILLE — Goldilocks may have only tested out a famous family of bears’ beds, chairs and porridge — but I’m confident that asked about the Beer City Spring Fest she would agree, “It was JUST right.”

“Being able to walk around and literally see every single pour available is my kind of festival, said attendee Adam VanAlstine. “I didn’t wait in a single line too long or had to feel overly concerned of others.  Not that I am a rude guy, but weaving through people was very easy.”

For its second year, Beer City Spring Fest was home to over 250 of Michigan’s best beers accompanied by additional special offerings. Unlike other festivals, the Spring Fest also showcased a broader range of Michigan’s proud local gems. From distillers to wineries, to cider makers and award winning food trucks, there was sure something to please everyone.

Spring Fest’s ability to beautifully balance a vast variety of beverages perfect for the warm weather felt gave hope for the warmer weather yet to come — fingers and toes crossed. IPAs were in abundance, filling at least one tap line of every brewery present. The only problem was narrowing down which IPA to choose from. With names like Big in Japan IPA from Crankers Brewery, Citra Your Ass Down IPA from Tibbs and Oats ‘N Hoes IPA from Unruly Brewing Co., the names along brought a crowd of testers!

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Aside from the ever-flowing IPAs some other samples perfect for spring featured were:

Pike 51 Brewery’s Tea Pants Cream Ale: An elegant light shaded ale with pink tints, a light body and floral notes made this stand out. Aside from the ‘girly’ description this beer was a pleaser for both male and female alike.

Coppercraft Distillery Genever Gin: A softer more floral gin perfect for warmer weather proudly stands by its ingredients only spanning 50 miles, showcasing its true local Dutch culture. To the attendees, this gin was served with a little Cooper Tulip tea, fresh grapefruit juice, honey and a splash of club soda, making it a perfect afternoon sipper.

B. Nektar Meadery’s Kill All the Golfers: Who said we all had to be golfers, especially when you could drink mead attributed to their demise? Golfer or not, this mead is sure to knock out some birdies. A mild sweetness with a bitter black tea and tart lemon creates a perfect handshake to those who golf and those who well, have more nefarious thoughts.

Low ‘N Slow BBQ Naked Pulled Pork: BBQ being a food that pairs perfectly with the outdoors, friends and a good time. Low ‘N Slow’s meats were a perfectly tender mouthwatering smoky satisfaction that kept my hunger at bay and stomach at just the right amount of fullness to let the drinking continue.

Spring Fest truly captured the meaning of spring, a time of a new beginning. It wasn’t uncommon for the lovely people pouring beer samples to actually be admires of the product and not an employee. They got to share their love for the beer to others possibly trying it out for the first time.

Matthew Mead jumped on the chance to pour for B. Nektar when they asked for volunteers. “It was great talking to so many people and hearing their thoughts on the B. Nektar products, as the Zombie Killer Cider blew out very fast,” he said.

This year’s Beer City Spring Fest was a great success uniting all the makers and drinkers from all aspects of the alcohol industry! Take what you’ve learned from this and be confident in your spring drink of choice. Raise up your beer, mead, cider, wine or spirit and cheers to another success!

GRAND RAPIDS — If you’re on a beer forum or two, you’ll find plenty of advice on which whales to slay during the Saturday session of the 10th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival.

For the first time in it’s history of celebrating in Grand Rapids, the Guild added a second day to the party.

Based on Friday’s experience and enhanced by previous tasting research, here are a few beers I suggest you seek out tomorrow in no particular order:

Big Lake Brewing Company “Dark Star” breakfast stout. Travis Prueter, brewer, told MittenBrew it’s brewed using “Kona and Sumatra coffee, Godiva dark baker’s chocolate, then aged on cacao nibs.”

The barrel aged version spends “at least three and a half months on the barrel.”

Big Lake also provided a mean Imperial Brown — BB Elroy, which was aged in bourbon barrels.

Jolly Pumpkin “Saison X” farmhouse saison. A nice refreshing, complex, saison to treat your palate to. Brewed with candied ginger, lemon peel, orange peel and a blend of pink, black and green peppercorns.

Pike 51 “Oud Bruin” sour brown. I didn’t get to enjoy it Friday; it’s only being tapped today. I’ve had it from the source and will be seeing you in line for it tomorrow. Probably more than once.

Chelsea Alehouse “Hollier 8” double brown ale. A beautiful, roasty, toasty brew.

Dark Horse “Black Bush” black IPA. This relatively new release does worthy battle with their more well-known beers.

Witch’s Hat “Night Fury” imperial stouts. This series of bourbon barrel beers provides everything from vanilla bean to espresso and cherry flavors. We tried the vanilla bean variation, and were blown away by its subtle sweetness an overall balance, especially with it being a bourbon barrel age brew.

The Saturday session of Winter Beer Festival opens to the public at 1 p.m. today, with early entry available for VIPs and Enthusiast members at Noon. We hope to see you there!

While the stretch of Chicago Drive through Hudsonville may no longer be known as Turnpike 51, the namesake lives in the form of fermentation.

In June 2012, Pike 51 Brewing Co. brought back the historic route’s name with craft brews to complement the existing Hudsonville Winery. The West Michigan winery opened three years earlier as the first phase in a plan by co-owners Steve Guikema, Ron Snider and Ken Groenink.

“We always wanted to do beer and then a couple of things fell in place for us,” Guikema said.

Call it what you will, but in a certain sense, Pike 51’s brewpub is the perfect storm. For one, the three business partners had been home brewing together for almost 20 years when they opened a winery. Second, craft beer continues to gain popularity.

But the last piece was probably the most important — the perfect brewer.

Enter Jeff Williams. The former HopCat head brewer had been frequenting the winery since its opening, taking residence just three blocks away.

“He’s been coming in since we opened,” Guikema said. “It was just a perfect fit.

“At first we didn’t even know him as a brewer, we just knew him as a customer who came in. Jeff has a phenomenal reputation.”

Entering Pike’s taproom, a certain simplicity greets its thirsty patrons. Modern hardwood floors meet a long U-shaped stone bar with a cavernous backdrop where tap handles and wine bottles are constantly flowing in glasses. The bar is an excellent gathering space to meet and greet with fellow patrons.

Tables throughout the southern portion of the brewpub are noticeably close together, also encouraging chatting with neighbors. This is clearly part of the true pub style of the layout, as no distractions like TVs are an option to divert from the goal of enjoying the company of those gathered together in the name of libations.

“It’s just get-to-know-you,” said Amber Guikema, Steve’s daughter. “My name is on my shirt, but I want you to know my name and I want to know your name.

“It’s kind of enjoy the company, have a conversation with your neighbor and enjoy a good drink.”

As neighbors forge bonds, 16 beers are available on tap, quite a variety for a newly established brewery. But it’s all thanks to the creativity of the brewer.

“The good thing about Jeff as a brewer is he’s very, very dedicated to making a true form,” Amber Guikema said. “If it’s an imperial brown, he’s going make sure it’s a true imperial brown. He’ll have his spin on it, but the ABV, the IBUs will be true form.”

“(The number of tap handles) started out to be versatile,” Steve Guikema added. “Jeff’s kind of got free reign. He hasn’t made a bad beer.”

As such, since Pike 51’s first batch of beer, Williams has been spot on, according to Guikema.

“Jeff wanted to name the very first batch Calibration, so that he could make sure his numbers aligned on a brand new system. He nailed the numbers from batch one. It was right on.

“We hit the ground running. It’s all his concept, his recipes. I have total trust in him.”

Along with mainstays Marvin’s Weizen, The Kush IPA and Knight’s Brown, the current tap rotation includes the following special/seasonals:

By July, the brewery plans to release some bourbon-aged brews, which are currently aging in the brewery.

With everything seemingly aligning for Pike 51, Guikema and his partners don’t plan to limit the potential of the brewery and winery.

“We’ve got over five acres,” he said. “I think we’ve got the best business plan ever made. We actually still all have our day jobs.”

So, just as the customer base at Pike 51 grows, so too can the brewery and taproom. In the meantime, Pike 51 brews are already showing up in select bars and plans for bottling are in the works.

Pike 51 Brewing Co. and Hudsonville Winery are located at 3768 Chicago Drive in Hudsonville.

9.8% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Black with a small head.
Aroma: Vanilla with some chocolate.
Taste: Vanilla, oat, chocolate and caramel. A bit of smoke too.
Mouthfeel: Strong bodied.

Pike 51’s imperial porter — Sinister Kid — holds an impressive array of strong flavors. This limited brew is extremely smooth, despite the relatively high ABV content, and goes down pretty easy. It’s roasty, malty and very flavorful. And while imperial porters are pretty rare, Sinister Kid is right up there at the top of the list.

7.8% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Burnt orange with some lacing.
Aroma: Banana and other fruit. Malt apparent. Barely picking up the cherry.
Taste: Cherry hits you up front, but doesn’t linger at all. Trails into an overall fruit flavor that comes across as banana.
Mouthfeel: Medium body with some creaminess.

Overall, this hits the nail on the head…a triple with cherry. It’s a bit too fruity for my liking, but I can see it as a crowd favorite. Truly. With nearly 8 percent ABV.

7.9% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Reddish brown with a medium head.
Aroma: Oats and strawberry…kinda funky.
Taste: Burnt malt with fruit. The aroma is present as well; kind of a toast and jam feel.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied.

If there’s anything I would never expect to hear out a beer, is that it tastes a little bit like toast and strawberry jam. But that’s exactly what describes Pike 51’s Knight’s Brown — a brown ale with certainly a different style from what I’ve had in the past. Despite a somewhat funky aroma, this brew is actually very flavorful and enjoyable. And it amazingly works, in a “I’m about to eat a great breakfast” sort of way.

7.9% ABV, Draft
Appearance: Reddish brown with a medium head.
Aroma: Oats and strawberry…kinda funky.
Taste: Burnt malt with fruit. The aroma is present as well; kind of a toast and jam feel.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied.
If there’s anything I would never expect to hear out a beer, is that it tastes a little bit like toast and strawberry jam. But that’s exactly what describes Pike 51’s Knight’s Brown — a brown ale with certainly a different style from what I’ve had in the past. Despite a somewhat funky aroma, this brew is actually very flavorful and enjoyable. And it amazingly works, in a “I’m about to eat a great breakfast” sort of way.

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