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two rails

Our names are fundamental to our identities. They’re our calling card. Some say they’re our favorite word to hear. Maybe it’s a load of hoopla, but I get the impression I’d be a different sort of guy if I was a Tim or a Hugh. I’m defined by an intrinsic “Jack-ness,” however lame I know that sounds. All this means to say is—I can see why somebody might get a little funny when another starts to muck with their name. So we see Railtown Brewing getting understandably defensive as a new brewery is poised to open close by with a similar name.

In December 2014, owners Justin Buiter and Gim Lee founded Railtown with a dream like many startups in the industry: sell enough beer to quit their day jobs. Two weeks after opening their doors, they turned in letters of resignation to their former employers and haven’t looked back. This past July, they made a big move, expanding into a pole barn megaplex that can fit twice the number of Railtown enthusiasts. Their steady growth and support from the community has exceeded their wildest expectations. I’d call it karma paying out dividends to two happy-go-lucky guys who deserve success.

That said, with such success comes the need to protect their brand, which brings us to their yet-to-be competitor Railbird Taphouse and Brewery where a couple obvious questions arise. Are the names too close for comfort? And to go Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Maybe. Unfortunately, when entering the arena of intellectual property things get a little hairier than the soliloquies of star-crossed lovers.

Railtown is alleging four counts of trademark infringement in a consumer confusion case substantiated by several accounts where people are already mixing the two up. The examples range from employment applications inquiring and implying the two are under the same ownership to patrons wondering why Railtown would want to open two locations at once. Railbird argues that this confusion could be handled through consumer education, and that Railtown doesn’t own exclusive rights to the word “rail.” Joel Baar, Railbird’s lawyer, made a distinction between the industrial and the aviary, “In fact, most of the beer-related businesses that use “rail” as a formative part of their mark have a clear railroad industry connotation.” True, but there’s a larger issue at hand. Is ten miles a far enough degree of separation to prevent people from making associations they shouldn’t? The jury’s out on this one for now.

Railtown’s end game is pretty simple, without much wiggle room for a middle ground—Railbird needs to change their name. “We registered first, we trademarked first, we operate in the same industry, and we’re drawing from the exact same consumer base,” Buiter said. When put that way, it does look pretty cut and dry. “We’re basically neighbors and we have very similar names.”

But in talking with Buiter, you can tell he didn’t want it to go this way. Early on he met with members of Railbird to hear their story and hammer out a solution over a couple pints. “We were recently in the startup phase, about three and a half years ago, on a really tight budget. We know what it’s like. We didn’t want this to put them in a position preventing them from opening up their doors.”

Buiter extended an olive branch. “We offered to assist them with rebranding and the associated fees. We wanted to get them in a good spot moving forward, but they had no interest in changing their name.” Instead Railbird moved forward with the name showing no indication of folding. Aware of their infringement on the Railtown trademark, they dismissed those concerns, deeming Railtown—in their words—as “just a strip mall brewery.” Insult aside, should the size of another brewery determine how creative you are when coming up with a business name?

It is, at the very least, an awful coincidence how clearly Railbird’s name parallels Railtown’s, and how perfectly it aligns with a slice of Byron Center history. Taking home in the old Byron Hotel, Railbird sought to honor the legacy of ‘The Chicken’, both the meal and the goofy statue that stood guard out front as a roadside attraction. Positioned with a view of the Kent trails, the term railbird—a person who spectates, usually at a horse race—effectively kills two birds with one stone. In a statement sent to MittenBrew, Railbird said, “Given our location, the fact that no one owns the word “rail,” and the homage we desire to pay to The Chicken, we can think of no better name for our taphouse than Railbird Taphouse & Brewery.”

While it is a good name, it comes off as perplexing that Railbird would pour money into court fees and dig their heels into a brand they’ve hardly established, especially before even opening. Just recently we’ve seen another brewery handle a similar situation with a touch more grace. Formerly known as Kings Brewing, this first African-American owned brewery in Michigan got a call from another Kings Brewery based out of California. Obviously the name was taken. Opting for the populist route, FKA Kings let its fans take the reigns, hosting a competition to see who could devise the best new name. It was a bright move that deepened their consumer relations while maneuvering them out of a tight spot too.

We should also note the large helping of irony to this whole situation. Railtown originally formed under the LLC Grinning Mitten only to scrap the name after deciding it best to avoid conflict and confusion in the marketplace with fellow Michigan brewery, The Mitten Brewing Company. In regards to the switch, Buiter reflects on it matter of factly, “It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a unique name for their business.” I imagine it must be frustrating for Railtown to watch a new brewery mire themselves in a problem they were able to so easily sidestep.

In an industry which prides itself on camaraderie and community, it’s odd that Railbird would stay staunchly opposed to any sort of compromise from the get-go. Whether in the circuit court or the court of public opinion, a stubbornness to adapt could be their downfall. The craft beer industry is booming, with plenty of room left for fresh faces to join the fray. It’s important that these voices come from original places.

 

Dutton, Mich. — Railtown Brewing Company will open the doors to its newly constructed expansion on July 16.

The new building is located at 3595 68th Street SE, Dutton, Michigan—next door to the brewery’s original location. It boasts two floors and an outdoor patio, and it will seat over twice as many guests as the original space.

railtown brewing

The new location’s second floor will eventually be available for private events and beer dinners.

Hungry guests of Railtown Brewing previously had to bring their own food, but the new space has a kitchen that will serve American pub grub with some cultural flavor. Dishes will take inspiration from Chinese, Korean and Dutch cuisine, to name a few.

Exposed ceilings and duct work lend an industrial feel to the new building. It will seem familiar to those who visited the original location, said Justin Buiter, co-owner of Railtown Brewing Company. Popular dart boards will still hang on the walls, and the decor will follow a similar theme.

“It takes a lot of the feel from our current space, it’s just bigger,” Buiter said.

Buiter said the expansion was built by the local community—both literally and figuratively.

In the literal sense, much of the construction on the new building was completed by local businesses.

“Most everybody involved in the project is Michigan based, but we had a lot of trades that came specifically out of Dutton,” Buiter said.

Figuratively, the expansion was built on support received from the Dutton community. When the brewery opened in 2014, Buiter said he wasn’t sure what to expect. Dutton was a dry town until 2005.

“The support from the residents and businesses of Dutton has been absolutely unbelievable,” Buiter said. “Our growth thus far has really been fueled by the local community.”

The brewery’s growth will continue, Buiter said. Railtown Brewing has also doubled their production capacity with new equipment from Psycho Brew, a Michigan-based brewing equipment company. Sights are set on distribution for Railtown Brewing in the near future.

“As we get our feet underneath us and make sure we have our taproom taken care of, we’re going to start looking at opportunities within the distribution market,” Buiter said.

The brewery will celebrate its last hurrah at the original location on Saturday, July 14. The event  will feature special beers on tap.

“All our staff will be present to reminisce about all the stuff we accomplished over here, and the future next door,” Buiter said.

great american beer fest

The popular refrain from the 1971 Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory seemed the most appropriate way to describe my excitement when I found out I would be attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. As a lover of craft beer I was vaguely aware of the festival but never thought I would have the opportunity to attend. I’ve been to several West Michigan beer festivals but I was not prepared for the wonders that awaited me in scenic golden Colorado. Oh, and Golden, Colorado is the home of Coors… right? Get it? Golden ticket? Never mind…

The Great American Beer Festival was started in 1982 and had 24 breweries, 47 beers, and roughly 800 attendees in the Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Fast forward to 2017 where some 60,000 attendees, 3,900 beers, and 800 breweries were crammed into the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Tickets sold out in just over four hours.

In an attempt to the make the trip as affordable as possible we packed up the MittenBrew-Subaru and made our way from the Midwest to the Rockies. We agreed to make the drive casual and did so by stopping at some cool places like 3 Floyds, The World’s Largest Truck Stop, several Kum & Go gas stations as well as a Pump and Pantry (no, I am not making those last two up). Once in western Illinois, the long straight highways were lovingly hugged on both sides by vast expanses of corn, grassland, and not much else.

We intentionally arrived two days early to hit some of the amazing breweries that call Colorado home. In no particular order we hit Avery, Oskar Blues, Crooked Stave, Bull and Bush, Left Hand, Wynkoop, Great Divide, Bootstrap, Mockery, Black Shirt, and Colorado’s own—Coors. At each location we were greeted warmly, treated well, and welcomed back. It’s a town very much in love with its beer, both macro and craft.

Returning to luxurious hotel accommodations after each day of exploring might have been nice, but we chose to camp with some great friends from Railtown Brewing and City Built Brewing. Warm, clear sunny days gave way to frosty cold nights (we’re talking 3 layers to sleep cold). I dreamt of having all 4 of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents on my air mattress to keep me warm. Ok, that may have been an overshare.

Thursday, the opening day of the festival, arrived and it was lovely outside—warm, sunny and just really pleasant. We attended the Michigan Brewer’s Guild gathering at 1-UP-LODO which was a lot of fun to watch. Brewers talking beer, the local sites, and playing vintage arcade games. I used to be a decent Galaga player, I am sad to report I am not any more. I was much better at KISS pinball. After some great laughs and beers we headed to the festival.

great american beer fest

The Colorado Convention center is monstrous and appears to be guarded by a frozen two-story tall blue bear. The general admission line was wrapped around the building and I never actually saw the end of the line, and this was almost 45 minutes before the gates opened. People were enjoying the sunny weather and the glorious anticipation of tasting some of the best beers in the world. It was very much like the 5 golden ticket holders meeting Willy Wonka at the gate when we arrived at the event door to get our media credentials—except that there were 2 of us.

I have attended large techie conventions before, but to see that many brewery booths was really overwhelming. Media attendees were granted early entry so I got to walk in and see the place before the onslaught. I casually strolled in trying to maintain my composure while planning my dark beer “must haves.” While perusing the giant map and list we began to hear bagpipes which meant the festival was about to open to the attendees. Reading that 60,000 people attend over the 3 days was a neat fact but it didn’t occur to me what that would look like. There must have been 2,000 people just standing inside the main door waiting to go through the gates. It was literally a river of beer shirts, beards, cargo shorts, weird hats, costumes, and smiles. The vibe was really positive. It was also clear that many people knew exactly where they were going right away, some even running to get that first pour of their favorite libation.

From that moment on it was elbow to elbow with people laughing, smiling, and celebrating the wonderful gift of beer. I was ecstatic to get some fantastic beers that I hadn’t tried before like Double Barrel Baptist from Epic, Barrel Aged Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues, Tweak from Avery, and to close out the festival I had a pour of Utopias from Samuel Adams. What an amazing journey of beer and community.

great american beer fest

These are my tips for first time attendees:

  • Cell phones are only good for taking pictures of your drunk buddies or co-workers. Don’t plan on making calls or getting texts in the convention center during the festival.
  • Know where the bathrooms are. It’s a long walk to anywhere on the convention floor and it takes 10 times longer trying to move through the crowds.
  • Pace yourself and stay hydrated #betterdrinkingculture
  • Smile and take it all in. The sooner you settle into the scene, the sooner you’ll realize you’re with friends.
  • Try something new. I am a dark beer lover and I had a sour or two—I let my hair down.
  • If you find yourself on a brewery tour and are invited to hold a hop pellet, might I recommend that you don’t eat said hop pellet. Trust me.

 

It was an amazing adventure and while I didn’t win control of the chocolate factory I did get to meet some great people. Dates for the 2018 Great American Beer Festival are September 20th – 22nd in 2018. I’ll be seeing you then Denver, and not as a green newbie this time!

Cheerz!

 

Photography: Steph Harding & Ray Ashley

railtown brewing

Gim Lee and Justin Buiter, co-founders and fellow brewers of Railtown Brewing Company, opened their doors in December of 2014. Initially, Lee and Buiter would brew during the week  and open for business on the weekends. However, after two weekends of positive feedback and satisfied beer-drinkers, they decided to quit their day jobs and fully commit to the brewery.

Since then, seating capacity has become Railtown’s biggest problem as the young brewery has grown much quicker than expected. Now with eight full-time employees, 414 barrels sold in 2016, and a goal of 1000 barrels by 2018, Dutton’s watering hole is ready for expansion.

Railtown will be taking over the neighboring carwash where they will oversee a massive construction project. The layout for the new space is 6,250 sq. ft. with indoor seating for 100 patrons, 95 seats in the mezzanine, and an additional 40-70 seats on the patio.

The owners are hoping for a comfortable, industrial feel, and they have partnered with Beer City Metal Works & Construction to ensure they achieve the desired atmosphere.

According to Buiter, they are “thrilled to formalize that [they] are staying rooted in the Dutton community. Our customers have supported us for two-and-a-half years and we couldn’t be happier to stay here.”

To celebrate their success and show appreciation for the Dutton community, Railtown will be offering Lifetime Mug Club memberships to their passionate fans. The membership will cost $475, which gives patrons $2 off every beer, every day, for life.

railtown brewing

Railtown will only be offering these memberships for a limited time. The sale ends on July 15th. Also, owners Gim and Justin do not plan on selling memberships after the sale ends, so this is the only time for customers to reap the benefits.

Lee and Buiter also wanted to cultivate a more rounded experience for their customers by offering a food menu at the new location. The new space will provide a variety of street fare food options to accompany their award-winning craft beer selection.

Additionally, Railtown fans can look forward to enjoying more of their favorite Dutton-made beers on their summer adventures thanks to the brewery’s new canning machine. Coming soon, customers will be able to purchase 16-ounce cans from the taproom.

For more updates on all the changes at Railtown, check out their Facebook page.

 

 

Michigan Guild

LANSING, Mich—Ten (10) brewery members of the Michigan Brewers Guild were awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Competition, in Denver, Colorado—the largest commercial beer competition in the world and a symbol of brewing excellence, presented by the Brewers Association.

In all, 286 medals were presented in 96 unique beer categories covering 161 different beer styles (including all subcategories). Winners were chosen from 7,227 competition entries (nearly 9 percent more than the 6,647 entries in 2015 and surpassing all previous participation records) from 1,752 breweries hailing from 50 states, plus Washington, D.C.

The competition also saw its biggest-ever panel of judges, with 264 beer experts from 12 countries, including the U.S., and 170 competition volunteers.

Michigan Brewers Guild member received the following awards:

GOLD

  • Dirty Frank Stout — River’s Edge Brewing, Milford
    Category 89: Export Stout
  • Raucher – Wolverine State Brewing Co., Ann Arbor Category 34: Smoke Beer

SILVER

  • Expedition Stout – Bell’s Brewing Co., Galesburg
    Category 32: Aged Beer
  • reDANKulous – Backstage Series – Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids
    Category 63: American Imperial Red

BRONZE

  •  Angelina – Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids
    Category 30: Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
  • Kusterer Original Weissbier – Cedar Springs Brewing Co, Cedar Springs
    Category 75: German-Style Wheat Ale
  • Broadway Light – Detroit Brewing Company, Detroit
    Category 38: American Style Cream Ale
  • Bangin The Mash – Latitude 42 Brewing Co., Portage
    Category 88: Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout
  • Good Mooed Milk Stout – Railtown Brewing Co, Dutton
    Category 91: Sweet Stout or Cream Stout
  • Live Wire – Roak Brewing, Royal Oak
    Category 55: English IPA

 

The Great American Beer Festival invites industry professionals from around the world to sit together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, taste beers in each specified style category. The ultimate goal of the judging panel is to identify the three beers that best represent each beer-style category as described and adopted by the GABF.

Five different three-hour judging sessions take place over the three-day period during the week of the festival, with judges assigned to evaluate beers in their specific area of expertise. Breweries are awarded points, which are tabulated to arrive at the top three place medals in each category. The judging panel awards gold, silver or bronze medals that are recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. These awards are among the most coveted in the industry and heralded by the winning brewers in their national advertising. Medal distinctions are as follows:

  • GOLD: A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.
  • SILVER: An excellent beer that may vary slightly from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance.
  • BRONZE: A fine example of the style that may vary slightly from style parameters and/or have minor deviations in taste, aroma or appearance.

Now in its 35th year, the Great American Beer Festival is the granddaddy of all U.S. beer festivals, offering the largest collection of U.S. beer ever assembled. Sponsored by The Brewers Association, the festival features more than 3,800 different beers from 780 breweries throughout the country. More than 60,000 attendees and 3,600 volunteers gathered at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the 3-day event.

Michigan’s brewing industry continues to grow in the total volume of beer produced and sold, as well as in the number of breweries. Michigan currently ranks #5 in the nation in terms of the total number of breweries and the Guild proudly represents its highest number of members at 210 (and continually growing)—thus supporting its claim as “The Great Beer State.” Michigan’s breweries are located in every area of the state, operating as community-focused small businesses that collectively employ more than 7,000 individuals and pay more than $144 million in wages. The overall impact of the craft beer industry in Michigan totals more than $608 million.

I’ve been here several evenings, and each time I was greeted with friendly conversation from Justin Buiter and Gim Lee, the owners, a packed bar, and fine beer. Railtown Brewing Company may be a little out of the way for the beer slingers and sippers of the booming Grand Rapids, Michigan beer scene, but for those of you looking to remember what a small craft beer movement looks and feels like, sit yourself down at Railtown Brewing Company and enjoy your way through some solid examples of the delicious cerveza.

 

Bike Ride Blonde

5.9% ABV

20 IBU’s

Golden and trimmed with a web of lacing, the Bike Ride Blonde isn’t just a solid “gateway” beer for the new craft drinker. This brew is a pleasant entry for anyone looking to refresh themselves with a well balanced blonde that can lend itself well to plenty of food-pairing options.

The beer has the faintest hint of fruit aroma in the nose from the contribution of a top fermenting yeast, as well as a soothing malt quality that lends notes of cracker to both the nose and flavor. I might as well get picky here and note that the nose has an aroma of a cracker that got toasted a bit more thoroughly than the others.

The hops offer next to nothing in the aroma but pick back up oh-so-subtly in the flavor and create an immaculate balancing effect for the body and finish. Those fruity esters? They’ve popped back in again for one last hurrah in the finish. Remember, though, that these esters are very subtle. I wouldn’t ever describe this as being a fruit-forward beer. This brew is right on style.

 

Citra Warrior Imperial IPA

9.6% ABV

108 IBU’s

This brew is rust in color with a yellow-tinted, bone-white head. I love attention to detail, and the bartender made sure to pour my sampler in a snifter so I can assess everything that much better. This act gives me warm fuzzies every time.

The aroma smells as if someone is ripping open dozens of citra hops and smooshing them on my nose. I get a hint of grape-nut like malt, but honestly it’s just those hops that really do the talking.

Mouthfeel for IPAs usually becomes a tough topic for me because of my frustration with grisly bitterness. This DIPA is surprisingly smooth, flavorful, and gives a nice wallop of hop bitterness while never approaching abrasive. The soft and creamy character of the beer makes it feel like clouds on my tongue. The finish offers flavors of orange rind citrus, grape nuts, and a bold sort of resin note.

This is a dynamite brew that keeps intensity and flavor intact.

 

Good Mooed Milk Stout

4.5% ABV

27 IBU’s

I’m greeted by a dark brown brew with a tan head and an initial flavor of coffee. Is this brewed with coffee? No, but that roasted malt is rearing its head and creating a big stroke of roastiness amidst the hint of sweet lactose sugar. To be honest, I expected more sweetness and creaminess from that sugar. Not that I’m disappointed, but it would be harder for me to discern this as being a milk stout if it was in a blind flight.

The flavors include bitter dark chocolate notes mixed with that hint of lactose sugar along with big bold notes of burnt bread crust and a whole lotta coffee. Tastes like my dark roast coffee that edges towards a baker’s chocolate-like quality.

Finishing this brew I find notes of roasty bitterness in the finish, as expected, and an increasing need for food. This beer is just begging for a meal to pair it with. There are pizza joints nearby as sources of nourishment, and I’d reckon that a pie loaded with meats like sausage would be just prime with this brew.

 

WarleyBine

10% ABV

62.2 IBU’s

Cloudy and a muddy burnt-amber color, this big and bold beer offers generous aromas of fig, caramel, overripe strawberry, prune, a touch of earthiness, and a reminder of Sugar Daddy candy.

The mouthfeel consists of a creamy beer and morphs itself into one of balancing acidity. It works its way into a dry finish that leaves a hint of alcohol warmth and a background kind of bitterness that grows subtly over time before the next sip.

I love barleywines. They are some of my absolute favorite styles and the fact that Railtown went the “traditional” malt-forward route with their beer is so wonderful. The brew is well balanced but still lets you know that it packs a punch. It’s bold without being cloying and I am certainly interested in drinking this handy guy alone or with food. Actually, I sure as hell hope they continue making it into the winter because I imagine myself sipping this as I get flush in the face during some holiday parties.

Railtown has hit a sweet spot for me, and I’m glad I get to share my experience there with all of you. Besides, now I can acquire more drinking companions for the next time I visit.

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.

[tw-parallax image=”https://mittenbrew.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/DSC2501.jpg” target=”self” lightbox=”no” ][/tw-parallax]

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.”


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