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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

Schmohz

This is what people do for beer: they go to a job at in southeast Michigan five days a week, and then, they drive across the state to brew beer all weekend. Jim Schwerin has been living this life since 2004. Along with his wife, Laurie, Schwerin co-owns Schmohz Brewing Company in Grand Rapids. Like many breweries, it all started with a dream.

Schwerin and his fellow Michigan Tech friends had a desire for good beer, but were having a difficult time finding what they wanted as they traversed the state to and from school. Years after graduation, Schwerin decided to make this dream of good beer a reality, and purchased the former Robert Thomas Brewery in Grand Rapids. With the support and financial backing of their friends, the Schwerins launched Schmohz in December of 2004. (The name came from the union of the last names and nicknames of the friends from Michigan Tech. “We would come up with all kinds of names during trips to the UP,” Schwerin said. “Schmohz is the one that stuck.”)

Schmohz

They have been serving up tasty beer ever since, most recently under the auspices of head brewer, Gabi Palmer. And as always, Palmer is brewing up goodness, particularly for the upcoming Winter Beer Fest.

“We will have six beers on tap,” Palmer said. “Hopknocker Imperial IPA, Kiss My Scottish Arse, Coconut Crusher Toasted Coconut Stout, Zingiberene Ginger Gruit, Shameless O’Pikey Hooligan Red Ale, and Mint Chocolate Chip Stout. We will also have the Schmohz fire pit to help keep us all warm.”

At the brewpub, Palmer is doing a series of small batch experiments with the mainstay stout, BoneCrusher. The first was the Mint Chocolate Chip (which will be at the Winter Beer Fest). The release schedule for the rest of batches are: Vanilla Bean (February 24), Espresso (March 9), and Chocolate-covered Cherry (March 23).

SchmohzNext up is the annual Achilles Ale 5k race, which raises money for Special Olympics, will be held on April 16. This July, pending township approval, the brewpub hopes to do a big, one-day Schmohican Fest. Other future plans include a pilot batch of the dark NA beer based on the porter recipe.

Regulars and newcomers will easily find something to enjoy at Schmohz. The biggest sellers—from both newbies and veteran customers—are the Hopknocker Imperial IPA and the Treasure Chest ESB. “Very few breweries make a real, traditional, English-style ESB,” Schwerin said.

The bottom line is to make everyone feel comfortable, something this cozy and inviting brewpub excels at. When someone new comes in, “I encourage them to look over the menu and maybe get a sampler. Or, I find out what they like and then steer them in that direction,” Palmer said.

People go to great lengths for great beer, including big sacrifices and long drives. Keep on truckin’.

Fall celebrations are abundant in Michigan this time of year. On Saturday, Cadillac celebrated in its own way, with Cadillac’s Craft Beer Festival.

Now in its fourth year, Cadillac’s Craft Beer Festival has been built up by the local community and featured a classic car show, crafts, local musicians and beer and cider from 10 breweries throughout the state.

Michelle McCoy and a handful of other Cadillac community members have taken on the responsibility of planning this community event. “It started in a little tent on Harris Street with men pouring beer out of bottles and no brewers,” explained McCoy.

This year was the first year they had sponsorship from companies like BitSocial Media, Bad Teacher Home Brewing Supply and Platinum Noir Salon (owned by McCoy).

With the help of sponsors, the festival was expanded. In previous years, the festival had been held in a single tent. This year, multiple tents were used and the festival spread out into the park along Lake Cadillac. Festival goers could stroll down the street and enjoy classic cars and then could go into the park to find locally made crafts and Michigan beer and cider.

With the leaves falling and Autumn approaching, I was excited to try the many pumpkin ales available. Griffin Claw Brewing Company, New Holland Brewing and Arcadia Ales all had pumpkin ales on tap. I started with Griffin Claw’s Screamin’ Pumpkin Ale. This amber ale is brewed with roasted pumpkin in the mash. It was a smooth ale with a great pumpkin flavor and finished with hints of nutmeg and ginger. I sought out Arcadia Ale’s Jaw Jacker Pumpkin Spice next, but just a couple hours into the festival, Arcadia had already sold out.

I made a stop at one of my favorite breweries, Right Brain Brewery, next and sampled the Flying Squirrel. With a deep, rich color this brown ale was smooth and had a light roasted nutty taste.

The last beer I sampled came from Schmohz Brewery. I tend not to drink hoppy IPAs, but the Hopknocker Imperial IPA was highly recommended. Hopknocker boasts a 10% ABV and 136 IBU. The variety of hops are present in the beer, but are not overwhelming. With a malty finish balancing the flavor, this IPA was not nearly as bitter as I expected.

Along with great craft brews, Cadillac’s Craft Beer Festival also featured a homebrew competition. Nearly 30 submissions were made for the privately judged contest, with winners being announced in four different categories.

This festival seemed more casual and comfortable than other craft beer festivals. It truly was a community event, meant to boost its unity and revive its energy. Next year, look for further improvements, a bigger homebrew competition with prizes from the newly open Clam Lake Brewing and a larger selection of breweries as this group of community members strives to make Cadillac a more vibrant community.

6.4% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Dark brown with a small head.
Aroma: Prune, caramel and chocolate.
Taste: Slight bitterness with smoke, dark fruit and coffee.
Mouthfeel: Medium to strong bodied.

Bonecrusher is an interesting take on what you’d expect from a stout — with a hoppy, yet smooth feeling, and subtle dark flavors, this brew is rather easy-drinking despite its heavier mouthfeel. I commend Chas and the folks at Schmohz for trying something different, and while this wouldn’t be a regular beer for me, it’s definitely a unique, one-of-a kind stout that I’d be happy to have every so often.

9.2% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Black with a very minimal head.
Aroma: A bit boozy with some dark fruit.
Taste: Dark chocolate, roasted malt, dark fruit and decent carbonation. A bit smoky with some tartness as well.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied.

Kiss My Scottish Arse is what you’d expect from a scottish ale — deep flavors, with a bit of a funky twist. A smoke backend leads to some tart, surrounded by a chocolate, dark fruit and malt flavor profile.

TRAVERSE CITY — During a time of the year when Michiganders are tiring of the snow, Timber Ridge’s Suds & Snow brought excitement back to the season.

The seventh annual event was held Saturday, which paired favorite winter activities with microbrews and served as a fundraiser for Children and Family Services.

Upon entering the festival, I was greeted by a fun, casual atmosphere. In the main part of the event, attendees were able to sample beers from Bell’s, Saugatuck and Greenbush breweries. I sampled Saugatuck’s Bonfire Brown, an American Brown Ale that is intended to remind you of a campfire with friends and family. It had a nutty flavor with notes of chocolate and had a slightly smoky finish. Indeed, it paired perfectly with the bonfire right across from their booth.

Food was also available in the main part of the event. Travino’s, Schelde’s and Red Mesa Grill were on site to offer small plates.

After enjoying a great brew, many people ventured down the snowshoe trail or played a few rounds of disc golf. New this year, a three-hole disc golf course was donated by Carly’s Playground (Mt. Holiday). Tilley’s Party Store also donated discs for the event.

If you ventured down the snowshoe trail, you ended up at the infamous trail station, where the atmosphere seemed to be more young and carefree. This is where most people seemed to stay, enjoying brews from Short’s, Right Brain and Schmohz breweries. There was also live music from a variety of favored local musicians.

It has been quite a snowy winter in Northern Michigan, and Suds & Snow utilized that in the best way they could. Most breweries, including Short’s, served over snow bars instead of tables.

“This is great. We didn’t have to bring ice with us this year,” said a volunteer from Short’s Brewery, which created the most elaborate setup for the event. Short’s also had two snow sculptures and a large tap setup.

I sampled Short’s Bloody Beer, which is brewed with Roma tomatoes. Not a big fan of Bloody Marys, I have been hesitant to sample the beer previously. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It had a strong tomato taste, but it was not overwhelming. It was lighter beer with a robust flavor and a hint of peppercorns at the finish.

I was also able to sample the Bone Crusher Stout from Schmohz Brewery. It has an intimidating name, but was one of the smoothest stouts I have tried. With a smooth chocolate flavor, it finishes with a nice balanced malt taste.

“This is a great event. And it’s in such a great place,” said a volunteer with Schmohz.

It was my first time attending Suds & Snow, and I have to agree. Timber Ridge Resort hosts a variety of great events throughout the year, and this has become my one of my favorites.

TRAVERSE CITY — During a time of the year when Michiganders are tiring of the snow, Timber Ridge’s Suds & Snow brought excitement back to the season.
The seventh annual event was held Saturday, which paired favorite winter activities with microbrews and served as a fundraiser for Children and Family Services.
Upon entering the festival, I was greeted by a fun, casual atmosphere. In the main part of the event, attendees were able to sample beers from Bell’s, Saugatuck and Greenbush breweries. I sampled Saugatuck’s Bonfire Brown, an American Brown Ale that is intended to remind you of a campfire with friends and family. It had a nutty flavor with notes of chocolate and had a slightly smoky finish. Indeed, it paired perfectly with the bonfire right across from their booth.
Food was also available in the main part of the event. Travino’s, Schelde’s and Red Mesa Grill were on site to offer small plates.
After enjoying a great brew, many people ventured down the snowshoe trail or played a few rounds of disc golf. New this year, a three-hole disc golf course was donated by Carly’s Playground (Mt. Holiday). Tilley’s Party Store also donated discs for the event.
If you ventured down the snowshoe trail, you ended up at the infamous trail station, where the atmosphere seemed to be more young and carefree. This is where most people seemed to stay, enjoying brews from Short’s, Right Brain and Schmohz breweries. There was also live music from a variety of favored local musicians.
It has been quite a snowy winter in Northern Michigan, and Suds & Snow utilized that in the best way they could. Most breweries, including Short’s, served over snow bars instead of tables.
“This is great. We didn’t have to bring ice with us this year,” said a volunteer from Short’s Brewery, which created the most elaborate setup for the event. Short’s also had two snow sculptures and a large tap setup.
I sampled Short’s Bloody Beer, which is brewed with Roma tomatoes. Not a big fan of Bloody Marys, I have been hesitant to sample the beer previously. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It had a strong tomato taste, but it was not overwhelming. It was lighter beer with a robust flavor and a hint of peppercorns at the finish.
I was also able to sample the Bone Crusher Stout from Schmohz Brewery. It has an intimidating name, but was one of the smoothest stouts I have tried. With a smooth chocolate flavor, it finishes with a nice balanced malt taste.
“This is a great event. And it’s in such a great place,” said a volunteer with Schmohz.
It was my first time attending Suds & Snow, and I have to agree. Timber Ridge Resort hosts a variety of great events throughout the year, and this has become my one of my favorites.

5.2% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Brown with small white head.
Aroma: Nutty with some spice.
Taste: Nutmeg and cinnamon, with a bit of vanilla and malt sweetness.
Mouthfeel: Light to medium bodied, with very low carbonation.

Schmohz’s easy drinking, smooth Oktoberfest is a great autumn-time beer with spices and a bit of sweetness throughout each sip. By leaving out much of the carbonation many are accustomed to, you can get a smooth brew with tastes of nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and sweet malt. Overall this is a great introductory fall brew, and one that I rather enjoyed.

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