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winter beer fest

The Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Fest was (understandably) pushed back one week due to local flooding of the Grand River. With knee-jerk reactions on social media, and many shots taken at the MBG, lucky number 13 for the annual Fest proved that all events are realistically not immune to the guarantee of happening “rain or shine.” The Guild had to be the bearer of bad news when they announced the event’s postponement after accounting for safety concerns and what would’ve been a logistical nightmare hosting over 9,000 ticket-holders knee-deep in water.

With a universal good vibe in the air, sunny skies above, and dry ground below our feet, we polled a cross-section of those in attendance about what they enjoy about drinking beer outside in a parking lot in Febru… um, we mean March. Yeah, March.

winter beer fest

 

Ali Brodhacker, 31, Three Oaks, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Nine.

What do you enjoy most about them?

The entire community. It’s cool watching all these people come out and try different beers they might not otherwise be exposed to. I love seeing my brothers and sisters in the brewing community who are actually brewing the beer and pushing it every single day—these fests are a meeting of the minds.

So, you work for a brewery?

Absolutely. I’m the marketing director at Greenbush.

Any comments about how the flood affected you?

I’m actually a huge fan of how everything was handled. I really respect how the Brewers Guild reacted to the flooding. They were on top of it, and seemed pretty transparent to the public by sharing pictures of the flooding and what it could’ve done to the Fest last weekend. It was a crappy situation for everyone involved, but I have more love for them now.

 

Simion Stewart, 29, Holland, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my very first beer fest, period.

So far, what’s your take?

I love that everyone here—I mean everybody is enjoying themselves. I’m sure that there’s probably some of the best beer in the world here right now, and I get to try it. I know I’ve tasted trash before, but what’s going on here today, I gotta admit, is awesome.

I know you’re only a couple hours in, but is there anything that stands out?

Everything seems cool. I didn’t expect the entertainment or the fires, both are a nice touch. The food options, I think, will come in handy to keep people simmered. And, I like seeing the light security. They’re not in your face, but the environment is a good time and feels safe.

Why did you decide to make this your first beer fest?

It’s simple: To try something new. I’ve never had craft beer before today, but I’m sold. This has made up my mind. I’ll be back.

winter beer fest

The Watrous Family, Grand Rapids, MI: Kevin, 51, wife Cathy, 50-something, and their daughter Helen, 22

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Kevin and Cathy: 13. Seven Winter, five U.P., one Detroit.

Helen: This is my fifth.

What’s been a highlight?

Cathy: Winter Beer Fest is our absolute favorite. There’s just an untouchable jovial atmosphere. People are in costume, but it’s freezing [laughing]! We all know it’s going to be cold, but we prepare for it, and embrace it.

Kevin: The people. We’re all here—9,000 of us—to enjoy the same thing for the same reason.

Helen: Exploring new beer with my family—it’s a pretty special experience.

Helen, you’ve been to five beer fests at a pretty early age. What’s the connection?

My parents. I live in Charlevoix, so they’ve helped me fall in love with craft beer, thanks to Short’s.

Have you seen anything evolve?

Cathy: The one we’ve seen change a lot over the years has been the U.P. Fall Fest. We were there in ‘13, and we just love seeing how much it’s grown. Marquette is just beautiful, the weather usually cooperates, and the town is really starting to embrace it. We were also really surprised about the Detroit Festival. We went a couple years ago, and we hadn’t spent much time in Detroit before that. We drove in a couple days early to explore the city, and it was awesome to see its revival.

Any suggestions?

Kevin: More water stations, and for the Brewers Guild to distribute the maps and beer lists sooner.

 

Korey Stubleski, 31, Toledo, OH

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my second.

What’s stood out?

I’ve discovered very quickly that there’s way more variety in Beer City USA than Toledo.

Any Michigan breweries that have caught your attention so far?

Speciation and Transient. I’ve loved everything I’ve tried by them.

Any constructive criticism for how we do things in Beer City?

I thought there’d be more water, more easily accessible. Other than that, I dig the entertainment, and the people here have been very cool and hospitable.

 

Josh Gordon, 30, Grand Haven, MI

As Plant Production Manager at Odd Side Ales, how many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my fifth year at Winter Beer Fest, and I’ve been to four Summer, and three in Detroit. Still haven’t been able to make it up to the U.P. Fall Fest in Marquette.

What do you enjoy most about them?

We’re [employees in the industry] in a unique, special position. By far, I love the set-up on Friday—getting here early, knocking it out, and then getting to hang with all my friends. What’s also really cool is when we bring other guys from the production facility out to fests, they get to see the consumer go crazy over what we spend all day brewing and packaging. It’s those people who support our product that give us a means to make a living.

Have you seen the consumer change at fests?

Overall, they’re definitely more experienced and getting more knowledgeable about the beer everyone’s making. Keeps us on our toes.

Anything you’d like to see different?

Oh, man, that’s tough. I really don’t know what you could change, to be honest. It doesn’t have any bearing on those attending, but from an operations standpoint, the end of the night on Saturday is kind of a bummer—just knowing it’s over and we have to tear down and wait until the place clears to load out. But, the Guild takes really good care of us. I’ve seen beer fests in other states ran really poorly. This one’s pretty kick ass.

winter beer fest

Lindsey Yax, 31, Grandville, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

This is my third.

Third time’s a charm, right? What are you digging about them?

I obviously love all of our Grand Rapids breweries, but having intimate access to sampling whatever I want from the rest across the state is pretty great.

What have you tried that you’d drive there to have again?

Right now, I’m drinking Mango M-43 by Old Nation. I’ve never had an IPA before that I’ve liked, and I looove this!

 

Ryan Sheldon, 31, Sylvan Lake, MI

How many MI beer fests have you attended?

Somewhere between five and 10.

What’s the selling point?

It’s a comprehensive selection of all styles and flavor profiles. Regardless of what you’re personally into, there’s something for everyone.

When you attend, do you have an agenda for what you want to drink?

I’m a homebrewer, so I’m always looking for beers that will challenge me to push my own envelope at home.

Is there a particular style you’re looking to explore next, and have you found an example here that’s inspired you?

Historically, the easy answer is anything bourbon barrel-aged. But, lately, I feel like it’s jumped the shark and become the sell-out. There are so many breweries that have become so sophisticated brewing big beers like these, that classic styles like pilsners, Kölsch, etc. are getting overlooked and falling by the wayside. It seems like everyone just runs to the bourbon barrel-aged beers or double IPAs with a high ABV and fancy name.

 

Despite the unavoidable inconvenience of rescheduling, the event ran like business as usual. It’s clear: the people make this thing tick. From every angle, this community is driven simply by a love for beer. It’s what makes festivals in the dead of winter, or the blistering heat of summer, continue to thrive.

 

speciation

Standing on the shore of Lake Superior at night, lit only by the moon or maybe the northern lights, you get a sense of how big the lake is. Without being able to see it bleed into the horizon and understand its expanse visually, your only metric is the sound of waves crashing around you. On a windy night, it’s loud. The breeze and cacophony thrill—this is not where one goes to be lulled to sleep.

It’s an exhilarating feeling. You might feel inclined to bottle it.

Speciation Artisan Ales has done just that.

The brewery recently announced the release of its first-ever spontaneously brewed beer: “The Laurentian Series: Lake Superior.”

The sour golden ale was brewed using the risky process of spontaneous fermentation, which involves exposing the beer to wild, airborne yeast. It’s the first in a series of beers to be brewed on the shores of each Great Lake.

In early March 2017, Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger, co-founders of Speciation Artisan Ales, drove to Marquette, Michigan, with a mobile coolship in tow. They brewed the beer at Ore Dock Brewing Company, transferred the wort into the coolship’s stainless steel tanks and hauled it to the shores of Lake Superior to cool and collect yeast via lake breeze overnight.

“Then we closed it up and drove it back across the Mackinac Bridge back down to Speciation,” Whitney Ermatinger said.

After nearly a year of aging in oak barrels, the result is now bottled and slated for release.

The beer is intended to capture the unique terroir of Marquette and Lake Superior, deriving its flavor primarily from the unique cocktail of microbes collected from the air on that particular March night.

“We designed the beer to basically be a free, blank slate so that the yeast could express itself,” said Mitch Ermatinger. “But it did sit in oak barrels for a while, so there’s definitely some oak influence as well.”

The result offers aromas of hay, sweet dough and stone fruit, along with the oak character of the barrels.

Individuals from the limited run of 400 corked and caged bottles can be reserved via Eventbrite on Feb. 3 at noon. Bottles will sell for $32 each.

The Laurentian Series is a tribute to the Great Lakes. Everything from the beer to the packaging salutes the lakes’ surrounding culture and efforts for their protection.

The bottles will be adorned with a wood label made from locally sourced maple veneer, designed by Elizabeth VanStee. David McKie created the label artwork inspired by two Ojibwe myths: the Lake Superior Merman and the Lake Superior Water Panther, Misshepezhieu. A portion of the beer’s proceeds will be donated to the National Wildlife Federation in support of the organization’s work protecting the Great Lakes against the threat of the Line 5 oil pipeline.

“The lakes are important to us, and we want to pay homage to them and our heritage and our culture,” Whitney Ermatinger said.

Each beer in The Laurentian Series will be spontaneously brewed, making them unreplicable snapshots of specific moments in specific places on the lakes’ shores. It’s a cost-intensive process that depends on many uncontrollable variables.

“This is the hardest and most labor-intensive and risky way of making beer,” Mitch Ermatinger said.

While the Ermatingers intend to brew on the shores of the remaining four Great Lakes this year, the success of those batches is far from guaranteed.

speciation“There will be many barrels that we’ll have to dump, just because they didn’t collect the right microbes that night,” said Mitch Ermatinger. “It’s just part of the risk, and also part of what makes the beer really unique.”

Nevertheless, the Ermatingers will give each lake a couple of tries, as needed. And they will continue to use the spontaneous brewing method for future releases.

“This is where we see our brand heading,” said Whitney Ermatinger.

“We’ve kind of been capped at extreme beer,” said Mitch Ermatinger, referencing IPAs with high IBUs and imperial stouts with high ABVs.

“This is what we see as being the next big thing in beer,” he said.

 

Photos: courtesy Speciation Artisan Ales

 

Comstock Park, MI – Speciation Artisan Ales is a small production-only brewery focused on mixed cultured sour and wild ales. They aim to highlight the yeast and bacteria in their beer, noting how it can change from batch to batch, develop over time, or represent a unique place in time through its specific “terroir.” This plays into the evolution theme of the brewery, as they celebrate each beer that is created as unique and cannot be duplicated. Speciation’s two main brands Genetic Drift, a farmhouse saison, and Incipient, a sour golden ale, provide the base of these experiments in which consumers can compare how each batch provides a new experience.

Currently, Speciation is open once per month for direct bottle sales to their customers. Bottles can be reserved online the week before the release, but frequently sell out within a matter of minutes. However, there is hope for those who want to give them as try, as Speciation has announced plans to expand into a tasting room in the coming months. They have acquired additional space next to their current production facility which will serve as both barrel storage and a tasting room.  Speciation plans to be open weekly for limited hours out of their tasting room for both draught pours and bottle sales to go.

speciation

Great American Beer Festival

Most recently they made a big impression at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. Speciation donned long lines and quickly ran out of beer at each session. They were also cited in several publications as a “must try brewery” and critics raved over their Tequila barrel aged Incipient with Agave, Blood Oranges, Limes, and Salt as well as their Rhubarb Vanilla Incipient.

 

speciation ales

Comstock Park, Mich–Speciation Artisan Ales, a 100% wild and sour beer producer, will be releasing their first beer to the public on January 14, 2017.

Speciation is a production brewery, selling unique small-batch beers directly to customers once per month. Tickets for bottles can be purchased through Eventbrite between noon on January 7 through 6pm January 12, or until bottles are sold out.

The first beer will be an American farmhouse ale, Genetic Drift. Genetic Drift is a multi-grain Saison crafted with Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, wheat, rye, & oats. Fermented with 2 strains of Brettanomyces, one strain of Saison yeast, house wild yeast harvested from Holland, MI off of a crab apple flower, as well as other wild yeasts and bacteria from the environment. Lightly dry hopped with Mosaic & Saaz. Genetic Drift batch 1 tastes of ripe mango, pineapple, hay, pepper, orange, and sourdough, with moderate acidity and a surprising amount of brett funk! Limit of 6 bottles per person.

Bottles can be picked up at the brewery on January 14.


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