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The 18th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival took place at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti on Friday and Saturday. Over 100 breweries gathered to deliver 932 brews for the celebration of our state’s wildly popular beer culture.

Hot and steamy weather didn’t discourage the thousands of exuberant attendees. Shade trees and numerous water stations helped folks keep their cool as temperature soared. Thankfully, rain held off until after official festival hours on Saturday.

Lines to enter the park began forming well before the gate opening times. Enthusiast Members of the Guild gained entry to the festival grounds an hour before the rest of the crowd, giving them a head start on the high-demand specialty beers that didn’t last long.

Within mere minutes of the early opening, members had descended on the Witch’s Hat booth creating lines 50 people deep, all hoping for a shot at tasting the brewery’s coveted Night Fury Imperial Stout variations.

“On Friday they were gone within an hour,” said Nancy Haas, owning partner.

Many breweries offered up sours, goses and other unique thirst quenchers for those who wanted something lighter.

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One Well Brewing from Kalamazoo brought a blonde jalpeño brew, Xalapa, that managed to have all the flavor and aroma of the hot pepper without the expected spicy heat. It was a surprisingly refreshing creation. Sliced jalapeños were available as garnish for those who wanted to amp it up.

“I never brew anything I know I’m not going to like,” said co-founder and brewer Chris O’Neill, who created the recipe.

His beers have gained a following, leading the company to explore expansion options less than a year after opening.

“Right now we brew four batches a week on average and we’re going to have to do more especially if we want to get into distribution. We’re already looking for expansion places,” O’Neill said.

Another intriguing strange brew was Cotton Brewing Company‘s The Cat’s Meow, a wheat beer with a subtle hint of earthy mint derived from catnip.

Arbor Brewing Company stood out from the crowd with its beer-dispensing vintage firetruck. As impressive as the restored truck’s appearance was, the real attraction for many fans was the larger than usual list of sour beer offerings. Velvet Hammer 9, usually only available at the microbrewery one day a year, was served to those who were quick enough to score it during the timed releases.

There was an eye-catching addition to this year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti this weekend.

Marshall’s Dark Horse Brewing Company brought a giant wooden set up to this year’s festival which stood out and above the rest of the state’s 88 breweries in attendance. The brewery often drops some jaws with the amount of beer they bring to the festival, but this year’s included t-shirt guns and a giant ice slide for beer.

Above the wooden structure sat their “DHN” sign, for Dark Horse Nation, the brewery’s new TV show that begins airing tonight at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.

The rest of the festival was highlighted by the fantastic weather on Friday and Saturday, as some sweltering heat was subdued by light rain, brief cloud cover and a slight breeze.

The state’s breweries proved to be at the top of their game as the nation’s brewing industry continues to grow at a double-digit pace. Perhaps it was the choice in beer samples, but only one I couldn’t finish, with many being excellent.

Pepper beers were all the rage this year, or so it seemed. Some seemed too hot, while others mixed in the perfect amount of spice with the pepper’s flavor.

Arbor’s Flambouyant Wild Sour Red was an amazing lip-puckering experience. As were many of the beers Brewery Vivant brought to their table.

As usual, bigget breweries often had the longest lines, including Founders Brewing Co., which saw a noticeably long line begin to wrap around a tent for its KBS release at least 15 minutes before the scheduled tapping.

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Kuhnhenn took some Michigan pride to the festival with its Pure Michigan series, including beers featuring Michigan cherries, blueberries, peach and more Michigan ingredients. The brewery also brought a few of its spectacular signatures including DRIPA, The Fluffer Session IPA and Raspberry Eisbock.

Several breweries completely ran out of beer fairly early into Saturday. Right Brain was the first I heard go, so I felt lucky that I was able to try the brewery’s Cucumber Saison it brought, which was mighty refreshing during the summer festival.

I didn’t get to try the Rockford Brewing Company / New Holland Brewing Company collaboration, Solar Coaster, but was told it was a fantastic beer.

Saturday was capped off by a rousing performance by the Detroit band Sponge.

YPSILANTI — It was out there, somewhere. Beckoning me. Waiting for me.

In the midst of the sprawling grounds of Riverside Park, Beer Tent No. 4 stood with a booth where poured the beers of one of Michigan’s newest production breweries, Griffin Claw Brewing Co., which opened for business in Birmingham earlier this month.

Griffin Claw’s head brewer, the highly respected Dan Rogers, was behind my favorite beer of last year’s Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival: Saison St. Clair, a fruity, sour-ish take on the classic French style. It was among the well regarded offerings of Big Rock Chophouse, the high-end restaurant that spawned Griffin Claw. I was looking forward to trying it again, along with the other Griffin Claw beers.

But the road to Beer Tent No. 4 was a long and winding one. There were three other large tents to contend with, each housing dozens of amazing Michigan breweries pouring hundreds of killer brews, as well as several standalone beer booths. Not to mention 5,000 festgoers, all looking for their own version of beervana and eager to share their experiences.

Hours of interactions with fellow beer lovers, detours, missteps, food breaks and, of course, stops to try other brews intruded on the quest for the One Beer to Rule Them All. Here are just a few sign posts passed during my Summer Beer Festival odyssey:

Beer Marriage Made in Heaven

Sparkleberry Ale, Bell’s Brewery. A blend of Bell’s Sparkling Ale (a Belgian-style tripel) and Raspberry Ale, Sparkleberry was created for, and debuted at, a Kalamazoo gay pride event in June. The resulting slightly tart elixir with a complex, dry finish was, as one might expect, FAB-u-LOUS! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

This Beer Is Your Beer, This Beer Is My Beer

Rye Dream of Ginger, Our Brewing Co. Relative newcomers Our Brewing out of Holland offered a number of intriguing options, the best of which* was Rye Dream of Ginger Ale, which, as its name suggests, featured an ever-so-slight rye malt spiciness nicely balanced with a pleasant dose of refreshing ginger.

* I did not, however, get to try what they were calling a Pilsner Wine, which also sounded interesting.

Headbangin’ Brews

Reign in Blood Orange Pale Ale, Where the Wild Things Macerate Raspberries Sour Ale, Dark Horse Brewing Co. Dark Horse honcho Aaron Morse’s love for the band Slayer is as well known as his contempt for Nickelback, so as I approached what can only be called the brewery’s compound, I had high hopes for the thrash metal-inspired Reign in Blood Orange. Alas, it did not deliver the same impact as a frenetic Jeff Hanneman (RIP) solo, lacking much in the way of the titular fruit flavor. The raspberry sour, on the other hand, delivered on both of its promises: Fruity, sour, but not overwhelming in either case.

Stopping to Taste the Beervangelism

Cherry Dragon’s Milk, New Holland Brewing Co. No beer journey would be complete without a visit with New Holland Beervangelist Fred Bueltmann and the “Stop & Taste” crew, who were kindly offering a beer-and-cheese pairing alongside copies of Fred’s new book, Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy. I opted for a cherry-infused Dragon’s Milk Barrel Aged Stout, created to celebrate legendary Ann Arbor beer bar Ashley’s 30th anniversary, and helped myself to a complimentary chunk of bleu cheese. I did not regret this, to say the least.

Krewe de Kuhnhenn

Sazerac Beer Cocktail, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. In my globe-trotting travels to drink in different parts of the world, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a Sazerac cocktail in the city of its birth, New Orleans. Kuhnhenn Brewing’s Mardi Gras-themed booth managed to add beer to the classic whiskey-based drink, to creditable results.

Crikey!

Annette’s Secret Pale Ale, Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. A delicious take on Grizzly Peak’s pale ale was Annette’s Secret, which included a dose of hop essence Certified Cicerone Annette May recently brought back from her native Australia. The new hop, originally called Victoria’s Secret after the Aussie state where it’s grown, predictably prompted lawsuit threats from the powerful Hot Lingerie Models Union. Curiously, when swirled, the beer would go only clockwise in the cup.

Nobody Does It Better

Saison St. Clair, Berlinerweisse, Red Rock Flanders Red Ale, Griffin Claw Brewing Co. The slightly sour, tart, funky Brettanomyces-fermented Saison St. Clair tasted even better than I remembered, and this year it was joined by a couple more excellent sour offerings: A Flanders red-style ale and a 3.5% ABV Berlinerweisse, which my partner in beer, Nicole Rupersburg of Eat It Detroit, promptly proposed marriage to. Also of note was an off-menu Czech Pils, provided to me courtesy of assistant brewer Stacey Block. Can’t wait to visit the new taproom in Birmingham, where Nicole has already finished drinking the entire keg of Berlinerweisse by herself.

YPSILANTI — The forecast Saturday called for rain, rain and more rain. But despite the gloomy weather, thousands packed Riverside Park in Ypsilanti for the 16th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival.

And, lucky for the attendees, the rain only affected the beginning of the festival.

VIPs and enthusiast members braved the initial downpour for an eventual sampling of some of the best beer Michigan has to offer. And with over 800 beers to choose from, there was no shortage on liquid enjoyment for anyone.

Our group started off the day at one of Dark Horse’s 10 tables, sampling the brewery’s 6 Pair of Legs Maple Porter. This beer was quite a mouthful — both to say and to drink! 6 Pair of Legs held a very sweet aroma, with chocolate and maple syrup rushing to the forefront. The taste is similar, with a touch of bourbon, but not too hot. A slight roasted malt comes through at the finish, leaving a small vanilla aftertaste. The first beer of the day, even with its heavy mouthfeel, might have very well been our favorite from the day.

We moved on to Bell’s Brewery, which changed its mind about skipping out on the event shortly before the festival started Friday. The Comstock brewery featured its Uberon beer (6.7% ABV), a twist on the ever-popular Oberon summer ale. Aged in bourbon barrels, this cloudy, dark orange beer keeps Oberon’s citrus notes and combines them with a slight bourbon flavor. Not overpowering by any means, this is probably one of the most refreshing beers we tried all day.

Keeping with the refreshing, summer trend, Kuhnhenn Brewery brought several of its Carnivale creations. While they all packed a similar Mardi Gras-themed flavor punch, the best had to be Carnivale: Zombie. The pale yellow beer cocktail was rather sweet, with some nut and tropical flavors.

The Mitten Brewing Company also brought some interesting brews, including its Soulless (4.9% ABV)— which is exactly what you’d think. A slight bitterness offsets a bit of the ginger, but no doubt about it — this is definitely a ginger beer. This relatively low alcohol brew is made with local malt and ginger root, packing a punch that definitely wake your tastebuds up.

Brewery Vivant’s latest creation, Blandford Maple Amber Ale (6% ABV), was an interesting take on an amber ale. Brewed with 20 gallons of maple syrup from Grand Rapids’ Blandford Nature Center, the Maple Ale is a mildly sweet amber that goes down smooth. While it wasn’t quite as packed or heavy as Dark Horse’s Maple Porter, this was still flavorful and yet very drinkable, making for one of my favorites of the day.

All in all, the Festival brought in 5,800 beer fans on Saturday, and 5,010 for Friday’s session.

Plans are already being finalized for the U.P. Fall Beer Festival, scheduled for September 7. Tickets can be purchased online at mibeer.com.

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Erik Hart contributed to this report.

With the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival one week away, we rifled through the complete beer list.

And while there are some old favorites from some of the best breweries in the state, some newcomers have risen up and brought their best and brightest to Ypsilanti.

Sure, there’s Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the Fifth, Bell’s Black Note and Bourbon Barrel Batch 9,000 and Founders KBS, Bolt Cutter and Doom all sure to be hot commodities. But there’s also 794 other beers represented this year.

Without further adieux, we give you our top 10 beers to try at this year’s festival.

1) Bell’s Uberon — We all know about Oberon. But its step brother is now entering the picture. This barrel aged version of the summer classic is one that people everywhere will be waiting in line for, even with warm temperatures. We’re curious to see how the aging played with the citrus notes of Oberon.

2) Short’s Bourbon Sagejuana — Short’s make some of the best IPAs in the state, so this experimental, bourbon barrel aged IPA is sure to be a treat.

3) Dark Horse Fire Safely Contained Ale — S’mores in a drink. This brown ale is made with smoked malt, marshmallow, chocolate and graham. Who can complain about a drink perfect around a summer campfire?

4) Griffin Claw Berliner Weisse Raspberry — It’s been open all of a day, but Griffin Claw is already making headlines. This Belgian Sour is one of the brewery’s first (and only) experimental beers, and it should be a great indication of what’s to come.

5) Kuhnhenn Todd Parker Can’t Lose — Todd Parker is departing for D.C., but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate him one last time with this pale ale.

6) Mitten Brewing Soulless — You don’t always find ginger beers on the shelves, so this one is special just for that fact. We expect a refreshing, crisp, strong flavor that will offset some of the darker beers listed above.

7) New Holland Ashley’s Cherry Dragon’s Milk — Dragon’s Milk plus cherries. Can anything be better?

8) Dark Horse 6 Pair of Legs Maple Porter — A Double Bourbon Maple Syrup Barrel Maple Porter. Yes, that’s right. Maple, bourbon and maple syrup. Start the day off right!

9) Petoskey Brewing Brain Freeze — The thought of ice cream and beer is becoming more and more popular. And this brew from Petoskey — a “waffle cone raspberry cream ale” — sounds perfect for the occasion.

10) Witch’s Hat Saison D’Va w/ Raspberries & Blueberries — Witch’s Hat is becoming well known quickly on the southeast part of the state. Available Friday only, this saison sounds refreshing and light, a perfect complement to the season.

Remember — the early bird gets the worm. VIPs get in an hour early to the Festival, meaning you can try some of these first!

What are you looking most forward to trying in Ypsilanti this year? Comment below and let us know!

DETROIT — In support of Detroit Craft Beer Month, a “Summer Beer Fest” will be celebrated in Campus Martius Park June 21 and 22.

Presented by Westborn Market, the second annual event will feature live music, games and food to complement over 120 beers.

Over 60 breweries will be represented.

Gates are open from 5-10 p.m. on June 21, and from 2-6 p.m. on June 22. Tickets for each day are $45, and include 20 tastings. Additional servings and food will be available for purchase. Designated drivers can also purchase tickets for $10, though they must accompany a paid attendee.

Saturday’s session includes a limited VIP session for $70 — which includes early entry into the event at 1 p.m., a commemorative tasting glass, 25 samples and complementary hors d’oeuvres.

Advance tickets are available at Westborn Market locations throughout the Detroit area, as well as online at detroitsummerbeerfest.com.

DETROIT — In support of Detroit Craft Beer Month, a “Summer Beer Fest” will be celebrated in Campus Martius Park June 21 and 22.
Presented by Westborn Market, the second annual event will feature live music, games and food to complement over 120 beers.
Over 60 breweries will be represented.
Gates are open from 5-10 p.m. on June 21, and from 2-6 p.m. on June 22. Tickets for each day are $45, and include 20 tastings. Additional servings and food will be available for purchase. Designated drivers can also purchase tickets for $10, though they must accompany a paid attendee.
Saturday’s session includes a limited VIP session for $70 — which includes early entry into the event at 1 p.m., a commemorative tasting glass, 25 samples and complementary hors d’oeuvres.
Advance tickets are available at Westborn Market locations throughout the Detroit area, as well as online at detroitsummerbeerfest.com.

YPSILANTI — What a difference 15 years make. Some out there may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time not long ago when it wasn’t possible to choose from a vast bounty of beers from 100+ brewing establishments in Michigan like we can today. Back in the dark days of 1997, choices were much more limited. More often than not, the seeker of fine beer had to look beyond the borders of the Great Lakes State to satisfy his thirst.

But that was to change with the founding of the Michigan Brewers Guild and the advent of the Michigan Summer Beer Festival, which once upon a time attracted only a few hundred people to a smattering of breweries representing at the fairgrounds of the less-than-enthusiastic city of Livonia. Last Friday and Saturday, all the hard work the Guild has put into helping grow a thriving new domestic industry was on full display as thousands upon thousands flocked to Riverside Park in Ypsilanti to try around 550 beers from more than 60 Michigan breweries.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave — and not a beer cave — you’re probably familiar with this annual celebration of Mitten-made suds.  The tents, the lines, the loud music, the food, the fun, the dunk tank (OK, that was new this year), the wet and sticky weather — although, apart from a brief shower, the customary rainstorm was nowhere to be seen, and even the humidity held itself in check. It was a perfect day to enjoy some Michigan beers.

And what beers! Your correspondent tried something on the order of 25 of them over both days of the Festival (although I maintain that a true gentleman never counts), or less than 5% of what was available. Even the best of us fall short. Below are a few highlights.

Best of Fest

Saison St. Clair, Big Rock Brewery. Mildly sour and tart with a dry finish and a slight funky, “barnyard” aroma. Crisp, complex and delicious. Watch for brewer Dan Rogers’s Griffin Claw Brewing Co., coming to Birmingham in the near future.

Frenchiest Name

Barrel Aged Maillot Jaune, The Livery. Before you say “not another barrel aged beer,” you should know we’re talking about a merlot barrel, which imparted some acidic, vinous complexity to the underlying Biere de Garde style. At 8%, it was about the lowest alcohol offering from the Benton Harbor brewery yet still deceptively drinkable.

Beyond Plain Vanilla

Bean Flicker Blonde Ale, Odd Side Ales. Referred to as a “coffee blonde,” this beer was dominated by beans of the vanilla variety, which suited my coffee-averse self just fine. An interesting concept and cheaper than Starbucks to boot.

Most Thoughtful

Contemplation Belgian Golden Ale, Brewery Vivant. A sweet aroma of honey, cloves and grassy hops previews the complex but light and drinkable flavors of this excellent summer brew. Vivant strikes again.

Most Violent and Longest Name

The Massacre Rye Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Dark Lager, Wolverine State Brewing. Anticipation is building for the October release of this year-aged beer. If the preview is any indication, lovers of the bourbon barrel will be pleased, while those who are a little burnt out on the whole trend will enjoy the novel concept of a bourbon-aged lager over just another stout or porter.

Anniversariest Ale

15th Anniversary Ale, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. To celebrate the Michigan Brewers Guild’s 15th anniversary, a number of breweries created versions of a 15th Anniversary Ale, which had an official recipe (a strong IPA) that was apparently mostly ignored. By my count, there were 26 versions of said beer at the Festival, and they were all over the map. The best of those I tried was Jolly Pumpkin’s, a wheat IPA with a more “delicate” floral hop presence over a slightly sweet flavor.

That’s all I got. Bring on the U.P. and Detroit Fall Beer Festivals!

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