DENVER — As the Michigan beer scene becomes more and more recognized for increasing quality, the nation is starting to take notice too.

Michigan breweries took home six of the 268 medals awarded during the Great American Beer Festival, held last weekend in Denver. The festival, in its 28th year, is the largest commercial beer competition in the world.

Royal Oak’s Bastone Brewery led the charge, with two beer medals and the title of Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.

Two of Bastone’s beers took a silver medal in the competition — Thor’s Hammer (Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale) and Private Stock #472 (Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer).

“Thor’s Hammer is a Belgian golden strong ale,” said Rockne Van Meter, brewmaster for Bastone. “This style exhibits medium hop aroma and bitterness as well as medium malt character, and can finish slightly dry.

“Private Stock #472 is a Saison with white wine and aged on wood. The characteristics of the wood and wine go well with the complex fruit generated flavors of a Saison,” he said.

Van Meter went on to mention that Private Stock #472 was a brand new beer for him, and that it’s possible that the winning beer might make another appearance next summer. Thor’s Hammer might be released at an upcoming festival.

“It’s been a very humbling GABF,” said Rockne. “It think every brewer’s goal is to win, win anything, and to go home with the Brewery of the Year and Brewer of the Year award is something that I’ll never forget.”

“We are honored to represent Michigan and proud of Rockne’s achievement,” added David Ritchie, Operating Partner at Bastone. “Winning Best Small Brewpub during our 10th anniversary year is really exciting.”

Tapistry Brewing took home its first GABF medal, a bronze for it’s Peck’s Porter — categorized as a Robust Porter.

“At Tapistry we strive to use traditional ingredients and processes when we are brewing something like Peck’s or our German trilogy of beers,” said Nate Peck, head brewer at Tapistry. “While we embrace the traditional classic styles we also try to push our boundaries and use interesting ingredients and processes.”

Also medaling for the state was Short’s Brewing Company (Gold, Key Lime Pie), Founders Brewing Co. (Silver, Porter) and Stormcloud Brewing Co. (Bronze, Rainmaker Ale).

The six medals marked the most for Michigan since 2010, when the state’s breweries took home 10 medals.


Photography: Steph Harding

GRAND RAPIDS — The ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival took place Saturday, giving craft beer aficionados the chance to try some of their favorite, as well as some rare, Michigan brews.

Everything from sour fruit beers to habanero porters were featured, allowing for a wide variety of different flavors and beer experiences.

Some of the best brews of the day came from Traverse City’s Brewery Ferment, which brought several sour brews for guests to sample. 

The Root Beer Stout (7% ABV) looked just like the soda shop classic that we’re used to, but brought up with a bit of booze. Its endlessly complex scent and taste — the result of an ingredient list that included allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, vanilla bean and more — made for a great adult twist on the classic drink. This was by far our favorite of the day.

Ferment also brought its Cornucopi-Ale (7% ABV), a sour cranberry wheat beer that was a mix of tart and sweet cranberry flavor that really packed a punch. It was very easy drinking, allowing for a nice break from the heavier beers that were sampled throughout the afternoon. Finally, Spring in Sri Lanka (7.25% ABV) was a sour stout that featured green cardamom and bitter orange peel. It had a surprisingly light body and clean finish, despite the sourness present. Both brews were both inviting yet unique.

We wanted to sample other breweries throughout the state that may not have been as well-known. So, our other favorites throughout the day included, in no specific order:

  • Tapistry Brewing Peck’s Habañero Porter: 6.5% ABV. Deep brown, almost black color with a tan head. Get the rick malt porter taste on the front of the tongue, which is then met with the fiery pepper throughout the rest of the sip.
  • 51 North Snow Bank Winter Warmer (Chocolate Honey Black Rye): 8% ABV. Black with a thin amber head, features a complex bitter taste that’s moderated slightly by the sweetness of the honey and rye. Very full mouthfeel.
  • Griffin Claw Sour Dough (Sour Wheat Wine): Virtually no head, with an orange color. A bit smoky in the mouth, but the sour scent carries through to a strong sour taste and somewhat grainy residue.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Barrel Aged Neapolitan Milk Stout: 6.5% ABV. Very dark, virtually no head. You’re immediately hit with the strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors, mixed with the booziness you’d expect from being barrel aged.
  • Our Brewing Tobacconist Porter: 6.8% ABV. I was very hesitant about this brew, having a few other tobacco-heavy brews in the past that I didn’t care for. Yet Our Brewing puts the emphasis more on the smokiness, rather than the cigarette/nicotine taste I was hesitantly expecting. It makes for a good, easy-drinking smoked porter.

Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam contributed to this report.