GRAND RAPIDS — A slightly breezy, little chilly day in March was perfect for the 3rd annual Chilly, Blues & Brews event at The B.O.B. on Saturday.

Over 20 chili teams offered a wide ranging variety of chilis to attendees, with tastes available for only 50 cents. Part of the proceeds went to benefit MSU Gran Fondo Skin Cancer Research, and live music was playing throughout the building.

The best part about this event? Each dish featured a Michigan brew in their entry.

Professional and amateur competitors alike set up their booths, sporting team names like Tres Chilies, Chilly Willies and Liz and Team America, all showing off their chili prowess to the large group of singles, families and other assorted guests who streamed through the event throughout the day.

Meeting up with Seth Rivard, co-owner of Rockford Brewing Company and apparent chili connoisseur, we tried as many samples as our taste buds could take. His ingenious use of a muffin tray to carry around six samples at a time made it a little easier.

Dragon Spit / The Holiday Bar team came full force with a chili featuring a Founders KBS base. The strength of the coffee, vanilla and bourbon came through in the aroma, and actually worked really well with the chili and offset the heat. Apparently, everyone else agreed, since the team won first place in its category and first place overall.

This event seemed well-received by the crowd — the bar remained busy and the chili samples were hopping. Everything was delicious in its own right. We spoke with Ron Koelhler from Let’s Get Sauced! who shared a little bit about his entry. “This is our first year in this event, but we’ve been competing in BBQ competitions for about seven years. Our chili is a Texas Red, with Italian sausage, beef and a range of spices, plus chipotle pepper chilis and mole. We used Right Brain Brewery Firestarter — a chipotle pepper porter — that worked really well for our chili style.”

Laura Barbrick, President of the Board for High Five Co-Op Brewery, was present, representing the High Five organization as well.

“We used Saugatuck’s Serrano Pepper Ale as well as a smoked porter and an oatmeal wheat stout homebrew from one of our home brewers. It has five different types of peppers — some of them are roasted so you get that great smoky, roasty flavor — it’s not super hot but it’s got that excellent burn in the back. I think it’s the best one here, but I’m probably biased!”

There were many different categories for the competition, including Best Brewery / Micro Pub / Brew Pub Chilli — competitors included Tapistry Brewing (who told us they’ll be starting canning soon), Rockford Brewing Company, B.O.B.’s Brewery and Founders. The prize? A passable yearly trophy and bragging rights.

This years’ winner was Rockford Brewing Company, which featured Linda Cook Reeds’ awesome chili featuring a variety of meats and Rockford’s Paradigm MPA — a 100% Michigan made IPA whose sweet, malty base worked wonderfully with the richness of the chili.

Speaking briefly with Jeff Mox, homebrewer, competitor and attendee, he shared the appeal of this event.

“It’s a great social event, and we had such a good time the last time we competed and attended, we decided to go it again, it was so much fun.”

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GRAND RAPIDS — It was a pleasant crowd in the main area of The B.O.B. (or Big Old Building)  Thursday evening. For the third year in a row, The B.O.B. hosted its Winter Beer Festival (WBF) Primer Dinner — an opportunity for those who plan on going to WBF to slake their thirst for some rarer brews beforehand, or for those not lucky enough to score a ticket, a chance to try some more interesting Michigan craft beers in the warmth of the restaurant.

Seventeen breweries from across Michigan were represented, bringing 42 beers to accompany a buffet style, beer-centric menu. A $25 ticket included all-you-could-eat and four tasting tickets for 3 oz. pours, with additional tickets available for a dollar each. Your ticket was also an entry to win a chance to go to the weekend’s beer fest, plus some other beer and brewery themed goodies.

Mick Rickerd, the Banquet Chef for the Gilmore Collection (including The B.O.B.), constructed the menu and hosted the event.

“Any of the items will go with any of the beers offered. Beer is such a universal beverage, so you could drink a stout with the spatzle, or an IPA with the spatzle, and there will be different flavors you’ll pick up.” Rickerd shared.

The menu was varied, with a little something for everyone. Roasted root vegetables, cheese  and charcuterie, and even a slightly spicy amber ale mac & cheese were some of the many options for dinner.

The beer spatzle was actually an IPA spatzle, served with local beer braised sausage, apples and a vanilla infused Dijon porter mustard. One of Rickerd’s favorites (and mine as well) was a bourbon barrel imperial stout pecan bar — a rich, decadent dessert with added depth from the addition of the beer.

Many beer reps were on hand, from Brewery Vivant to Founders to Saugatuck and Bell’s.

MittenBrew stopped to chat with Gary Pardo, a Kalamazoo area field sales representative on hand to answer any questions attendees may have about Bell’s beer or its brewery. Chatting about the collaborative nature of the event, Pardo shares, “Collaboration is hugely important. We do have the (Bell’s Eccentric) Cafe, but only a small percentage of our customers find Bell’s that way. To be a sort of community partner with these bars and hopefully provide them with great beer that people love — it’s an obvious benefit to them but it benefits us even more. It gets our name and our representation out there.

“I can’t speak enough to how important it is to have draft beers in bars — research has shown new consumers find out about brands through draft beer.”

Many of the beers available for tasting were special one offs, or limited feature releases. Lots of unique beers that aren’t available in distribution, which added another level of fun to the event. For example, Latitude 42 brought its Cross-Eyed Jack Imperial Smoked Pumpkin, and Griffin Claw provided Oblivious, a Bourbon-Aged Wheat Wine. Special releases were available at different times throughout the night, including New Holland’s Marilla Trale-a Barrel aged Rye Bock, and B.O.B.’s Brewery’s own Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged Peanut Butter Brittle Porter.

John Svoboda, Brewer for B.O.B.’s Brewery, was on-hand and shared how this particular beer developed.

“One of the advantages of working at The B.O.B. is that some of the guys and ladies I work with are just really, really fantastic chefs and they know lots about flavors that typically brewers, or at least myself, doesn’t know much about.  So once they learn the process of brewing by hanging out with me a little bit, they say, ‘why don’t you try this, why don’t you try that?’ So Mick [Rickerd] made some peanut butter brittle base that you normally make into peanut brittle and we applied it to an imperial stout and barrel aged it for three months. There’s only five gallons of that, and that’s one that’s not going to be available at the festival. That’s as small as small batches get.”

Despite the special Peanut Butter Brittle Porter not being made available for WBF, The B.O.B. had several specialty brews available — including its Tiramisu Stout and Peanut Butter Porter.