winter beer fest

There’s something about having over 1,000 of the most cared for craft beers at your mitten-covered fingertips that makes standing outside in winter weather simply worth it. For the Michigan Brewers Guild’s 11th annual Winter Beer Fest, they recognized the increasing demand for their signature February event and for the second year in a row they re-upped adding Friday making it a well deserved two-day event.

For those who weren’t quick enough to snag a ticket for today, which sold out in minutes, Dianna Stampfler, Public & Media Relations for the Guild, welcomed the public to consider Friday in an effort to be a part of something new. Less crowds, shorter lines and special tappings that might not be repeated today were obvious benefits to making day 1 of WBF the new norm. Truthfully, she acknowledged, “you could actually still get tickets yesterday, too.” However, after the intimate experience yesterday offered, we don’t think it’ll be long before the secret about Friday gets out.

Before the gates opened to the public, members of the Guild were privy to an Enthusiast Hour. A worthwhile membership perk available upon joining, this gave the ultra-dedicated a nearly private hour of being able to sample at their leisure. As soon as the public entered, we met Kara Kanwischer, 21, of Grand Rapids – the first person through. This was her first beer fest experience. When asked about what she looked forward to most, Kanwischer set the tone for the rest of the day — “I’m just pumped to be able to experience all these new beers, and then travel to visit the breweries in person.”

winter beer fest

“Plus, Saturday was sold out,” she added.

Not short on passion or creativity, brewers brought their A game. Known for their wildly ambitious homemade ingenuity, Dark Horse Brewing Co. brought a replica of the Mackinac Bridge as their “booth.” Their owner and fearless leader Aaron Morse casually told us, “Yeah, we just came up with idea this past Tuesday [to do something new and crazy], and built it Wednesday and yesterday.” He joked, half seriously, “We’re kind of known as ‘Last Minute Brewing Co.’” Still, Morse and Co. managed to pull it off. In addition to their large-scale interactive set design, they brought big, higher ABV beers to battle the cold. Morse recommended and poured us a sample of Blueberry Double Crooked Tree. But, there are also blood orange, coffee, and hot pepper variants for when you cross that bridge.

Our state’s craft beer scene is a team sport. Tom Payne, Director of Artistic Fermentation at 57 Brew Pub & Bistro, was all smiles showing off their Rally Round the Family. A wild fermented version of their 57 Chevy Michigan IPA, Payne proudly shared, “In twenty years, that’s the BEST beer I’ve ever made!” He was quick to not take all the credit. Payne made sure to sincerely thank Jeff Williams, head brewer at Pike 51 and Steve Berthel, Head Pub Brewer at New Holland Brewing. Williams shared ten-year-old barrels that were used for his Renegades of Funk, and Berthel supplied the wild cultures. Rage Against the Machine much? Testify.

Payne showed a sincere love for his craft and the people who help him keep it funky. Check out his ShutterBug Cherry Saison, which he brewed with MittenBrew Owner, Steph Harding — lovingly named in her honor because she’s pretty good with a camera, too. When asked what sparked them brewing together, he didn’t hesitate, “Why not? We’re friends.”

Before we switched gears to dark beers, Griffin Claw Brewing Co., turned us on with their Apridisiac – a wild ale soured with apricots that carried an even balance of sweetness to balance the tartness. And then, we took a hard turn to sampling Flying Buffalo, a bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout. Attendees today, however, will get to try its coffee variant — but it’s the Krakatoa, also tapping today, that will likely get you hot and bothered. This Russian imperial stout is aged for a couple days with ghost peppers. Angie Williams, self-proclaimed Cellar Bitch (she’s actually the biggest sweetheart), said she had to wear a mask and gloves when blending the peppers and adding them to the tank. “It was brutal,” she said, “but it’ll warm your gullet.” Andy Jarois, in packaging and design, sold us by promising “it’s a really good throat feel.”  

While you’re waiting for your throat to cool off, go get in line early for one of sixteen Dragon’s Milk Reserve variants at New Holland Brewing’s Stop and Taste trailer. Their campground vibe compound offers a tricked out Airstream (with built-in tap system) to relax in, handcrafted lounge chairs, fire pit and giant Jenga. You’re going to need a place to hang out for a minute if you try to tackle their bourbon barrel stout portfolio.

One of New Holland’s partners and resident “Beervangelist” Fred Bueltmann, also VP of Brand and Lifestyle, said making all the Dragon’s Milk variants happen was “a great marriage between our marketing team and brewers.” It started from a casual roundtable idea late last year that turned into a whiteboard wish list of close to fifty variants. Bueltmann and team take the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals very seriously. “We know the audience is thirsty and wants something special. Our attempt to pull this off is really just a response to that expectation.”

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While taking our time with our pour of Dragon’s Milk Reserve with coconut aged in a rum barrel, we chatted with Dave Fischer of Grand Rapids, who was enjoying Dragon’s Milk Reserve Sarsaparilla. Fischer, who also attended on Friday last year came prepared yesterday with a short list of essential beers he wanted to try. “I could be here all day and still not try everything I want — there’s just so many good beers.” Well-stocked with a pretzel, meat and cheese necklace, before he excused himself to cross off another beer on his list, Fischer said of anyone hesitating to attend, “I wouldn’t let the cold hold me back. This is such a good time.”

Greenbush Brewing Co. also went all in. Their typical beer fest modus operandi is to bring a few dozen beers, and yesterday was no different. They brought thirty-nine. And, if you don’t dally, you should be able to catch most of them still today. Marketing Director Aaron Darling counted them off for us. Nine were barrel-aged. Six were imperial cream stouts – five of those were variants of their smooth and roasty Pain: Cranberry, Peach, Mint, Peanut Butter and Honey Apple. And, three variants of Mr. Hyde, their coffee cream stout (Strawberry Vanilla, Chocolate and Orange) – all made with coffee from Infusco Coffee Roasters.

Greenbush’s Brewery Operations Manager Tyler Ream explained how, and why, they tackle nearly forty beers. “We love to experiment. With small batches, we can try something we haven’t done before and test whether it could turn into something bigger,” said Ream. They brought an army of fifteen employees as ambassadors to engage with guests for their feedback on what beers work and which ones could be tweaked. Interestingly, aside from the brewers, the festival beers are also a surprise to the staff working their taps – to keep the excitement about what they’re offering fresh and authentic. Greenbush owner Scott Sullivan echoed their philosophy to not deliver something static, “Festivals like this are an opportunity to crush what’s typical.”

The thread among breweries that they care about delivering a special experience to the people was consistent and sincere. Bill White, owner of White Flame Brewing Co., said, “This event is our Super Bowl. It’s our opportunity to prepare for 6-8 months to bring awareness to our modest brewery in Hudsonville.” For the past four years, White and his wife Jenn “The Flame” have worked diligently to constantly improve their increasingly popular bottle releases out of their taproom. The demand for Black Flame, their anniversary bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with maple, has gotten so high that he intentionally allocates enough for the Winter Beer Fest, he says, “to give as many people as possible a chance to try it.”

To be in the company of over 120 breweries and thousands of your new best friends you haven’t met yet, Winter Beer Fest is an undeniably cool experience. Try a new beer you otherwise wouldn’t, or get another pour of the one you just fell in love with. Either way, bundle up and get here.


Photography: Bri Luginbill

New Holland Brewing

Holland, MI — A tricked out beer trailer? An eight foot tall metal dragon that will be looming over you as you sip deliciousness? A crazy ambitious series from New Holland that provides 16 variations of Dragon’s Milk? Um, yes. Count me in New Holland Brewing. Your presence at the 11th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival is worth squealing with excitement about.

It’s no secret that Dragon’s Milk, a bourbon barrel aged stout, has stolen the hearts of many, and for good reason! It’s a solid, damn good product. So, how can New Holland Brewing up their game with the beer? By making it an “Unlimited Release” of course. The company has announced that, “We are all in on Dragon’s Milk this year and truly view it as an “Unlimited Release”. We strive to make it “unlimited” by being available year round (no easy feat), everywhere (working towards contiguous US), available to everyone (not just the “geeks”) and now with unlimited variants and flavor possibilities.”

New Holland BrewingBefore I go any further, let’s check out what exactly the selection from New Holland Brewing will be at Winter Beer Fest 2016…

Dragon’s Milk
Dragon’s Milk Coconut Rum Barrel
Dragon’s Milk Mexican Spice Cake
Dragon’s Milk Peanut Butter
Dragon’s Milk Mint Chocolate
Dragon’s Milk Maple Coffee
Dragon’s Milk Brandy Barrel Apple Pie
Dragon’s Milk Bacon
Dragon’s Milk Chocolate & Orange
Dragon’s Milk Sarsaparilla
Dragon’s Milk Black Cherry
Dragon’s Milk Hazelnut
Dragon’s Milk Vanilla Chai
2015 Dragon’s Milk Reserve Triple Mash
2014 Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Raspberries
2015 Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Toasted Chilies

I know I know. A pretty robust list, right? After taking a peek I had a few questions for Fred Bueltmann,  Vice President of Brand and Lifestyle and Partner of New Holland, and Joel Petersen, Vice President of Marketing of New Holland Brewing about these new brews.

AS: It appears that the Dragon’s Milk variants have several options that mesh together beer (of course) with other beverage types (root beer, apple pie brandy, etc). Have you found that creating these new flavor relationships resulted from organic curiosity in production or have you found that listening to and observing the consumer trends (Not Your Father’s Root Beer comes to mind immediately) inspired these variants? Or possibly both?

FB & JP: In this particular case, they were dreamed up by our team of brewers in a very explorative, freestyle manner. Creating variants for the festival, removes some of the common barriers that come with our normal obligation to volume, and commitment to recreate flavors consistently. In this instance, they were charged with creating fun, one-off flavors in small, festival-sized batches, that may never exist again.

AS: Which ingredient(s) in the group of Dragon’s Milk variants was the most difficult to brew with? Anything that gummed up or got stuck in the mash tun or proved to be too powerful of a flavor in too little quantities? Essentially, which variant provided the most challenging brewing experience?

FB & JP: Bacon and peanut butter are currently the big question marks in terms of methodology, as well as cleanup.

AS: Acquiring barrels is never easy nowadays. How do you stay ahead of the pack in terms of collecting barrels for flavor and aging, especially less common ones in the beer scene such as rum and brandy barrels?

FB & JP: We have been barrel-aging beer since 2001, so we have learned a lot and developed many relationships. We have a great relationship with our cooper, who also serves as a bourbon-barrel broker, and we project our needs well ahead of time.  Our barrel cellar also produces a large amount of second-use barrels, so the relationship is reciprocal at times.  Our barrel sourcing efforts are as important and serious to us as our grain and hops.  

AS: Speaking of rum and brandy, could you give us an idea of the flavor differences you noticed between using rum or using the brandy barrels for the Dragon’s Milk?

FB & JP: This is the first brandy barrel we’ve used for Dragon’s Milk, so time will tell.  Rum is made from molasses and cane sugar, and typically expresses the darker flavors of it’s distillate and sugars.  Caramel, molasses and toffee are common to the flavor profile, which is a delicious connection to the dark and roasty malts, as well as the vanilla component found in Dragon’s Milk.  We expect the barrel that held brandy, which is fruit-based distillate, to have more fruit-like sweetness and play a bit brighter, accenting more of the toasty notes from the oak.

AS: What was the method used for including the bacon characteristics in the beer? Allowing full pieces of cooked bacon to hang out in the fermentation tanks? Were they included during boiling? Or was it some sort of steeping method towards the end? I bet the facilities smelled amazing that day…

FB & JP: We are conditioning the beer with bacon, post-brew and post-barrel.  Finished Dragon’s Milk will be transferred to a tank where crispy cooked bacon will be added. This allows us to manage the ingredients well and gauge conditioning time. Bacon brings lots of flavor as well as mouthfeel, so this should be velvety smooth, with tremendous porcine flavors.

AS: What advice would you give enthusiasts out there who are looking to pair these new variants with food? There are numerous pairing options, but perhaps some stood out in particular during your trial period?

FB & JP: Our advice is always to Stop & Taste.  Trust your intuition and think about what flavor you’re picking up, more than any given technique.  Also, since these are Winter Beer Festival only, we suggest, they should be paired with giant turkey legs and whatever chocolate you can get your hands on while enjoying the fest.

AS: You’ve created a purpose-driven program for the Dragon’s Milk series. Allowing the beer to be available year round in all your distribution networks and launching the “Unlimited Release” idea is incredibly difficult and I think will be received very well by your fans. What is the most challenging aspect of this idea? Do you think it’ll push other breweries to attempt this line of thinking with their rare or specialty items?

FB & JP: Our decision to go year round several years ago has definitely changed the face and footprint of the brewery. The need for dedicated blending tanks, refrigerated barrel storage, re-orienting how our barrels are stored, projecting the cash flow for all of those barrels to hang out for three months and having a robust quality control program to make shelf-stable barrel-aged beer, are all challenges that have been discovered and met at one point or another. Who knows whether other breweries will follow suit, but you have to look at it two different ways. Making rare or specialty items more widely available is one thing, and it should be in concert with demand.  Dragon’s Milk has grown in response to our customers demonstrating that they want more and will buy more. The second point is that taking barrel aged beers to market has significant technical challenges to assure that the bottles will be shelf stable and will age gracefully. Once beer is in contact with wood, it has met potential souring and/or staling agents, and we go to great pains to protect our barrel aged beer from preventable negative consequences to that exposure. Both of these points should be considered before breweries expand specialty lines, and are challenges that may keep some rare or specialty beer closer to home and in more limited contexts and volume. 


Photography: Steph Harding


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.

COMSTOCK PARK — The end of winter in Michigan means only one thing — Winter Beer Fest. Despite the coldest February on record (we checked), the additional organization required to shape the first ever two-day version of the event and brief issues with frozen tap lines, the 10th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival was one to remember.

Over 100 breweries from around Michigan descended on Fifth Third Ballpark on Friday and Saturday.  Easily navigable rows of breweries were flanked by merchandise and tokens, food and an ample amount of porta johns (very important).

The flow of this year’s fest was wonderful, and even though it was packed with a sell-out crowd on Saturday, it never seemed like the lines were too long or any one tent too crowded. The Michigan Brewers Guild festival teams did an excellent job making sure everything moved smoothly in all aspects.

Navigating and visiting with all of our favorite breweries was almost impossible, but we did get the opportunity to talk to the good folks from many wonderful places across the state.

Brewery Vivant: Kate Avery, designated Abbess of Beer was on hand. She poured the brewery’s newly tapped ‘Sous Chef’ — a Red Wine Barrel Aged Belgian Inspired Strong Ale — essentially their popular ‘Escoffier’ base, but not aged on a brett yeast.

“This beer is super complex, and even despite the cold temperatures, you’re able to taste the bold flavors,” shared Avery.

Another popular favorite was the Wizard Burial Ground, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad that comes in at 10.4% ABV. Notes of vanilla and oak from the long cellaring are pleasantly present, and, lucky us, it’s now available in cans.

BarFly Ventures — Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) and HopCat: Grand Rapids staples, both HopCat and GRBC brought some award winners for the crowd. Distinguished Eagle from GRBC, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, is a totally organic imperial stout, aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Strong notes of vanilla, and cherry are readily assessable, and it was a tasty treat and a nice warm up on a cold (very cold) day.

Another award winner was HopCat’s Red Nymph, a Flanders Red with a nice slightly sour, tart cherry note.

Jake Brenner, Head Brewer for BarFly, said the pubs made sure to select tasty, high gravity beers to help keep everyone warm. The cold did present some problems though. “It’s been really laid back and a lot of fun, but one of the jockey boxes froze up Friday. So far, today everything is looking gorgeous.”

Northern United Brewing — Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak: Jolly Pumpkin always brings something unique to the table, and this year was no exception. Sour beers are its game, and some include its variety of Sasions — Sasion X, brewed with candied ginger, orange and lemon peel, and a blend of peppercorns was a standout — a nice citrusy, ginger flavor with that wild yeast, Jolly Pumpkin signature ‘funk’, we know and love.

North Peak brought a lot of signatures, and Maylem — a Midwest heavy/old ale from its Grizzly Peak Imperial Series. North Peak’s taproom will host this particular beer, aged in run barrels, soon, so that’s something to look forward to.

Folks in Detroit should also be on the look-out for a Jolly Pumpkin build-out sometime in April.

Newer breweries were showcasing its wears as well, and MittenBrew had the chance to visit three of the WBF newbies.

Railtown Brewing: This might be the newest of the new; this brewery in Caledonia opened its doors in December of 2014. Jim Lee, Co-Founder, let us explore the selection and gave us some insight in to what Railtown is all about.

“We brought a lot of our mainstays to show off what we do on a normal basis, along with some fun one-offs,” says Lee. “Our Citra Warrior (an imperial IPA) is very popular in our tap room right now. We are stylistic brewers, and don’t do a lot of heavy adjuncts — clean flavored, medium-style beers, nothing over the edge. We are definitely a small town brewery with a loyal local clientele, and that’s what we want to be.”

Pigeon Hill: Who doesn’t want to drink something called Wild Rumpus? A barrel aged Flanders Red, this beer has a wonderful complexity, fruit notes and sour notes have a great balance.

Chad Doane, co-owner and head brewer, let us in on Pigeon Hill’s philosophy.

“We want to make delicious beer. We keep it simple, but use that classic base and do something funky with it. Pigeon Hill is about community, and our pub has a coffee shop feel. The space is for adults and their families. We want it to be a place the community (of Muskegon) can come and hang out in.”

Other interesting riffs on classics include the Walter Goes to Bang Coq Blonde Ale, brewed with Thai chilies and lemongrass — a little heat, peppery bite and gingered spice.

Territorial Brewing: This very new, Battle Creek-centric German influenced brewery brought a lot of their staples to showcase at their first WBF. Nick Yuill, Brewer at Territorial, shared its Spedunkel, a traditional style Munich Dunkel and their Red Headed Rauchstar, a ginger Rauchbier — a little twist on the classic.

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The consensus by attendees? Great beer, all around, with IPAs and Imperial Stouts ruling the day.

Some standouts mentioned frequently included White Flame’s Black Flame, an Imperial Stout and perennial favorites by Kuhnhenn and Griffin Claw, so we had to visit a few of those booths too.

Griffin Claw Brewing Company: Its booth was hopping, so apparently word got around. Project Clementine seemed to be a favorite of the weekend — a double IPA with clementines added during the mash.

The Birmingham brewery plans to double in production in the next year, and also distribute state-wide.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company: “It’s amazing,” says Eric Kuhnhenn, co-owner. “For being so cold out and this many people attending. There’s over a thousand different beers here, the camaraderie — it’s great.”

Kuhnhenn likes to do a lot of aged beers, and brings at least one every year to WBF. This time, it was a Russian Imperial Stout.

“It’s a big robust stout aged on bourbon barrels for almost a year,” explains Eric.

The Crème Brule Java Stout was also well received by many people we talked to. Kuhnhenn tends towards the higher ABV, and Eric shares why. “We found out we could get more complexity, more flavors, this way.”

Kuhnhenn wants to put in the time, the effort, to take the old stylistic types of beer and take it one step further. Recall its ever-popular Raspberry Eisbock?

If you weren’t able to attend this year, we leave you with the words of Brad and Kevin — home brewers and frequent festival attendees.

“This is the first year that we came in with an Enthusiast membership pass. We were always jealously looking at the people who got in early. Everyone should do that, you have time to get in and don’t feel rushed.”

Other, timely advice: “Get your ticket as early as you can. Dress warm. You can never have enough clothes on, and, of course, wear shoes that don’t get wet! If you are coming from out of town, book your hotel in advanced and stay safe — arrange for transportation to get you here.”

Despite the cold and ever pervasive Michigan wild winters, the WBF continues to be one of the most well attended. Perhaps Vivant’s Kate Avery best sums up the popularity of the event: “The Michigan Beer Scene conquers all.”

GRAND RAPIDS — If you’re on a beer forum or two, you’ll find plenty of advice on which whales to slay during the Saturday session of the 10th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival.

For the first time in it’s history of celebrating in Grand Rapids, the Guild added a second day to the party.

Based on Friday’s experience and enhanced by previous tasting research, here are a few beers I suggest you seek out tomorrow in no particular order:

Big Lake Brewing Company “Dark Star” breakfast stout. Travis Prueter, brewer, told MittenBrew it’s brewed using “Kona and Sumatra coffee, Godiva dark baker’s chocolate, then aged on cacao nibs.”

The barrel aged version spends “at least three and a half months on the barrel.”

Big Lake also provided a mean Imperial Brown — BB Elroy, which was aged in bourbon barrels.

Jolly Pumpkin “Saison X” farmhouse saison. A nice refreshing, complex, saison to treat your palate to. Brewed with candied ginger, lemon peel, orange peel and a blend of pink, black and green peppercorns.

Pike 51 “Oud Bruin” sour brown. I didn’t get to enjoy it Friday; it’s only being tapped today. I’ve had it from the source and will be seeing you in line for it tomorrow. Probably more than once.

Chelsea Alehouse “Hollier 8” double brown ale. A beautiful, roasty, toasty brew.

Dark Horse “Black Bush” black IPA. This relatively new release does worthy battle with their more well-known beers.

Witch’s Hat “Night Fury” imperial stouts. This series of bourbon barrel beers provides everything from vanilla bean to espresso and cherry flavors. We tried the vanilla bean variation, and were blown away by its subtle sweetness an overall balance, especially with it being a bourbon barrel age brew.

The Saturday session of Winter Beer Festival opens to the public at 1 p.m. today, with early entry available for VIPs and Enthusiast members at Noon. We hope to see you there!

GRAND RAPIDS — Relive the ninth annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival with our gallery below. Photos by Alyson Eibam, Bryan Esler and Philip Zoutendam.

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.

UPDATE: West Michigan Whitecaps officials have stated they plan to be ready to host this year’s Winter Beer Festival. Michigan Brewers Guild Executive Director Scott Graham has also released the following statement:

“We have been in contact with our friends at Fifth Third Ballpark since the unfortunate fire which damaged a portion of the property and we are happy to report that all ballpark staff are safe and unharmed. We have also been assured that as they work through the rebuilding process they will be ready to host the Winter Beer Festival February 22, 2014 as planned. We wish them all the best.”

COMSTOCK PARK — The location of this year’s Winter Beer Festival may be in question just six weeks before the Mitten’s largest beer gathering.

Fifth Third Ballpark caught fire today around 11 a.m., according to WZZM-TV. Firefighters from several municipal departments are still fighting the blaze, the Grand Rapids news station reported.  

A source tells MittenBrew that the fire was out as of 1:30 today, thanks to the work of nearly 50 firefighters from five departments during a two and half hour effort.

The Michigan Brewers Guild has sold more than 6,000 tickets for the Feb. 22 event. Executive Director Scott Graham did not speculate on the Guild’s plans for Winter Beer Fest moving forward, but did express concern about the event’s location and for West Michigan Whitecaps staff — Fifth Third Ballpark is home stadium for the minor league baseball team.

“The Michigan Brewers Guild is certainly concerned about our upcoming beer festival at the Fifth Third Ballpark, but our first concern is for all of our friends at the West Michigan Whitecaps,” Graham said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the staff at the ballpark today.”

It appears the loss in the stadium is significant; however, Winter Beer Fest is primarily held outside the park in the adjacent parking lot. 

“We will assess what it means to the Guild after the damage…can be assessed,” Graham said. “Because our event is held outside the ballpark in the parking lot we are hopeful that it will turn out well.”

Vendor events and an after party for staff take place inside the ballpark facility.

“We will do our best to keep fans of Michigan beer informed in coming days as we learn more,” Graham said.