winter microbrew fest

Negative wind chills and endless amounts of snow couldn’t keep thousands from attending the seventh annual Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival on Saturday.

Each year, the winter counterpart to the Summer Microbrew & Music Festival lightens up an otherwise gray winter atmosphere. And, each year, the festival builds upon itself — converting The Sarah Harding Parking Lot into a microbrew winter wonderland. The festival remains unique and interesting even for those that return year after year.

winter microbrew fest

The vibrancy of the festival hails from a vast assortment of breweries, food, and music. For 2016, many favorites returned — including an eclectic collection of musical acts, Silent Disco, local food trucks, and the Rare Beer Tour. With music playing throughout the evening in multiple tents, festival attendees could choose their entertainment. Whether you prefer folk rock, bluegrass, polka, funk, or experimental music, there was something for you to enjoy. Live acts included That 1 Guy, Lowdown Brass Band, Billy Strings, TurboPup, and Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers.

The Rare Beer Tour made its way through the three beer tents, with a new “rare brew” being tapped every half hour. These rare beers were often exclusive or limited releases. This year’s Rare Beer Tour included Blueberry Pancake Milkshake Stout from Rochester Mills, Arcadia Ale’s Brown Cow, and Bell’s 30th Anniversary Ale. A schedule for the tour was added to the festival guide so attendees could plan out their stops.

“I can’t wait for Zangeif’s Bearhug from Short’s. Zangeif is a character from Street Fighter, so I have to try it,” said festival attendee Nick Gravlin.

With unique beer names and odd styles sprinkled throughout the festival, it was hard to find something not to be excited about. Both Short’s and Arcadia Ales featured sour stouts. These had the tartness you would expect from a sour, but were also balanced with the roasty notes of a stout. Many breweries also experimented with barrel-aging as well utilizing unique ingredients like bacon, marshmallow fluff, and Carolina Reaper peppers. Beer names ranged from Scary Jesus Rockstar (Dark Horse Brewing) and 600 Pounds of Sin (Short’s Brewing) to Hipster Brunch Stout (Oddside Ales) and Kilting Me Softly (Tapistry Brewing).

This array of styles could only come from a wide range of breweries. This year’s festival included over forty breweries ranging from statewide favorites to newcomers waiting to be discovered. Well established breweries included Founders, Bell’s, and Short’s as well as Atwater, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin, and Perrin. Newer breweries included Lake Ann Brewing, Hop Lot, and Pigeon Hill Brewing. Hop Lot, which opened last spring with much anticipation, emptied its kegs well before the festival was over.

“The Winter Microbrew & Music Festival is always a great opportunity to try something new,” said another festival attendee.

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For the fourth year, Porterhouse Productions created the summer festival atmosphere in February with the Traverse City Winter Microbrew and Music Festival.

The festival was held in downtown Traverse City on Saturday and featured over 200 microbrews from over 50 breweries.

“We’ve got quite the setup here,” said Sam Porter, owner of Porterhouse Productions, as he made sure patrons weren’t waiting in line too long.

Festival goers, outfitted in winter clothing and extravagant hats, were able to enjoy fine craft beer alongside local food. Food trucks Roaming Harvest and Antrim Catering were present along with other local favorites.

Music could be found in each heated tent and ranged from the Grand Traverse Pipes & Drums (a traditional Scottish bagpipe and drum ensemble) to Funktion (a high energy funk band).

Breweries from around the country were present, including Big Sky Brewing Company and Magic Hat Brewing Company. However, Michigan craft beer, mead and wine were the focus of the event. I was able to sample beers from some of the largest brewhouses in the state, as well as some of the smallest.

Perhaps one of the smallest, Beards Brewery in Petoskey, opened in October and operates with a single barrel brewing system.

“We are actually behind two stores. You have to go down a 50 foot hallway to get to us,” said owner Ben Slocum.

I sampled Beards’ Brimley Stout which was a rich yet smooth stout. It had the bold taste of a stout, but was lighter than others. The oatmeal made it a smooth brew with a subtle finish of hops.

Also representing the Petoskey area was Petoskey Brewing Company, which opened just a couple months before Beards Brewery. I tried the Dark Knight IPA, a Black IPA with a rich, dark color and a bold roasted flavor with a hint of almond.

With the temperature cold and the snow falling, many dark, rich beers were available. Among my favorites were Rochester Mills Beer Company’s Milkshake Stout and New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk.

Michiganders love the chance to come together and enjoy the things their great state has to offer. It’s refreshing to not have to wait until the snow disappears to do so.

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