Upper Hand

ESCANABA, Mich. – Upper Hand Brewery is proud to announce that two of its beers were awarded medals at the 2019 World Expo of Beer.

Escanaba Black Beer was awarded a gold medal in the Dark European category, while Barrel-Aged Old Fighter took home bronze medals in both the Strong American and Wood-Aged categories.  

“Escanaba Black Beer is one of the three original Upper Hand recipes, and it has remained unchanged in our year-round portfolio since the day we opened,” said Upper Hand Brewery President and Founder, Larry Bell. “It is very gratifying to see it win top honors in its class.”

“I’m also delighted that the barrel-aged version of our Old Fighter was recognized with medals in two categories,” he added. “Like a good bottle of wine, we brewed this beer specifically to age gracefully, so it is incredibly validating to see it honored after over three years.”

There were 803 entries in this year’s World Expo of Beer, which is held annually in Frankenmuth, MI. It is Michigan’s largest professional beer competition. Upper Hand Brewery is the only U.P.-based brewery to receive awards at the 2019 event.

Escanaba Black Beer is available year-round in cans and draft.  Barrel-Aged Old Fighter is a small-batch, draft-only brand available at select bars and restaurants throughout the Upper Peninsula.



Escanaba Black Beer is at home around both summer fire pits and winter fireplaces. This dark, delicious, malt-forward black ale has a moderate roastiness that is balanced with a silky-smooth, mildly bitter finish (4.5% alcohol by volume – available on draft and in 12oz cans).


Barrel-Aged Old Fighter is a bold, brash take on the American Barley Wine style. Barrel-aged for fifteen months in blend of bourbon, rye, and port wine barrels, Old Fighter displays caramel, rich malt, and oak character throughout (12.7% alcohol by volume – available on draft).



Upper Hand Brewery is a crew of hikers, campers, dog-walkers, anglers, hunters, bikers, and folks that just want to get out there. We believe that life’s mission is to do what you love, where you love, with the people you love. For us, that means brewing the best beer we can, in the best place on Earth: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We put a lot of thought into brewing beer that reflects what we love about where we live. We have the unique opportunity to try and capture an experience—a sense of place—in each and every beer, and we take it seriously. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of fun. The U.P. is full of adventures and we love making beer that makes those adventures even better.

A little more about us: our founder—Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery—had always dreamed of opening a brewery in the Upper Peninsula. Little clues of those dreams can be found in many of the classic Bell’s brands, which pay tribute to the U.P. in their names and label artwork. His dream became a reality when we broke ground on our 20-barrel brewhouse in 2013, and we haven’t looked back since.



OXFORD, Mich. — A family-run brewery in small-town Oxford, Michigan, has won gold medals in two international beer competitions. HomeGrown Brewing Company received a gold medal in the World Expo of Beer and a gold medal, bronze medal and the title of Michigan IPA Brewery of the Year at the New York International Beer Competition 2019.

The micro-brewery in Oxford received the top award this week for their Oxford Ale at the World Expo of Beer competition, and last month were awarded gold at the New York-based competition for their Zephyros, a hazy India Pale Ale (IPA) beer, as well as bronze for their Ruck-a-chuk American IPA.


Owner and master brewer John Powers says he is extremely proud to have his beer recognized on such a scale. “It’s a tremendous honor,” says Powers. “Our Oxford Ale is one of our flagship brews and our Hazy IPA is one of our most popular seasonalswe might have to make it a permanent feature on our beer menu now.”

Oxford DDA executive director Glenn Pape says the recognition shows the brewery’s dedication to their craft and that the village is proud to be the home of an award-winning brewery.

“Those of us who enjoy the outstanding beer from HomeGrown Brewing Company are very happy to see them getting the recognition they deserve for their outstanding products,” Pape says. “It is businesses like HomeGrown that help to put Oxford on the map.”

The World Expo of Beer, Michigan’s only international competitive beer event, awarded other Michigan stalwarts like Bell’s Brewery, Ellison Brewery and Griffin Claw. With 600 entries, from 14 countries, the NYIBC competition also acknowledged well-known Michigan icon Founders Brewing Co. for several awards and as Michigan Brewery of the Year. For a small, new micro-brewery to claim medals and titles alongside such renowned names is a big deal, says Powers.

“We love that the playing field is level enough for us to compete with established names in the industry,” he says.

HomeGrown’s unique Zephyros brew has a floral aroma, grapefruit notes and uses heavy, late-addition hops (including Galaxy hops from Australia) and is described by the brewery as “Cloudy, with a chance of blowing your mind”. The downside, for the brewers, is that the Zephyros is their most labor-intensive brew, adding up to a 12-hour brew day for each batch.

“It’s a good problem to have,” says Powers.


FRANKENMUTH — Paul Boissevain spent this past weekend trying to introduce more folks to his craft beer. It’s the same mentality Mark Lorenz embraced as he embarked on the annual World Expo of Beer.

Neither of the two Northern Michigan brewery owners necessarily planned to showcase any awards during the annual Expo, but both smiled ear-to-ear at having won awards.

“We’re out there making beers we like to drink,” Boissevain said of his Keweenaw Brewing Company, located in Houghton. “We’re not there for style — we’re there for something that makes you want another drink.”

“We’re very surprised, very happy,” said Lorenz, a member of Cheboygan Brewing Co., which took home a first place award for the brewery’s seasonal brew Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest, created by the brewery’s operation manager and brewmaster Tim Perry, was inspired by the 1976 Späten Oktoberfest bier from Munich, Germany. Although it was not available at the Expo (as it is a seasonal), Lorenz described it as orange in hue with a pronounced malt presence.

Meanwhile, Keweenaw Brewing Company captured second place  in the American Ale category with its Lift Bridge Brown Ale.

“It’s one of our poor(est) selling beers,” Boissevain said. “The Brown happened to win because it fit a category.”

Since both Lorenz and Boissevain say their two breweries do not emphasize brewing for a style, fitting a category to win awards from the Expo was no easy task.

With nearly 300 beers available, the Expo packed Frankenmuth’s Heritage Park inside and out Friday and Saturday. It took less than three hours after doors opened at 3 p.m. Saturday before it became somewhat difficult to shift through the crowd and maneuver to various medal-winning beers.

The event also offered the opportunity for attendees to talk to brewers, owners, distributors and managers if they happened to track them down. Although Keweenaw has been open since 2004, the Expo is the perfect event for exposure (especially since some consider the UP another Mitten). For Cheboygan, the Expo was infinitely more important — it just opened last May.

Cheboygan used the opportunity to showcase its Lighthouse Amber Altbier and La Cerveza, which were both recently expanded into new distribution areas.

“Agreements have been established with Powers Distributing Company to market our products in the Oakland and Macomb counties in Southeast Michigan,” Lorenz said. “We will also begin distribution in the Lansing and East Lansing areas with the Dan Henry Distribution Co. beginning in May.”

Boissevain, who co-owns Keweenaw with Dick Gray, encourages visitors to make the trek to his taproom, a 30,000-square-foot rustic building with a deck wrapped around — he calls it “a real cozy environment.”

For those who can’t make the trip, Keewanaw beer is available at events like the Expo and is distributed in cans to three states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota) with production increasing every year. In fact, production has more than doubled since 2008.

“I’m glad the cans are taking off in the state,” Boissevain said, adding that cans always made sense for his brewery since it’s situated in an outdoor environment. “It’s better for the beer in the long run.”

The World Expo of Beer is Michigan’s largest beer sampling event, according to organizers. Its mission is to promote great beer, all-the-while raising money for charity (all proceeds are donated to charitable causes).

FRANKENMUTH — Apparently the World Expo of Beer is a great way to spend a wedding anniversary. It’s also a worthwhile reason for friends to have an annual reunion.

“It’s actually our wedding anniversary today,” said Rusty Blackwell of Manchester. “It’s a cool way to get to know about new beers. We’ll try new stuff as much as we can.”

No matter the motive for each attendee — there were newbies, beer-connoisseurs and, yes, even snobs — the annual event certainly brought the masses together. The nearly 20,000 people in attendance (spanning two days) had their choice of about 400 brews — beers, ciders, mead, malts and more.

This was was the second venture to the event for Rusty and his wife, Jennifer. They began their day by sampling two Wolverine State Brewing Company beers, Helles Bock and Dark Lager.

“We like both of them quite a bit,” Rusty said. “It’s better than spending $12 on a six-pack you might not like.”

While they weren’t all Michigan brews (or even crafts), the majority of representation was from the Mitten. But the Expo was not just about the brews, it was about people. As we scanned the crowd at Heritage Park, we met beer enthusiasts, families, young couples and spotted some people watchers (well, they weren’t drinking and just kind of peering around).

Attendees didn’t have any reason to be bored — blaring music, food and the chance at everything from trying their hand at the beer pong tournament to going to class at Beer School. And let’s not forget the mug strength competition, a test of endurance to see who of five competitors could hold up a mug of beer the longest without bending his or her arm (the record was a little of five minutes for the guys and about three for the ladies at last check).

We tried a handful of beers, ciders and a couple tasters of mead. Not much leaves the BrewCrew disappointed, and we certainly were pleased with our choices (for the most part). Our favorites came from breweries like Wolverine, Atwater, Bells, Shorts, Mount Pleasant, Schmohz, Great Lakes and Saugatuck. Although Crispin Cider Company is not from the Mitten, we have to admit they have a killer pear cider.

All in all, the World Expo of Beer is worth a trip to Frankenmuth (even if you’re four hours or so away). There aren’t many beer events that can match it in the combination of brews, entertainment and food.





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