Monday, September 8, 2014

6th Annual UP Fall Beer Fest

In ways that no other state has, Michiganders have the privilege of traveling to a completely different environment without ever leaving their own state.  The upper Peninsula is as fierce and rugged as the people are polite and generous, with a culture and climate wholly different than the lower peninsula. That culture was fully on display during the Fall UP Beer Fest, where the wealth of Upper Peninsula Michigan Beers showed off their wares alongside the southern breweries willing to make the trip to Marquette.

Like the expansive sky smiling down on the Lake Superior Town, the mood was light and airy.  People did not rush from tent to tent to gorge themselves on the highest alcohol beers. They took their time; they discussed the nuance of the plethora of gentle summer beers punctuated with assertive fall beers. Fruited, spiced, and traditional saisons danced with Oktoberfests.

The double edged sword of Guild sponsored festivals is that they showcase beers you’ll probably never drink again – which makes lists of the best beers I tried largely useless, since neither the reader nor I will ever taste them.  So think of this as less of a list of recommendations and more of a nostalgic memory.

Blackrocks Brewery finally made a raspberry beer worth talking about.  With a market saturated with the functional equivalent of cough syrup and lollipops, Blackrocks’s Razzle Rabbits did something no other brewery has accomplished.  Their light summer ale toured the entire experience of raspberry, from the initial sweet burst of fresh juice to the sharp bitterness of the seeds which left you pining for another sip. 

Griffin Claw brought a stable of sours well worth the time and abv.  Their Sour Apricot ale – an amber brewed and aged with apricots and let to sit and sour in oaken casks – lent a definite apricot fruit flavor to the traditional sour profile.  This beer is not a gateway to sours; it’s a strong and tart sour ale that cuts through the heat and the tastebuds with equal aplomb.

Short’s Brewing Company always excels at festivals.  While making experimental ales is always a gamble, things usually turn out well for Short’s.  The Gitchy Gitchy Ooh La La (trust me, it’s as awkward to type that as it is to read it) cucumber lilac lemon kolsch style beer practically redefines what it means to be a refreshing summer ale.

Brewery Vivant teamed up with Tory O’Haire of Propaganda Donuts to bring us arguably the best donut beer our species has ever created. Stop thinking about sickly sweet, sugary beers that generally reflect what a glazed donut tastes like.  This dark Belgian style ale poured a deep, royal purple. Aromatic notes included vanilla and rose, with a heady sense of freshly fried plain donut. Tasting it revealed none of the cloying disaster you’d find in other donut beers.  Rather, the gentle breadiness gave way to deep vanilla notes accentuated by roses and berries. For those of you worried that “roses” means that old-lady perfume smell synonymous with rose water, fear not; there is no old lady in this beer. Instead, Agent รก Deux develops biscuity, lightly fruited, vanilla and rose flavor with a deep, purple haze.

Whether it’s for eating the whitefish that was swimming in the lake earlier the same day, or the plethora of Michigan beers that people downstate have never had, the incredible natural scenery, or the legendary hospitality of the Yooper culture, you owe it to yourself to visit the Upper Peninsula, and doing it during the Fall Beer Fest will reward you with one of the most memorable experiences of the year. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan Hosts Fourth Annual BRU Fest Fundraiser in Royal Oak

The fourth annual BRU FEST Michigan fundraiser will pair local craft beer with delicious food and entertainment with proceeds to benefit the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan.

The event will take place on Saturday, June 14 from 7 p.m. to 11p.m. at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market. General admission tickets are $39, and VIP tickets are $60. VIP tickets include 6 p.m. early entrance, private beer tapings with exclusive food pairings, a larger mug and moreWith each ticket purchase, attendees receive 10 tokens for one half-pour of beer each and four tickets for burgers and wings. Tokens and tickets for additional beers and food can be purchased for $1 each.

BRU Fest fundraisers bring together aficionados of great craft beer and delicious food, with microbrews provided by Bell’s Brewery and food provided by Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern. The event has sold out in previous years, with beer lovers enjoying the casual, fun environment to raise money to support a worthy cause.

Event sponsors include:

  • Culinary partners: Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger TavernBuffalo Wild Wings 
  • Exclusive Microbrew Brand: Bells Brewery, Inc. Bells will provide 22 craft beers, six of which are rarely available to the public
  • Exclusive Microbrewery Distributor: Rave Associates
  • Exclusive Dealership Sponsor: Mike Savoie Chevrolet

  • The Hype Syndicate will provide the musical entertainment for the event.

    The Beer List For BRU Fest:  

    • Oberon Ale
    • Two Hearted Ale
    • Amber Ale
    • Lager of the Lakes
    • Quinannan Falls Special Lager
    • Third Coast Beer
    • Midwestern Pale Ale
    • Double Cream Stout
    • Expedition Stout
    • Cherry Stout
    • Java Stout
    • Porter
    • Kalamazoo Stout
    • Oatmeal Stout
    • Bull in A China Shop
    • Sweet Potato Stout
    • Bourbon Barrel Aged Kalamazoo Stout
    • Berry Ale
    • Mercurial Belgian Style Ale
    • Wheat Love Ale
    • Roundhouse IRA

    First-Ever BRU Pong Tournament
    For the first time ever, BRU Fest 2014 will feature a fundraising “BRU Pong Tournament.” The tournament will allow teams of two to enter a single-elimination tournament and represent a CLF patient family in their quest for the grand prize, with proceeds benefiting the Children’s Leukemia Foundation’s The WALK fundraiser on July 21stThe individual donation to participate in the BRU Pong Tournament is an additional $5 to a regular BRU Fest ticket.

    “An event doesn’t have to be black-tie to make an impact,” said Bill Seklar, president and CEO of Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan. “We created this first-of-its-kind food and craft beer event four years ago to reach a younger, broader audience through an affordable experience. Royal Oak has been a perfect home for this event that raises awareness and funds for our patients and families based in Michigan affected by leukemia, lymphoma and other blood-related diseases. “

    For more information or to register for the event, visit

    About Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan
    Headquartered in Troy, Mich., Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan is a statewide nonprofit organization helping families cope with leukemia, lymphoma and related disorders by providing information, financial assistance and emotional support. In addition, CLF has provided more than $6.5 million in research dollars to Michigan’s comprehensive cancer institutes. For more information about Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, please call 
    248.530.3000 or visit

    Friday, May 2, 2014

    The Black Heron

    Our posts have dwindled slightly in the last three months.  While it’s true that we haven’t been able to travel to as many Michigan breweries as we would like, our time has not been spent in vain.  The truth is that the pair that runs the Michigan Beer Blog – Laura and Seth Porter – are opening a kitchen and bar dedicated celebrating Michigan’s vast array of food and beverages! The Black Heron will provide:

    ·        Rare and popular beer from all over the state
    ·        an unprecedented gluten free cider collection
    ·        the largest collection of Michigan Spirits in the world
    ·        a menu inspired by Michigan’s agricultural bounty

    As you may have noticed from our last article, we are Grand Rapidians who have fallen in love with the West Side of the city.  The Black Heron will be located at 428 Bridge St NW, close to the Grand River and within walking distance to the Devos Performance Hall.

    WE NEED YOUR HELP!  We are not some mega corporation opening another chain; we will rely on every ounce of good will and friendship and loyalty we have with our readers and our suppliers to make this work.  So how can you help?

    •        “Like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. That is where the majority of our renovations updates will be until we open.  After that, that will be our primary method of communication for menu specials, drink special, employment opportunities, etc.
    •       Tell your friends!
    •       Stop by for a drink after we’re open! (mid November)

    For now, that’s it! We will continue to write about breweries in our (vanishing) spare time here.  Yes, I stockpiled some outlines of some Upper Peninsula breweries for you.

    Thank you for your years of support!

    Thursday, April 3, 2014

    The Mitten Brewing Company

    The Michigan Beer Blog has had the privilege of traveling the state visiting breweries, but we have a special place in our heart for our city and our neighborhood.  As proud West Siders, it’s with no small joy that we can write about a brewery that’s in our own neighborhood. Indeed, the Mitten is our neighborhood bar. Built inside a Fire House that dates back to 1891, the Mitten has tried at every turn to be a great fit with the existing community while simultaneously bringing their passion for beer and baseball to a local and dedicated audience. 

    The renovations to the interior keep the firehouse look while adding baseball themed elements; uncovered old brick walls and a refinished concrete floor reinforce that notion that half a century ago, this room was home to beefy red fire engines and the people who rode them. The seating has a simple, no frills design that nonetheless lends an elegance from the polished wood tables.  The bar, while small, echoes the craftwork on the table, giving those bellied up to it a comfortable and inviting experience.

    Brewer Robert “Wob” Wanhatalo heads up The Mitten’s brewing stable. The very popular Peanuts and Crackerjack Porter is a great mainstay and – like all their beers – riffs on the Mitten’s close connection to baseball.  Our favorite, however, has to be the Country Strong IPA – a simple, no fuss American IPA with light citrus notes that drinks well either at Comerica Park on a hot summer day or with two elbows propped at the bar during the winter-that-won’t-end.  We also enjoyed the Mitten’s session ale; the Triple Crown Brown brought plenty of sweet and roasted flavor for a soft-on-the-liver 4.2% abv.  If you want a low alcohol gateway beer for the “hops are too bitter!” crowd, this is my choice. That said, if you want to go big, the Rye Baby Double IPA amazed us, with a spicy rye note fleshing out the body of this booze-smooth beer.

    In case you weren't aware, The Mitten has pioneered an idea so perfect it’s a little dumbfounding we don’t see it more often: pizza flights. What else would go with the time honored tradition of sampling a half dozen beers at once than sampling a half dozen of The Mitten’s excellent pizza choices?  Bring a couple friends, though, as the flight easily feeds four…or one gluttonous Adam Richman impersonator. We tried six specialty pizzas, and frankly we couldn’t pick a winner.  This is truly a stellar pizza menu, blending original ideas with great takes on traditional pies.
    The Mitten was built with the vision of being a neighborhood brewery.  The owners and brewers are neighbors. I recently wrote an article detailing how this type of pub wasn’t in danger of being eclipse, but rather this type of pub was rolling full steam ahead through neighborhood watering holes that offering little other than domestic macros and popcorn.  The Mitten exemplifies that, providing a comfortable and popular neighborhood hangout. And for those of you still unconvinced: it only took the Mitten a year to begin an expansion.

    Monday, March 24, 2014

    The Myth of Craft Beer Saturation

    Despite craft beer’s sustained, double digit annual growth, people love to bring up the possibility that the craft beer market teeters on the brink of outgrowing itself. I hear many people use the word “saturation” as they sagely nurse their third beer. “There’s too many breweries in Michigan,” they say.  “No market can sustain double digit growth forever.  At some point, these little start-ups will begin cannibalizing their own market.”  Then these people – who I assume mean well – go back to the beer that didn’t exist six months ago because the brewery wasn’t even built yet.

    The myth of the saturated market has been around since at least 2010, when I first entered the craft beer scene. I remember sitting at the Vierling in Marquette, back when Michigan was sustaining about half the breweries we have now, having the same conversation I see people have now; and all of us are  making the same statistical errors that I did in 2010. The craft beer scene is growing, and that growth is unsustainable; those parts are definitely true. However, craft beer has light years to go before it runs out of growth potential; what people are missing is what, exactly, craft beer is replacing.

    See that chart?   You see that tiny, 13.9% sliver of American beer consumption marked “others?”  That’s all the craft beer consumed in America.  That’s what this blog covers, that’s what the 120+ breweries in Michigan and the 2400+ craft breweries produce nationally. Everything else (except Heineken) is either owned by two corporations, or produced by two corporations. Yes, even our beloved PBR, Lone Star, Schlitz, Blatz, Natty Boh, and Old Style, while not owned by AB-Inbev or SABMiller/MillerCoors, are produced in their breweries.  Right now, for every pint of Two Hearted you drink, America drinks five macro lagers – and while that ratio is a little smaller than it was five years ago, that’s a whole lot of potential Two Hearted sales growth that wouldn’t eat into a single pint of All Day IPA.  Put plainly, craft beer is definitely cannibalizing the beer market, but it’s nowhere near in danger of saturation; it’s chewing right into the production of the macro lagers. 

    “Craft brewery saturation” is not something anyone needs to worry about for a long time.  That said, the reality that craft beer is viciously dismantling Big Beer’s empire does have other consequences. AB-Inbev is a giant, hulking behemoth, but they didn’t build a phenomenally efficient corporation by being dumb.  They’ve moved to emulate craft beer’s success (some people call these attempts faux craft – I admit to enjoying an occasional Blue Moon).  They’ve utilized their pocketbook to purchase great craft breweries outright – Goose Island is now an AB-Inbev company. The consequences of success ripple beyond the reaction of Big Beer as well; to protect their success, successful breweries have become more litigious.  They’ve become more exacting as to what, exactly, craft beer means, which has resulted in the redefinition of the term both on the state and federal level. Even still, some people disagree as to whether the largest traditional craft breweries (Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada) even count as craft beer anymore (they do.)

    All that is largely invisible to the consumer, however.  That’s why so many people talk about saturation; a local brewery going out of business due to competition by other local breweries would be directly felt by local imbibers. Lawsuits or statistical pie charts are largely theoretical compared to a place shutting its doors…but that’s already happening.  The rise of craft beer isn't killing craft beer, but it is replacing something.  In every neighborhood, in every state that has embraced craft beer, we’re seeing an inexorable shift; small microbreweries and brewpubs are replacing local watering holes.  The 21st century, with its bans on smoking, its preference for serving food with alcohol, and its demand for variety simply isn’t as welcoming to a place with three taps, a popcorn machine, and a trough in the men’s room.  Cheers, that gilded television dive bar from the 80s, cannot compete in today’s landscape. As our preference for locally brewed, quality beer increases, the places that offer Busch Light on draft with a package of peanuts will continue to fade away -- unless they can evolve into something more.

    This shouldn't be thought of as a sad time.  Remember that these same dive bars sprung up in the vacuum left after Prohibition; prior to that, the local brewery was where everyone gathered.  In a way, America is coming back to its roots by supplanting places serving faceless, adjunct beer with pubs where your neighbor makes the products.  Talk of a saturated market, therefore, fundamentally misses the point.  The craft beer revolution has decades of growth left, and it’s already begun to threaten the status quo. The short term losers, however, certainly won’t be well managed breweries: they’ll be macro brands and the pubs who rely too heavily on those brands.

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