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 á 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.