What happens when you give almost ten thousand people tiny little cups, serve them with 54 brewing companies offering over 400 different types of beer, dump almost three inches of rain on them over the course of a weekend, and toss in a tornado warning for good measure?
One hell of a great time.
Thousands of us. And everyone is smiling.
The13th Annual Summer Beer Festival, which took place in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is one of the great celebrations of Michigan beer. With four beer tents crammed full of breweries, supplemented by several kiosks of yet more brewers, it's more than a little overwhelming. No liver on the planet would be able to try all 400+ different beers, even with the three ounce sample cups. Laura and I spent almost 5 hours there Saturday afternoon meeting with people who share our opinion of local beer. In the interest of not boring everyone to death, don't expect a full run down of every beer we sampled. I'm going to hit the highlights, show you all what you missed by not coming, and then erase some of that agonizing despair by giving you the rundown.
We started with what we knew, and said hi to our friends at Short's brewery. As always, they did not disappoint, serving up brand new and experimental beers. Their agave peach wheat was light and dry and perfect for the hot, humid afternoon sun beating down on us, but the real winner from them came from their aptly named Nicie Spicie Pepper ale. Spiced beer rarely goes down well for me, but the coriander front with a solid black pepper kick was perfect. I've only had one other beer that comes close to this, and it hails from Wisconsin. We also tried their strawberry shortcake beer: a bit sweet for me, and absolutely bursting with strawberry flavor.
We sampled items including the Snuggle Bunny Cinnamon Vanilla stout and Chocolate Orange stout from Right Brain brewing, The Mother Pucker Sour Wheat Porter from Old Hat (a surprising and tasty sour beer! I found one I like!), and the IPA and ESB from Big Buck Brewery. Big Buck was talked up all over the festival for their margarita shandy – and I watched the last keg of it run dry, two people before me.
At one point the Kuhnhenn brewers ambled by, wearing their shiny vinyl spacesuits out on a day that was easily in the nineties (I swiftly established celebrity status as the largest idiot by wearing dress pants and a dress shirt at a gathering where flip flops and dudes with no shirts was the norm). They were serving a strong, caramelly bourbon barrel barley wine that packed a punch. It was reminiscient of pancakes that your alcoholic grandmother served you when you were a kid and slipped some brandy in with the syrup. It wasn't the best thing on such a hot day, but I can see a place for it. I'm a sucker for bourbon aged beer lately.
And I thought *I* was hot.
It wasn't too long after Kuhnhenn that we met this guy:
That's Jake, one of the brewers for Dark Horse Brewery, a dynamite place in Marshall and currently one of my favorite breweries in Michigan. Jake offered up a perfect brown ale (The Boffo Brown) as well as Judson Juice Pale Ale, which Laura enjoyed as well. Jake is a man who makes you jealous of being a brewer. Friendly, well spoken, and laid back, he's exactly the type of person I want making my beer. Dark Horse offered a great environment, complete with outdoor seating area, and was just a lot of entertainment all around.
We also had a chance to swing by our friends from Holland at the aptly named New Holland Brewery. While we were really excited to try their aged 2008 Dragon's Milk, they had run out, so instead we were presented with the Brother Jacob Dubbel, a big beer they were no longer making. An amazing experience, heavy on the dark fruits like raisin and fig, coupled with a spicy, malty finish. This is a beer that I really hope New Holland brings back.
We also met friends, because that's what I do around strangers with beer. Pictured here are John and Heather. Heather was mystified at my choice for clothing on this trip, and no one at the festival blamed her. It was hot. Like milk, dark brown pants were a bad choice. We hope to see both John and Heather at upcoming Brewfests!
Toward the end of the day, we sampled beer from the Frankenmuth Brewery. I won't lie. . .there was another reason why we staked out their booth.
At that point, it wouldn't have mattered if their stuff had tasted like the current Kalamazoo River. Just having a dachshund as a mascot would've been enough. But the brewery really delivered a great, smooth dunkel as well as a very tasty stout. Yes, the brewer is the guy giving the camera a staredown in the picture above.
A good way to spend a Saturday? As Stephen Colbert would say, it was possibly the greatest way to spend a Saturday. Crowds of interesting people, hundreds of delicious beer selections, music, muddy slip'n'slides (at one point we watched a drunk girl try to convince security to let her bodyslide through the muddy grass), and a general “we're proud of Michigan” feeling made this festival one of the best I've ever attended, and has me regretting harshly the fact that I won't be able to make it to the September Beer Fest in Marquette. Plus, THIS guy was there.
Image courtesy Jeremy Arnold