Friday, July 29, 2011

1st Semi-Annual "Weird Michigan" Beer and Food Exhibition


To say that Michigan brewers are having fun with their beer is a massive understatement.

Sometimes it seems like one big competition to see who can brew the weirdest, craziest, most bizarre beer ever. I'm a big fan of the spirit behind these beers and will try even the craziest-sounding brews at least once. Sure, some of them are complete flops, but I admire the creativity and enthusiasm that go into making them. And hey, some of them are really fantastic!

Last night, Seth and I made a trip out to the Shark Club in Howell for the first of what will be many “Weird Michigan” events to come -- an event celebrating the unique spirit that Michigan beer encompasses. Weird Michigan was truly a chance to see the creativity of Michigan’s wonderful brewing community, and highlighted some of the more uniquely "abnormal" brews this state has to offer.

What exactly do I mean by "abnormal"? Well, I'm sure you've had chips and salsa and washed it down with a cold beer before, but have you ever had a chips and salsa beer? Or a Mackinac Island Fudge Stout? Arbor Brewing Company certainly hit the nail on the head with these two concoctions. Some of the beers were based on traditional or historic brews, like Mount Pleasant's Gruit and Kuhnhenn's Heather Ale, a Scottish-Style ale that uses heather tips instead of hops. Many brewers are also playing around with infusions, like Dark Horse's ROD, an amber laced with "aphrodisiac herbs", and Michigan Brewing Company's Vicious Hibiscus. Others, like the Original Gravity Ginger Ale, an unhopped hard ginger ale brewed with malted barley, candi sugar, and spiced with fresh and crystallized ginger, were wholly new creations. It's great that brewers are pushing the boundaries of the "normal" beer styles or abandoning them altogether.

MBC Vicious Hibiscus
OG Ginger Ale
The beer that stole the show for me, though, was hands down Original Gravity's 440 Pepper Smoker amber ale. Smoked beers and pepper beers are extremely hit or miss for me (generally erring more on the side of a “miss,” especially when you combine those two flavors), but this one is really well balanced and not over-the-top; the feeling of “all I can smell is smoke and it tastes like I'm licking a spicy band-aid” did not come to pass with this beer. We had the opportunity to speak with Brad Sancho, the owner/brewer at Original Gravity, and he said that was his intention, and he achieves that balance by brewing the beer with smoked German malts and adding fresh jalapenos during several stages of the brewing process, rather than dumping them all in at once. He was spot on with his recipe. The flavor starts out a little sweet, with some great smoked malt flavors in the middle, which is then joined by the jalapeno to produce a smoked chipotle flavor. After the swallow, the smoke mellows out and leaves a lasting pepper burn in the end with some grainy flavors in the finish. The pepper is added with a skilled hand; not over done as sometimes can happen, and adds more than it takes away.

Inspiration for the event's creator, Jonathan "Danger" Cole, came when he was going through catalogs of beer available for Shark Club’s new 68 tap system, and saw how many unique beers Michigan has to offer. Cole, the beer purchaser and event planner at Shark Club, told us this first event was much more successful than he ever could have imagined, and they plan on having this event every eight months after this one.  The events will continue to grow, featuring a wider selection of Michigan beer, food, and live entertainment.

Barely an empty seat in the entire place!

Many of these beers can be found in bottled form at your local speciality beer market. If you're up for something out of the ordinary, give them a try!
Me with a Short's Adia's Ale (strawberry kiwi)

Seth with an ABC Chips 'N Salsa Beer
To view more photos from this event, visit our Facebook page.

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