Sunday, February 12, 2012

Third Annual Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival

One of the most entertaining discussions I have with people who are not beer festival goers regards the plethora of winter beer fests hosted in Michigan.  " just stand outside in the cold and drink beer?" They ask, their eyes dubious.  Yes, Debbie Downer, I stand outside in the cold and let the work of our state's finest beer artisans warm me up.  Living in Michigan and not celebrating winter means missing out on some of the best moments of the year; whether winter is enjoyed with skis strapped on, or watching a string leading into a hole in ice, or with a beer in hand, if you're not taking advantage of Michigan's cold weather, you're not enjoying everything you could be.

 Porterhouse Productions (no relation) hosts one of these winter gatherings annually, and on February 11th, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons was the site of a sold out festival. Forty different vendors celebrated Michigan's sparkling winter with beers, wines, and ciders to a crowd estimated at over 3000 people.  The focus is definitely on Michigan products; most of the Traverse City area wineries (including Old Mission peninsula wineries) were in attendance, and alongside well known breweries like Bell's and Founder's were newer names, like the Cheboygan Brewing Company and the Midland Brewing Company.  Unlike Michigan Brewing Guild hosted events, however, the Traverse City Microbew and Music Festival is able to go "off book" and invite non Michigan vendors, like the Crispin Cider company, Boston Brewing Company, and Sierra Nevada. Plus, the profits raised by this festival all go to a local charity!

Chas from Schmohz Brewery, winner of coolest hat at the festival

To those of you who glossed over that expository paragraph because you're still not sold on standing outside in northern Michigan with a beer in your hand when your phone says 15°, take heart:  Porterhouse Productions won't let you freeze. Interspersed throughout the festival were large fires, and in one tent there was even a propane heater, so if your delicate fingers broke off, that was your fault. Additionally, kielbasa, pierogies,  and other food was provided by Maxbauer's Market, Brownwood Farms, and Adriana's Cakery, giving plenty of options for warm food that would also soak up some of the beer.  

Highlights of the selection included included a rare and welcome sighting of the Black Note, Bell's phenomenal barrel aged mixture of Double Cream Stout and Expedition Stout. This beer is rich and complex with hints of fruit underpinning a creamy, malty flavor. I know part of the mystique is the rarity of the beer, but it's only a small part. This is truly a great beer.  

This festival also gave me a chance to sample Odd Side Ales' Mayan Mocha Stout, and this stout is at least as good as the Black Note. This complex beer is brewed with Dutch Chocolate coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, and habanero peppers, creating a flavor profile that is an absolute journey. It begins with a bittersweet chocolate mocha flavor washing over strong malted characteristics, like many coffee stouts. As it warms in your mouth, sparks of spice begin to pierce the sweetness, the nutmeg and cinnamon carving their own niche through the coffee/chocolate notes, keeping the sweetness from becoming sticky and the bitterness from becoming enveloping. Finally, carried on the aroma of the exhale, the warmth from the habanero sneaks through the taste, adding an exclamation point to an already thoughtful sentence. The spice from the habenero is assertive without being aggressive; it does not overtake the cinnamon or nutmeg, and the chocolate sweetness keeps the edge at bay. 

See that cup at the bottom?  It's filled with liquid gold. Delicious gold.
The great thing about the Traverse City Microbrew and Music festival is the variety of events. Since this is a beer blog I'm not explicitly covering the copious amounts of other activities available there, but that doesn't mean they didn't happen. A fantastic music lineup was playing throughout the evening, including the Grand Traverse Pipes and Drums, a fantastic marching bagpipe and drum group. One of my favorite artists, the Crane Wives, also played a great set. (Aside: they have some of the tightest three part harmonies I've heard. They are extremely talented musicians.) There was also a silent disco, which while we did not check it out, was extremely popular. There was also a game where you threw tape on a string and tried to get it to stick onto the horns of an animal. It was like Ball in a Cup for grownups.

Between the excellent beer, wine, cider, music, and fun, the Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival is a great way to spend a chilly winter Michigan Saturday. It may not be the tranquil reflective time spent looking for fish in a hole in the ice, and it may not carry the rush of adrenaline skiing downhill, but there's something to be said for standing in tents with fellow beer lovers and enjoying great beer and music with fellow Michiganders.

More photos from the event are available at the Michigan Beer Blog Facebook Page.

More about the Bay Area Recycling for Charities can be found at their website,


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