Monday, February 27, 2012

7th Annual Winter Beer Fest

I've written before about the fun that can be had drinking beer outside in the middle of a Michigan winter, so it should come as no surprise that I, along with thousands of like minded, beer loving people from both within and outside of Michigan, spent Saturday morning pulling on layers of warm clothing, heavy coats, sunglasses, gloves, hats, and pretzel necklaces in order to spend six hours standing outside in 28 degree weather. The perfect start to the Michigan Winter Beer Fest.

Also, beard hats.

The Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Fest, hosted annually at the Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, is the biggest winter beer festival in the state, with over 7,000 brewers, pourers, caterers, and beer lovers in attendance. It boasts the largest amount of beers available of any of the winter festivals, with over 450 different samples from 60+ breweries. Giant turkey legs, delicious looking pasties, and enormous marinara covered meatballs made up just a portion of the food designed to soak up beer and let people continue sampling. Propane lamps and large outdoor fires helped festival attendees warm up if needed. Luckily, while the temps were in the 20s, the tents housing the beer captured body heat efficiently and kept most of the tasting areas surprisingly warm.

So why stand in lines – some of which stretched for 20 minutes or more – for beer? Many breweries use this opportunity to show off their strongest, most unique, or most rare beers, offering up a selection of beer you have never had and may never have again. Some of the highlights:

Round Barn – a brewery I have called heaven on earth before – aged their already delicious cocoa stout in Cognac barrels, giving their chocolate flavored beer a deep, complex flavor reminiscent of the brandy they distill.

Grand Rapids' own Hopcat offered a Black Russian stout, a sweet, dark beer with vanilla, coffee, and chocolate notes that, when served on nitro, tasted just like a smoother version of the cocktail of the same name.

Someone is much more skilled in Chalk Art than me.

I already wrote about Odd Side Ales' Mayan Mocha stout – a blend of chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, and habanero peppers that remains one of my favorite beers of 2012.

Short's brewing, never one to shy away from originality, had some very unique flavors, including the Gambler, a tobacco flavored ale that somehow perfectly nailed a cigarette flavored beer. The Gambler may not be for everyone (do you want to drink a cigarette?), but under the aggressive tobacco flavors lurked some earthy elements that actually made this concept beer worth trying.

Greenbush Brewing, the new brewery in the far southwest corner of the state, had some fantastic and original ideas, including the first imperial black IPA I have tried. Rage is an extremely complex, 14% abv beer that matches a powerful hop profile with a sturdy malt base. It gave out strong toasted elements that avoided tasting burnt; this is a beer for every hophead out there.

The Saugatuck brewing company had a serrano pepper beer available; I'm happy that hot pepper beers are getting more popular, and this ale had a lively, garden fresh taste to it which balanced out the spiciness quite well.

The Corner Brewery had on tap four fantastic sour ales. I may be biased as sour ale has become my favorite genre of beer, but their traditional Flanders style sour ale is everything I appreciate about the style, with an aggressive tartness that actually enhances the deep fruit of the beer while simultaneously keeping it from getting sweet.

Planning and executing an alcohol related festival can get tricky, especially when it's outdoors and for thousands of people. I have to hand it to the Michigan Brewers Guild for consistently pulling off a safe, successful, and entertaining environment for craft beer lovers. Everything from the great food and music to the environmentally friendly philosophy (the sample cups are biodegradable!) went off without a hitch.

7 thousand people.

For those of you who were at the festival this year – it was great seeing you. For those of you who waited too long to get your ticket and missed out, I can virtually guarantee you that the festival next year will sell out just as quickly as it did this year, so don't let articles from the lucky attendees be your only experience and plan ahead! And for those of you on the fence about the biggest Michigan beer party in winter – hop on the trolley. This is one of the jewels of Michigan's entertainment.

Devil horns and a cigar?  This place had everything.

More pictures available on our facebook page.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

6th Annual Suds & Snow at Timber Ridge Resort

Beer tasting and snowshoeing go hand in hand during the 6th Annual Suds & Snow event at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City on March 3rd from 1:30pm to 6:30pm. Along with samples of a wide variety of Michigan breweries, the event will feature food and live music.

This event benefits the area’s Child and Family Services as well as support for the TART Trails. Tickets are $20 until March 2nd; $30 the day of the event and include a commemorative pint glass to the first 700 purchasers, a free pint of crafted beer, trail pass and access to all the live entertainment. Additional beer and food tickets available. Transportation via shuttle services will be on hand as well.

Timber Ridge Resort is located at 4050 Hammond Road East in Traverse City. 

To purchase tickets, visit this page.  To volunteer for this event, go here.  To view photos from last year's event, check out this set on Flickr. Call (231) 947-2770 with any questions. 

We hope to see you there!

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,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Celebrate Valentine's Day the Michigan Beer Way!

Dianna Sampfler at Promote Michigan has let us in on her Love Affair with Michigan Beer, which features all kinds of specialty and regular brews from Michigan's brewmasters. You can stay awake with Arbor Brewing Company's Espresso Love coffee stout, cozy up to the Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale from Atwater Brewing or go a little lighter with Dragonmead's Redwing Raspberry Wheat.

Photo from Promote Michigan

“Craft beer enthusiasts are passionate about Michigan brews…and February is the perfect time to fall in love with rich, chocolately and fruity beers. As you head out with your sweetheart this year for Valentine’s Day, consider ordering up a pint of one of these deliciously romantic Michigan made libations:

Espresso Love is made with cold-brewed locally roasted coffee and oatmeal for a smooth and creamy texture and rich coffee and chocolate flavor without the coffee bitterness. Espresso Love is currently available around the state from February through May, on draft – in limited qualities. Also look for Milestone Cask Porter – a rich, dark, complex, full-bodied porter with hints of dark chocolate, raisins, black licorice, and currents on the palate, and a smoky, sour finish.

The award-winning Cocoa Loco Triple Chocolate Stout gets its rich flavor from Simpson Chocolate, Weyerman Chocolate and Crisp Chocolate malts. The addition of lactose lends the beer a creamy quality- not unlike a milkshake- while the Blackstrap Molasses adds rich, burnt, syrupy flavors. Flavors of baker’s chocolate and espresso dominate, while rich malty flavors and a subtle kiss of hops add nice balance, making this a truly one-of-a-kind BIG beer.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale – Craft Beer Lovers and chocoholics unite! This newest offering hits the taps, just in time for Valentine’s Day to compliment the Vanilla Java Porter. A decadent ale that ends with a Dark Chocolate Kiss! Vanilla Java Porter is the featured beer for Valentine’s Day. Vanilla and coffee with chocolate malt is sure to please during anyone’s Valentine’s dinner. Combine this with the sweet taste of a Michigan Cherry salad and the night is almost complete! Or, try Cherry Stout featuring juicy red Michigan grown Montmorency cherries.

* BAD BEAR BREWERY (located in Sleeping Bear Winery), ALBION
Honey Wheat – a classic wheat beer with the nuances of Michigan Honey, Orange Peel, and Spices. It was originally developed as a gift by Brewmaster Red Tackett for the love of his life! She inspired him to make a beer that a non-beer-drinking woman would enjoy. And the love affair continues…

Two Hearted Ale is a 100% Centennial hop IPA, grapefruit & pine aromas, solid malt balance. Bursting with hop aromas ranging from pine resins to grapefruit notes, Two Hearted Ale remains one of the defining American-style India Pale Ales. The Cherry Stout is rich and smooth, matching malty dark chocolate flavors with the tartness of 100% Montmorency cherries grown in Michigan’s Traverse City region.

The award winning Schakolad Weizen is a wheat beer made with real chocolate from our neighbors at the Schakolad Chocolate Factory. Also, Chocolate Covered Cherry Stout is a rich stout brewed with chocolate and cherries, purchased from Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, Michigan!

Kludde is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, brewed with star anise, green raisins and dark Belgian candi-sugars, and is best enjoyed under cover of night. This mythological beast is dark, complex, and a big 8.5% ABV. Now available for the first time in cans at finer retailers everywhere. Embrace the darkness!

Redwing Raspberry Wheat Beer is a light wheat beer brewed with natural Raspberry extract and puree. This beer starts with a subtle sweetness and moderate tartness, and finishes with a palate-cleansing raspberry flavor that will leave you begging for more. Honey Porter is a porter with a difference. Dark in color but light in taste. Twenty-five pounds of honey and dark chocolate wheat malt are used to give this beer a refreshingly smooth taste. Give this beer a try even if you don't like dark beers. Or, try Willy's Oompa-Loompa Chocolate Stout. Little more can be said about this beer than these two words: Chocolate and Stout. This brew fills the palate with slightly sweet, super chocolate, malty flavor.

Celebrating its 7th birthday on Valentine's Day, and like every other year, they'll spend a week celebrating it, February 13-17. Among other things, expect the release of at least eight new beers – including 7x7 (made with 7 grains and 7 hop varieties), Spite (a 450 IBU IPA), Super Hoppy Sake (a 200 IBU sake) and Of Course I Love You, Now Get Naked! (a chocolate raspberry stout).

Curmudgeon's Better Half is the latest release in Founders “Backstage Series,” available February 13. Curmudgeon’s Better Half is a re-branding of the beer formerly known as Kaiser’s Curmudgeon, which has only been served at Founders’ taproom and in extremely limited draft distribution. Curmudgeon is an old ale brewed with molasses and aged on oak; it becomes Better Half after aging—for 254 days—in bourbon barrels that have more recently been aging Michigan maple syrup. As a result, Curmudgeon’s Better Half is a bit sweeter than her miserly counterpart. Appropriately, the beer label depicts her holding a pitcher of syrup for the Curmudgeon’s breakfast, and is released at the perfect time of year for you to buy one for the Better Half in your life. Also check out Founders Porter, described as “Dark, Rich and Sexy,” this beer pours silk black with a creamy tan head. The nose is sweet with a strong chocolate and caramel malt presence and no absence of hops gives this beer the full flavor you deserve and expect…it’s cozy like velvet. This 2010 World Beer Cup silver medalist is described as “a lover, not a fighter.”

As February is Harbor Country’s “Chocolate Month” Greenbush is participating in its own, special little way. On February 18, Chocolate takes over Greenbush, with three special experimental chocolate beers, chocolate themed food and chocolate drizzled bacon. The beers include: Cracker Chocolate Stout – with white chocolate, honey graham crackers and a few other treats for a whole different kind of breakfast stout; Hechizo Dolor – a mix of cinnamon, dark malts, and a lot of Terra Spice red cocoa powder, creates a beer that emulates a Mexican hot chocolate, in the best possible way (making you all warm and fuzzy, just like a good Valentine should); and The Velvet Valentine – an English brown, best described as smooth, velvety, with just a hint of chocolate in the background.

Aphrodisiale - A honey chocolate porter with 8% alcohol. Brewed with honey and cocoa nibs, this porter is the perfect Valentine’s date beer!

iO Saison is the latest release to capture the hearts of art and artisan beer lovers alike. Drawn in by the historic elegance of the label design and then held tight by the rapture of flavors, it will be released in limited quantities, appropriately just in time for Valentine’s Day. iO Saison is brewed in a lovely fashion, with rose hips, rose petals and hibiscus. Yet, don’t be easily deceived by her looks, for like love – she can be oh so dangerous.

A collaborative labor of love, the Passion Brew special Valentine’s beer is crafted to benefit local food banks. Each brewery is using the same recipe to create a Warm Winter Brown Ale. This year, the style is more diverse – resulting in dark Belgian style ales with 5.2% ABV and brewed with roasted wheat malt for a robust, well-rounded character. Also brewed into the mix: Old Mission Chinook hops and US Saaz, while three kinds of crystal malt give a hint of candy sugar. Participating breweries will start offering this “Brew with Benefits” on tap Friday, February 10 and it will also be prominently featured that evening at the 3rd Annual Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Don’t miss the release of Red Velvet on Valentine’s Day, based on the delicious chocolate cake with the rich, red color. Also try Chocolate Covered Cherry, a tap blended mix of our chocolaty Liberty One Porter and Cherry Hard Cider. A very limited release of our award winning Tart Cherry Porter will also be available.

The Poet is a romantic offering for Valentine’s Day. This beer reveals a rich, smooth malt character enveloped in tones of roast and chocolate. A soft mouth-feel brings luxurious flavors and a soothing aroma. The Poet is as versatile as it is delicious – the perfect accent to any chocolate dessert.

Darkangel Cherry Porter is the antithesis of Archangel – the concept that it simply describes the dark side of you that succumbs to temptation. It is your shadow side that insists on not being connected to the light. Darkangel is robust and dry with a finishing touch of tart cherry. The roast barley quickly gives way to subtle chocolate malt and rich Crystal 30. Chinook and Centennial hops put forth a sharp clean bitterness that is followed by a medium-malt body balance with Challenger hops, ending with a smooth-dry, tart finish and strong Galena nose. It is brewed on Old Mission Peninsula, incorporating locally-grown hops.

Chocolate, Cherry, Vanilla Porter. Organic cocoa nibs, dried Michigan cherries and bourbon-soaked vanilla beans are added to the traditional Brown Porter, for this sweet Valentine’s beer. Available in Cask Ale only.

Paint Creek Porter is a robust beer that features a rich, velvety chocolate malt flavor that will compliment any chocolate dessert.

Vanilla Nutmeg Oatmeal Stout is brewed with fresh ground nutmeg and pure vanilla extract. The vanilla, nutmeg, and oatmeal flavors play off of each other to make this a very surprisingly drinkable beer…perfect for sharing with your sweetie.

Aorta Ale: Originally a part of our Imperial Beer Series, this is the first time that we have brewed and bottled this epic Imperial Red Ale since the inaugural release of the series in 2007. Aside it being a delicious ruby red masterpiece of luscious caramel and toasted malts, balanced with tons of classic American cascade hops, this beer was also a tribute to a good friend and avid Short's supporter who had open heart surgery back in 2006. An active member of "Team Huma" cycling and overall outdoor enthusiast, we nearly lost someone close to us who seemed incredibly healthy, and the last person we would have expected to require something as serious as this. Aorta Ale should be a reminder to all humans who occupy the earth. It represents the beauty and awesome power of the human body and mind, and their abilities. Aorta Ale is also a symbol of life and goodness. It’s a beverage for the people around us who enhance our lives and add value to it. Appropriately released in February, Aorta Ale is the perfect way to honor and thank those who love us, and show them that they are loved in return. "Modest Essential Benevolence of Humanity"

This year, serving up Cobain’s Double Dark IPA – a Gold Medal winner and Best of Show at the 2010 World Expo of Beer – this beer is a nicely balanced black IPA for the hop-head love birds. Java Brown is a nice winter-time treat combining coffee and beer. A malty, brown ale infused with Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Coffee, this local winter favorite pairs greatly with chocolate desserts on Valentine’s Day!”

This website and its content is copyright of Seth and Laura Porter - Michigan Beer Blog - © Michigan Beer Blog 2010. All rights reserved.

Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:
1. You may print or download to a local hard disk extracts for your personal and non-commercial use only.

2. You may copy the content to individual third parties for their personal use, but only if you acknowledge the website as the source of the material.

You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

Powered by Blogger