Thursday, April 12, 2012

WIDR Sliders & Brew Craft Beer Tasting Returns to Kalamazoo Beer Exchange

On Sunday, April 29th from 2-6pm, fourteen craft brewers from across Michigan will join WIDR fm at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange for the second annual WIDR Sliders & Brew event, a fundraiser for the non-profit, student-run radio station. Admission is $15, which includes nine tickets for sliders and samples, and a souvenir tasting glass. Additional sets of five tickets are available for $5. This event is part of the WIDR 60th Anniversary Celebration.

Grown from the seed of an idea found in a single sip of craft beer, WIDR Sliders & Brew has nearly doubled in size in a single year and turned into one of WIDR’s most talked about fundraisers. In addition to returning participants Arcadia, Dark Horse, Founder’s, New Holland, and Short’s Brewing Company, this year’s event boasts new additions B. Nektar Meadery, Brewery Vivant!, Greenbush Brewing Co., Michigan Beer Cellar, Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, Right Brain Brewery, Round Barn Winery, Distillery & Brewery, Tri-City Brewing, and Vander Mill ciders, all of whom are bringing brews to impress the public and each other.

“We started talking about this year’s tasting before last year’s was even over,” KBE beverage supervisor Eric Philip-Petrick said. “The turnout was incredible, more than we’d even hoped, but it was the enthusiasm of the brewers that really stood out. They all wanted to know when we were doing it again, so here we are, with even more of them this time around. Plus lot of them are WMU, K College, and even WIDR alumni, so you know they’re bringing their A game.”

For WIDR fans and non-fans alike, the event is an opportunity for beer lovers of all stripes to experience the diversity of Michigan’s craft brewing industry in their own backyard. Even with beer culture manifesting strongly on the local level in Kalamazoo, WIDR Sliders & Brew is the only tasting event in town that brings together so many beers along with the people who make it simultaneously, allowing drinkers to learn about their new favorites beer from the people who created them. Brewers and representatives from each company will be on-hand to explain technique, discuss flavor profiles, and answer questions about their products.

“Being able to interact one-on-one with the brewers is a huge part of this event and we learned a lot from last year,” WIDR General Manager Johanna Kelly said. “That’s why we’ve taking over the entire Beer Exchange this time. Fourteen brewers, three beers each, and two floors to play with; we’re doing it up this year and there’s more than enough room for everybody.”

And then there’s the food. KBE Executive Chef Bill Kennedy and his staff, having set the bar quite high at least year’s event, have created a menu of six unique sliders – four hot and two cold – making their debut at WIDR Sliders & Brew, some of which may find their way onto the KBE menu. Vegetarians need not worry, as Chef Bill has sliders up his sleeve for them too.

When asked about their participation in the event, owner Jim Flora said, “Honestly, we just love WIDR. We love the music, the people, and what they do for the community, so we’re always excited to help them, especially on an event that celebrates some of the best Michigan has to offer. That’s what KBE is all about.”

For WIDR, however, the event means more that great beer and a chance to spend time with their listeners; it means another opportunity to solidify the future of the station.

“As most of our listeners know, we are undergoing massive cuts in our operational budget right now,” said Kelly. “Events like this are a ton of fun and they bring in money, but they also remind people how much WIDR enriches the culture of Kalamazoo, even when we’re doing things off the air. This town we love and serve would be the poorer if WIDR weren’t around. Just like the incredible brews we have for the tasting, WIDR only exists with love, hard work, and a suitable infusion of cash. ”

Tickets will be available with ID at the door beginning at 1:45pm on Sunday, April 29th and doors open for the event at 2pm. The Kalamazoo Beer Exchange is located at 211 Water St. in downtown Kalamazoo. Information about this and other events can be found at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The High Five Co-op Brewery

The Michigan beer market embraces many trends; from a focus on community action to the use of  locally grown ingredients and fostering great respect for the consumers of locally produced beer, Michigan craft brewing takes pride in the state from which it originates. Yet it still came as a surprise to me that Michigan was home to an effort to create the first Co-op Brewery in the Midwest.

Employee owned and operated beer cooperatives are a brand new idea to the craft beer market.  To my knowledge, only one example of an open cooperative brewery exists, down in Texas.  From High Five Brewery's own web site, their organization adheres to the following ideals:
  • All membership is open and voluntary, without discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality, politics, or religion.
  • All members control the co-op democratically and actively participate in making decisions, wih any elected representatives held directly accountable to the membership.
  • All members contribute to and control any economic capital.
  • Co-Ops are independent organizations, existing without control from other organizations, corporations, or governments.
  • Co-Ops offer training and education for all members, representatives, managers, and employees of the Co-Op.
  • Co-Ops work together with other Co-Ops.
  • Co-Ops work with their communities through policies approved by their members.

Given the support and enthusiasm this market has for community and local focus, the concept of a cooperative seems right at home in the Michigan beer market.

Last Saturday High Five hosted their first tasting event, exhibiting five of their beers and one hard cider for feedback. The six hour event on a chilly late spring day not only showed off the beer brewed by the fledgling brewery, but also their dedication to and respect for their ideals: the event was a “trash free party:” the cups were compostable, and the bowls used for food were washable. It was refreshing to see so little trash created at such an event.  The brewer-owners encouraged people to bring their own homebrew samples, lending a feel of camaraderie and collaboration.  The food emphasized eating local, with amazing vegan and vegetarian pizzas paired with what is perhaps the best soup I have ever had.  My compliments to Jameson for the soup; my notes did not catch the names of the rest of the chefs, so please post their names in the comments.  They all deserve credit.

The beers we sampled ranged from retail ready to a little rough, but as I mentioned above, the spirit of teamwork was so pronounced that I have no doubt all of the recipes will improve substantially through mutual polish. Two of the strongest samples we tried were the coffee stout and the Wheat IPA. The coffee stout could more aptly be described as coffee with a hint of beer. This concoction, made with copious amounts of MadCap coffee, was deep, aggressive, sweet, roasty, and malty – everything you want out of a coffee stout.  The wheat IPA brought together elements of a traditional, sweeter wheat beer that blended well with a dry, citrus finish of the hops.

Despite news of breweries opening on what seems like a monthly basis, excitement for the explosion of local Michigan brewpubs hasn't diminished.  Here's to a group of environmentally conscious, locally focused, community centered people with the drive to establish Michigan's first Co-op brewery!

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