Monday, February 25, 2013

2013: 8th Annual Michigan Winter Beer Fest

The biggest winter beer party in Michigan doesn’t need an introduction anymore. You’re not reading this article because you’re on the fence, trying to decide if maybe, next year, you’ll don layers of warm, waterproof clothing, brave the stark winter chill, and try to figure out how to drink a beer with heavy gloves and a scarf on for six hours in the snow. This is 2013 and you’ve already decided that it’s more than worth it. In fact there’s a chance you’re reading this because you, like thousands of disappointed others, did not get your ticket in the scant few hours they were available back in December. Well consider living vicariously through these photos the consolation prize.

This guy got in.  Why not you?

One of the few events hosted officially by the Michigan Brewer’s Guild – the powerful central player in the Michigan Craft Beer market -- the Michigan Winter Beer fest is a one day event bringing in the largest selection of Michigan breweries together in one venue. Unlike several other festivals, where macro-owned beverages posing as craft beer can sneak in, the Winter Beer Fest proudly serves only beer and cider brewed in the state by local, craft breweries.  Seventy Four (74!) independent breweries -- all located in the state -- attended, providing the attendees over 7,000 gallons of beer to sample.

The selection is phenomenal. Brand new startups that have been open for less than half a year stand next to mainstays that have been driving the Michigan beer market for decades, giving festival attendees over 625 beers to try. Regardless of where you live in Michigan, you’ll have a chance to sample something made hours away from you; either a beer from a large brewery that hasn’t been (and may never be) bottled, or a sample from a tiny new brewery so far away you might not ever make it to their establishment…all within a few dozens yards of each other.

Which beers most impressed?  Below is a highly abbreviated list, divided into a "you should try these," and "sucks that you missed these" categories.

Excellent Beers Widely Available

A short list of beers available at their respective breweries, such that I can say with some confidence that you will be able to try them again.

Short’s Brewing Company: Gingersnap English Brown Ale. I absolutely love ginger beer; and Short’s has made one that retains a peppery ginger flavor paired with that sweet, sugar-crystal taste of an actual gingersnap. If you don’t live anywhere near Bellaire, MI, then join me in hoping they bottle this.

Cranker’s Brewery: 5th Voyage Coconut Porter. A fantastic, well balanced coconut porter that captures the smooth sweetness of the coconut flowing over the rich roastiness of a traditional porter. This is a fantastic example of the more and more popular coconut ale.

Kuhnhenn Brewing: Raspberry Eisbock. I know a lot of you expressed disappointment that there was a 3-token beer at the festival. “That’s like a third of my tokens!” you typed furiously on message boards. Well now it’s on my “must try” list – and it’s in the “widely available” list because others confirmed it’s been on tap at the brewery, and it’s bottled. This is a dessert beer that is on par with any high quality port you’ll order at a restaurant. It’s thick and sweet and explodes with fresh raspberries, chocolate, and silk. By comparison, the venerable Lindemans Framboise – a fantastic fruit beer that I use regularly to get beer haters into beer – seems thin and watery with a muted raspberry flavor.

Hopcat: Umamba Sour Schwarzbier. Hopcat has come to rival Jolly Pumpkin and Vivant in their sour ales, and the Umamba was no exception. This excellent sour ale plays well both in the winter cold and in the summer heat.

We didn't get a good picture of Kuhnhenn or Hopcat. so here is a bunch of people playing on a giant mound of snow.

Excellent Beer We’ll Probably Never Taste Again

A short list of beer brewed specifically for the festival, that barring huge fan requests will never be seen again. (If any of these beers are going to be widely available, please let me know!)

Pike 51: Knights on Mastodon Coffee Brown. The brewers at Pike 51 managed to make a coffee beer that I would hesitate to call a coffee beer. It’s probably more accurate to refer to it as alcoholic coffee. Michigan has a fantastic pedigree of coffee beer, and this is a perfect representation of the genre.

White Flame: Bourbon Barrel Black Sheep. I was told this was in extremely limited quantity, so if you can still find it at the brewery, go drink it. I think Black IPAs are served well by a muted whiskey barrel finish, and this already-great ale ages well in the barrel.

Greenbush: Zack de la Rojo Mexican Hop Chocolate. A spicy Chocolate brown ale from one of my favorite breweries? With a great name? Yes this makes the list. It’s not as aggressive as the beer I compare all other spiced beer to (Odd Side Ales’ Mayan Mocha Stout) but has a hint more chocolate.

Brewery Vivant: Helen Wine Barrel Sour Ale. This sour further blends the reason why it’s easy to get a traditional wine drinker into beer via the sour ale route: the wine barrel aging gave this sour the same mouthfeel as a mid-tannin wine, giving the sweetness and sourness in the beer some structure.

New Holland: Rum Dragon’s Milk. I worried this would be an explosion of sugar cane sweet, but was surprised that the beer traditionally aged in bourbon barrels ended up less sweet than normal. The rum barrel conditioning added a spicy note, allowing the dragon’s milk to be more robust and intense.

For those of you who made it to the 2013 Winter Beer Fest, it was great seeing you! Go tag yourselves in the pictures on our Facebook page. For those of you who missed out on securing one ticket out of over 7000 lucky participants, use these photographs as motivation to get up a little earlier next year and start hammering the refresh button on the ticket sale web site. For those of you still wondering why people revel in standing outside in sub freezing temperatures just to try new beer….wait are there any of those still left?


Post a Comment

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