Wednesday, September 11, 2013

5th Annual Fall Upper Peninsula Beer Fest

The Michigan Brewer’s Guild hosts four official events a year. The winter and summer beer fests, in Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti, respectively, receive by far the most media buzz and attendance.  Part of this stems from their attachments to large urban areas, and part of it comes from their relative ease to attend; both are just short drives from major Interstate highways, making them easy destinations from Chicago or Detroit. The Upper Peninsula Fall Beer Fest, however, does not have that option.  Marquette, MI does not have a population or a media presence the size of Grand rapids or Ypsi/Ann Arbor, and it certainly doesn’t have a major Interstate highway connecting it to within a few hours of two major metropolitan centers.  Despite being the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, Marquette boasts about 10% the population of Grand Rapids.

And yet I say that the Upper Peninsula Fall Beer Fest may be the best of the festivals.

Who is driving? Oh no Unicorn is driving!
The first week of September in the Upper Peninsula marks the faintest beginning of the colors changing up north.  Trees – which cover 84% of the U.P. – are in their full summer glory and are just beginning to show the faintest twinges of yellow and orange in some spots.  The air still smells of summer, but has taken on a crisp edge that southern Michigan won’t feel until closer to October.  On the day of the event, a gentle cool misting dampened the sweatshirts but not the spirits of the attendees who got to sample over 340 beers from 53 breweries.  Many of these breweries, being in the most remote areas of the state (Brickside brewery is located in a town noted as being the farthest away from an Interstate highway in the lower 48 states), often do not make it to the larger events in the south.

The atmosphere was warm and inviting, and people were genuine and familiar and kind, and the beer was delicious:

At this point you may all think I’m just a shill for Greenbush, but I’m really not, and their beer really is that good.  The raspberry porter stood out as an exemplary model for a complex, thought provoking beer that still begs to be drunk by the pint, not the sample.  Plus they might win the award for longest distance traveled!

Hereford and Hops, the popular Escanaba brewpub, showcased a smoked jalapeno beer.  Spice and pepper beers are becoming more popular, and this place really balances the fresh-sweet-spice of the jalapeño with the natural characteristics of a light blond ale.  They also brought a Blueberry Lemongrass ale, which at 4% abv exhibited fantastic flavors.  It was so good we had previously purchased a growler of the stuff to bring up to the Lake of the Clouds.

Through either voodoo or sorcery or something more mundane, Griffin Claw is now brewing the original Screaming Pumpkin beer from the Michigan Brewing Company, which closed its doors in 2012.  Does the beer taste identical?  It’s been a year since I had it so I can’t speak with authority on that, but it’s close enough.  This remains one of our favorite pumpkin beers.

Pike 51 really impressed us: they had a spiced rum coffee milk stout that drank like everything you love about alcohol – sweet yet bitter, thick and dark, and very smooth.  They also brought the first dry hopped Belgian tripel I have ever tasted, and the cross-genre beer really worked! 

Everybody understands that the barriers to entry for attending the U.P. Fall Beer Fest can get cumbersome. That’s why a successful Fall Beer Fest has less people than a Summer or Winter Fest. But that’s what endears it to so many craft beer fans; the people who go to the UP Beer fest really want to go there, they want it enough to make the trip from below the bridge or from the mountains to represent Michigan Yooper culture.  The pristine views over Lake Superior, the miles of lush forest, and the crisp fall weather don’t hurt at all.  When 2014 rolls around next year, and you've got a vacation day or two that your boss doesn't want you to use, take them then.  Experience the raw splendor of the Upper Peninsula, with a perfect party.


Omen shara said...
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