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?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Preparing for the Michigan Winter Beer Fest: Top Picks

The much anticipated Michigan Winter Beer Fest begins in just under 48 hours and with over 600 different Michigan beers to sample, my liver and palate conspired to create a refined list of options to taste such that neither would be overwhelmed. The list below is crafted to my palate; while I hope that your choices differ either slightly or greatly, perhaps by sharing my criteria for choice as well as the beers themselves, we can illuminate some themes and expectations for Saturday’s great gathering.

Priority Picks will be chosen by the following criteria:

  • Beers I have never tasted. Unfortunately, as much as I adore Greenbush’s Distorter Porter and Dark Horse’s Perkulator, beers I’ve already had must make way.
  • Beers that suit my personal leanings. Currently those include sour ales and spiced beer, so if you are looking for a list of hop monsters or bourbon barrel bonanza, you will be disappointed.
  • Beers with fantastic names. Marketing works, and here’s proof!
  • Beers that are new, rare, difficult to produce, from small breweries, or are otherwise hard to find. If I can buy it at Meijer, it won’t be on this list.

Michigan Beer Blog Most Anticipated Beer List (these are not in order of priority):

  1. 51 North: Tangerine Wit. 51 North is a very new face to the Michigan Beer market, and I’m excited to see what they have to offer. A wheat beer with fruit isn't breaking new ground, but tangerine is not an oft-used fruit.
  2. 57 Brewpub: Mayan Midnight Chocolate Stout. Another new name to the festival, this beer sports a name suspiciously reminiscent of my favorite Michigan beer – Odd Side Ale’s perfect Mayan Mocha Stout. We’ll see if the combination of chocolate and spice continues to thrill.
  3. Beard’s Brewery: Pomegalactic Pale Ale. I love beards and pomegranate. I’m assuming only one of those items is an actual ingredient in this beer.
  4. Right Brain: Thai Peanut Ale. If these brewers can make asparagus beer taste delicious, I have no doubt they’ll be able to impress me with this flavor combination.
  5. B.O.B.: Tiramisu Stout. The brewer at the B.O.B. in Grand Rapids has developed an excellent reputation for making stouts that actually taste like what their name entails…but tiramisu is a complex, fragile dessert. Let’s see if the streak continues!
  6. Brewery Vivant: Helen Wine Barrel Aged Sour Ale. Brewery Vivant releases their phenomenal sour beers in such limited quantity, even as a Grand Rapids resident it’s rare for me to sample their exquisite sours. There’s no way I wasn’t putting at least one Vivant sour ale on this list.
  7. Cranker’s Brewery: 5th Voyage Coconut Porter. Coconut, coffee, and hot peppers are trending beer flavors this winter, and given my respect for the brewer at Cranker’s, I chose his Coconut Porter for the list. I’m also hoping to glean some information, as I want to attempt a coconut porter homebrew this winter.
  8. Dragonmead: Ring of Fire Hot Pepper Ale. Many Michigan breweries have a spiced ale, and I am curious to see how Dragonmead’s formidable reputation fares here.
  9. Greenbush: Zack De La Rojo Mexican Hop Chocolate. The stable Greenbush is bringing to this festival is so eye-poppingly varied and stunningly complex that they could almost host a festival all by themselves. I am continually amazed and impressed by Greenbush, and only picking one beer from them proved difficult. I chose the Mexican Hop Chocolate mostly because I was a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine in the middle and late 90s.
  10. Short’s Brewing Co: Stray Cat Street Fighting for the Devil Old Ale. You know what, I don’t even care what this beer tastes like. It’s a mid range abv old ale brewed with Granny Smith Apples, but it’s on this list solely for the name.

I stopped myself at ten choices, because otherwise this article would not be out until sometime in mid June, which might damage its relevance. What is on your agenda for Saturday?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Greenbush Begins Bottled Beer Distribution in Michigan

The first deliveries of Greenbush Brewing Company bottles are now on the way to retail establishments throughout Michigan. Imperial Beverage, the company’s distributor in the state, received its first shipment of bottled beer from the 18-month old brewery at the end of last week. Until now, the brewery has only distributed kegs for draft accounts.

“We’ve been building toward distributing bottles since opening and now with the dedicated work of our staff, it’s happening,” said Greenbush co-owner Scott Sullivan. “The demand for bottles has continued to grow, especially since we started distributing kegs statewide through Imperial Beverage last summer.”

Photo via Greenbush Brewing Co.

Greenbush is first entering the retail market with five brands available in either four or six packs: Closure, Dunegräs, Distorter, Anger and Brother Benjamin. Closure is a 6% ABV pale ale that is single-hopped with citrusy Apollo hops for a bitterness of 40 IBUs (international bittering units). Dunegräs is the brewery’s 6.7% ABV India pale ale (IPA) with 67 IBUs, while Distorter is a full-bodied 7.2% porter. One of Greenbush’s signature styles is its black IPA, Anger, which rates at 7.6% ABV and 85 IBUs. The last of the brands headed to market is Brother Benjamin, a 10.1% ABV/115 IBU imperial IPA with local honey from FloraLia farms in Baroda, MI.

“It was crucial to us to send our most demanded beers out to retail markets first,” said co-owner and “Ambassador of Everything” Jill Sites. “We look forward to adding seasonal beers as well as more staples and specialties in the future.”
Greenbush bottles will be available to customers of select retailers throughout the state beginning midweek.

About Greenbush Brewing Co.
Prior to summer 2011, Scott Sullivan, Justin Heckathorn and Jill Sites handed out more than 9,000 bottles of homebrewed beer to everyone they could think of, and Greenbush Brewing Company was born. Opened in June 2011 in Sawyer, Michigan, the burgeoning brewery creates beer with names like Anger, Closure, Mammoth and Doomslayer—and with nothing under 6% ABV, the monikers are indicative of the styles. The brewery serves beer and food out of its Sawyer taproom seven days a week and currently distributes throughout the state of Michigan, in metro Chicago and Northern Indiana .

Contact: Jennifer Piotter

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Soak Up Suds and Fun at Boyne Highlands’ Brew-Ski Festival

Celebrate suds, snow, and early spring fun with the 4th Annual Brew-Ski Festival at Boyne Highlands Resort on Saturday, March 9. Brew-Ski Festival features craft beer sampling, live music, brats on the grill, and the enjoyment of early spring skiing and snowboarding.

Warm up the day with your favorite runs when the lifts starting turning at 9 a.m. Boyne Highlands offers 55 trails on 435 ski-able acres providing magnificent views and serene slopes for all skill levels.

Brew-Ski Festival runs from noon to 5 p.m. and is staged outdoors at the base of slopes where beer lovers can gather to sample from choice of 150 micro-beers, all prominently displayed on snow bars that encase the festival area. Numerous favorites on the Michigan craft beer scene including Arcadia Ales, Bell's Brewery, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland Brewing Co., and Short's Brewing Co., are available to try, as are choice beers from across the country. Admission to the beer tasting area is free; must be at least 21 years of age to enter. Sampling tickets can be purchased for the four-ounce beer tastings, as well as for food and merchandise.

New this year, adding to the lively scene is music from the rock group, The Remedee. Following the outdoor fun, the entertainment continues inside with the Aaron Vaughn Band performing in the famed Zoo Bar.

A special two-night Brew-Ski Festival event package is available and offers hotel lodging at Boyne Highlands Resort, a Friday night hors d’oeuvres reception, breakfast daily, lift tickets on Saturday (9 a.m. – 9 p.m.) and Sunday (9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.), a t-shirt, commemorative pint glass, and five drink tickets. The package starts at $239 per person. For reservations, call 800.GO.BOYNE (462.6963) or visit

For the complete list of participating breweries and more information, visit

Erin Ernst

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Snowshoes Meet Microbrews at 7th Annual Suds & Snow

Michigan has a growing interest in two major areas – snowshoeing and craft beer. These two worlds collide, in the best possible way, during the 7th Annual Suds & Snow planned for Saturday, March 2 (1:30-6:30pm) at Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort in Traverse City.

The cost to participate in Suds & Snow is $20 per person in advance ($30 the day of) – with $5 from every ticket being donated to Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan.

“In the past six years, we have donated more than $30,000 to help local organizations – including several adoption and foster care groups, TART Trails, and the Father Fred Foundation,” says Kristin Levesque.

Admission includes a commemorative pint glass for the first 500 ticket purchasers, 1 drink ticket for a 16 ounce pour, trail pass, and live music. Additional drink and food tickets are available for $4 each. Admission tickets can be purchased online here. The nonrefundable ticket (event proceeds rain, shine, or blizzard).

Those needing to rent snowshoes can do so by contacting Brick Wheels (231-947-4247) or Timber Ridge (213-947-2770). Snowshoes are available on a first come, first served basis, for $10 per pair.

In past years, as many as 800 people gather each year to trek along some 5km of trails that link to the note Vasa Pathway, followed by the chance to sample handcrafted beers from some of Michigan’s most noted breweries – including Bell’s, Greenbush, Right Brain, Saugatuck, Schmohz, and Short’s. Participating restaurants offer small plates.

Live entertainment will be provided by the band Jason and Nick, as well as Levi Britton, & Chris Sterr, with special guest Jonny Tornga.

New for 2013 is the addition of Disc Golf – creating something fun for participants to do between the trail station and the main event hall. Whether new to the sport or an experienced player, this added recreational feature is sure to entertain. Give it a try – with our without your snowshoes! Bring your own disc or rent one at the resort.

Celtic Transportation, ever mindful of the need for transportation at an event of this nature, will be offering rides to and from downtown Traverse City and several hotels for Suds & Snow participants. There is no charge for this service, so guests are asked to please take advantage of this much needed safe shuttle.

For those traveling to Traverse City from afar, local hotels are offering special savings on lodging packages for the event.  Check out Traverse Bay Inn (800-968-2646); Grand Beach Resort (800-968-1992); Sugar Beach Resort (800-509-1995); Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (800-236-1577); and Cherry Tree Inn and Suites (800-439-3093).

Timber Ridge RV & Recreation Resort, located at 4050 Hammond Rd. East in Traverse City, is an all-season recreation resort featuring seasonal RV camping and cottage rentals; family oriented activities; banquet facilities and various-sized reception tents for weddings, events, reunions, family gatherings, and meetings; access to the popular VASA hiking, biking, and xc ski trail system; direct access to miles of powersports trails; park model sales; and renowned events like the North American VASA, Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race, Bigfoot Snowshoe Race and Timber Ridge’s own Suds & Snow.

Visit or call (231) 947-2770 for more information.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The B.O.B. Celebrates Beer City USA's 2nd Annual Beer Week With Craft Beer Dinner

In celebration of Beer City U.S.A.’s (Grand Rapids’) 2nd Annual Beer Week, The BOB will be hosting a craft beer dinner featuring 14 Michigan breweries and food from Gilly’s on Thursday, Feb. 21, at 6:00 p.m.

The Beer Week tradition began after Grand Rapids was named Beer City USA in 2012,” explained Greg Gilmore, CEO of The Gilmore Collection. “This event gives people the opportunity to celebrate by trying craft beers from our own BOB’s Brewery, other Grand Rapids breweries, and many others from around the state.

Featured Michigan breweries include BOB’s Brewery, Dark Horse, Founders, New Holland, Brewery Vivant, Saugatuck Brewing, Perrin, Jaden James, Jolly Pumpkin, Schmohz, White Flame, Short's, Bell's, and Greenbush.

“We’ve created a unique experience that connects our exceptional local microbrew scene to Gilly’s delicious food options. It’s not often you get to try Amber Ale Mac and Cheese or Porter Brownies with Pale Ale Icing,” said The BOB General Manager, Carey McMahon.

Tickets are available for $25 and can be purchased online at or by calling 616-356-2000. A ticket includes dinner and four microbrew sampling tickets. Additional beer tasting tickets can be purchased for $1 each. Attendees will also have the chance to win one of five pairs of tickets to the sold out Michigan Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Grand Rapids Brewing Company, HopCat, and Brewery Vivant "Collabeerate" with Strolling Beer Dinner and Special Edition Brew

Three top West Michigan breweries have teamed up to create and release a special beer this week and will host a strolling dinner Feb. 21 to mark the reopening of Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC), HopCat’s fifth anniversary, and Brewery Vivant’s second anniversary. The dinner event coincides with GR Beer Week, which begins Feb. 18 and is capped with the sold out Winter Beer Festival Feb. 23 at Fifth Third Ballpark.

“The collaborative spirit of local breweries and restaurateurs is part of what is making Grand Rapids such an exciting place for people who love innovative food and beer,” said Mark Sellers, owner of Hopcat and GRBC. “We'll continue to look for opportunities to make BeerCity USA even better.”

Jason Spaulding, owner of Brewery Vivant, said the collaboration provides an outlet for the creative professionals involved in creating food and beer at HopCat, GRBC and Brewery Vivant.

“As breweries we’re all fighting the same battle, trying to get people to appreciate a craft product,” Spaulding said. “We compete on some level, but we’re all passionate about the same thing. When we all get together we all take something away and usually learn something from each other.”

On Thursday the breweries will debut three draft-only variations of a brew dubbed Ménage à Trois using organic Wakatu hops from New Zealand. The variations include:

  • GRBC, 1 Ionia Ave. SW: Brewed 100% USDA Certified Organic, this deep tan India Brown Ale smells of toasted malts and spicy, earthy hops. Flavors of caramel and chocolate malts mix with the slightly citrus hop profile. American Ale yeast gives this beer a smooth finish. 7.7% ABV-50IBU

  • HopCat, 25 Ionia Ave. SW: English Brown style brewed using Burton Ale yeast. Brown in color with notes of caramel, toffee, chocolate and a mild sweetness. It is balanced out by a peppery citrus nose and a light apricot finish. 6.5% ABV - 50 IBU
  • Brewery Vivant, 925 Cherry St. SE: Brewed using their house Belgian yeast, which dominates the flavor profile, adding hints of pear, toffee and light chocolate. 6.7% ABV - 50 IBU

The strolling dinner event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 21 from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $100 per person (excluding tax and gratuity) at each of the three sites beginning Friday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. Attendance is limited to 60 guests with 20 tickets being sold at each venue.

Strolling dinner guests will receive a one-of-a-kind Ménage à Trois beer chalice, a ride on the “HopCat Express” between venues and a seven-course dinner. Two courses will be served at each brewpub as attendees make their way through the tour with the seventh course being dessert served upon returning to their starting site. Special dessert and Bourbon barrel-aged variations of Ménage à Trois also will be available exclusively at the dinner event.

The strolling dinner menu includes:

  •  GRBC 
o House Cured Bacon-Wrapped Sea Scallop with mango “beer-salmic,” blue cheese and smokey mashers; served with GRBC’s Rosalynn Bliss Mango Blonde.
o Whole Roasted Quail with braised leeks, crawfish, almonds and sauce romesco; served with GRBC’S Ménage à Trois.

  • HopCat
o “Beer-B-Que” Meatball with local greens and grilled Nantucket Baking Company brewer’s bread; served with HopCat’s Sassafras Smoked Porter.
o Duck Two Ways: IPA Braised Leg and House Smoked Breast with roasted root vegetable hash and parsnip puree; served with HopCat’s Ménage à Trois. 

  • Brewery Vivant
o Mushroom Consommé with tempura shiitake, pancetta lardon; served with Brewery Vivant’s Escoffier Bretta Ale (Vivant/New Belgium collaboration).
o Brown Ale and Apricot braised Pork Shoulder with Michigan apple and celeriac slaw and Lubbers Farm "hot & dirty mustard" vinaigrette; served with Brewery Vivant’s Ménage à Trois.


About BarFly Ventures
BarFly Ventures was founded by Grand Rapids native Mark Sellers and his wife Michele as a holding company for the couple's pubs. BarFly’s flagship establishment, HopCat, opened in 2008 and has been rated No. 3 Beer Bar on Planet Earth by Beer Advocate magazine and the No. 2 Beer Bar in America by the readers of In 2010, BarFly purchased McFadden's Irish Saloon in downtown Grand Rapids. In 2012 GQ magazine declared the burger at BarFly’s Stella's Lounge as the “Best Burger in America.” In December 2012, BarFly opened the state’s first all-organic brewery, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., in downtown Grand Rapids. In 2013, Barfly will open HopCat (East Lansing).

About Brewery Vivant
The brewery is located in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, in a renovated funeral chapel built in the early 1900’s. Their staff of over 45 employees specializes in Belgian/French inspired beers and fare in a unique monastery-like setting. Husband and wife partners Jason and Kris Spaulding opened the doors for business in December of 2010. Brewery Vivant is the first commercial brewery in the nation to receive Silver LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

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