Sunday, August 5, 2018

Road Trippin': Off to the Beer Bloggers Conference in Virginia

This year's offerings from Michigan.

We're packing up the beer – and those other trivial things like clothes, toiletries, etc. – in preparation to leave for the 2018 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference. Yes, this is a thing, and yes, it happens every year, in a different beer-friendly place somewhere in America. This year it's in Loudoun County, Virginia, known for being the "wine country" of Washington, D.C., but apparently it's not too shabby in the beer department either (two dozen breweries and counting).

This will be my third time attending the conference, and Amy's second. Much has changed in the world of beer (and beer writing) since my first time at the #BBC (as it's known to all us social mediaites) in 2014 in San Diego (and Los Angeles), which I was able to attend gratis thanks to the NBWA and mobilizing enough friends to vote my writing as the bestest (he humblebragged). But what I expect hasn't changed, and won't change, is the fun people and opportunities for learning.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Eleven-ish Beers to Try at the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival

Pictured: A Girl Named Egypt Double IPA

I’ve never written one of these “Beers I’m Looking Forward to Trying at the XX Festival” posts before, largely because everyone’s tastes and preferences in beer are so diverse – and who, besides me, cares what I like (or think I’ll like), anyway?

Well, there’s a first time for everything. So here, in no particular order, are some beers I’m looking forward to trying at the 21st Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival next weekend in Ypsilanti. Caveat: The list is a bit biased in favor of me loving good pilsners and local breweries, but, you know, see the paragraph above. Other caveat: There’s more than 11 beers below, but the Rules of Listicle Writing require there be a number in the headline, so here we are.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Inaugural Nucleate Beer Festival Anything But a Sour Time

After years of being a beacon of beerdom, from innovative brewpubs and microbreweries to multi-tap bars and beer gardens to a passionate and influential homebrewing community, Ann Arbor has finally added the last missing piece of the puzzle: its very own beer festival.

On Saturday, June 16, approximately 500 enthusiasts descended on Veterans Park on Ann Arbor's west side for the inaugural Nucleate Beer Festival, an event spearheaded by HOMES Brewery and focused mostly on tart and funky beers from around the country as well as overseas. All told, 25 different breweries were represented. Locally, the fest included both HOMES's own brews as well as those from sour beer pioneer Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales of Dexter. Beers from further away included the likes of Jester King of Austin, Texas; Yazoo of Nashville, Tennessee; and Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, and Tilquin, all from Belgium.

The festival ran for four hours, from 1-5 p.m., with special releases taking place every half hour. Those included HOMES Strawberry Sherbet Lactose Sour Ale, Speciation Laurentian: Superior Spontaneous Ale (made with yeast harvested from Lake Superior), 3 Fonteinen Armand & Gaston Oude Gueuze, Transient Blueberry Anachronism Wild Ale, Cantillon Fou Foune Apricot Lambic, and Tilquin Pinot Noir Lambic.

The layout of all the different breweries inside one rectangular tent made for an efficient experience, with lengthy lines only really occurring for the special releases (and for Cantillon, a brewery revered by sour beer nerds). Speaking of Cantillon, their offerings included Saint Lamvinus, a lambic fermented in oak with French grapes, and Iris, an unblended, spontaneously fermented lambic.

Other tasty suds included Speciation's Proglacial, a sour golden ale aged in tequila barrels with passionfruit and produced in collaboration with HOMES; Raspberry Wild Urchin from Watermark, a newer Michigan brewery near St. Joseph; and Revelry's Brett the House, a wild ale fermented with (you guessed it) brettanomyces. One brewery, Upland of Bloomington, Indiana, brought Champagne Velvet, a re-creation of a pre-Prohibition pilsner brand from the Hoosier State, and it was a nice, smooth change of pace after a day of all things sour.

Apart from a spot of rain and some humidity, the weather cooperated. Food options included street tacos and other fare from El Manantial and pulled pork sliders and ribs prepared by Chef Brandon Johns of Grange Kitchen & Bar (and damn, were they good). There was even a merch tent with t-shirts and other goodies available. At $80 apiece, tickets were on the high end for a festival (and in the interest of disclosure, I attended via press pass), but the price included 20 drink tickets and a souvenir tasting glass, the pours were generous, and the beers across the board were high quality.

All in all, Nucleate was an enjoyable success, well organized and executed, especially for a first-time festival. If I can have but one quibble, I'd have preferred the DJ to play a variety of tunes (vs. just booty music) and because everyone should get off my lawn, I'd have also moved him off a bit from the main tent as it tended to get loud in there.

But if you love sour and funky styles of beer, you may wish to start saving up for a ticket for next year's event.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Glasshouse Brewing Re-Opens During Transition to Townies Brewery

New owner Dan Arban has "big plans" for the former Glasshouse Brewing on Ann Arbor's west side.

The brewery formerly known as Glasshouse Brewing re-opened on Ann Arbor's west side late last week, pouring four fresh beers produced by new brewer Karl Hinburn, previously of Wolverine State Brewing. Although a casual glance indicates not much appears to be different, a "Coming Soon: Townies Brewery" banner hanging on the front of the building hints at the future.

New owner Dan Arban did more than hint about the "big plans" he has for the space when I paid a visit Saturday. He and his wife, Patty, who also own Homespun Market in Brighton, not only purchased the building that houses Glasshouse and another business, Diamond Glass & Feiners, but the two properties adjacent to it, as well.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Who Will Win Ann Arbor's American Craft Beer Week Challenge?

Those of us who consume American craft beer on a nigh daily basis could be forgiven for forgetting that this week is American Craft Beer Week, as proclaimed by the Brewers Association. Luckily, Wolverine State Brewing, along with six other Ann Arbor businesses, not only remembered, but decided to host a Craft Brew Challenge Charity Brew-Off in honor of ACBW.

Two-person teams from Ashley's, Beer Grotto, HopCat, Rappourt Brew & Chew, the Session Room, and Zingerman's Roadhouse each collaborated with Wolverine staff to brew a special beer on Wolverine's pilot system. The results will be unveiled at 3 p.m. this Saturday, May 19, at the Wolverine taproom as the teams vie for votes to win the challenge.

What sort of beers did the teams brew? You'll have to show up at Wolverine on Saturday to find out; however, I did tease out details from a couple of people involved.

"We brewed a New England-style IPA with Nelson Sauvin hops and strawberries, named 'Nelson's Berry Bandwagon,' said Kim Anderson, beer buyer for Ashley's. "If it's delicious we hope to be able to brew a full batch with Wolverine and have it available on tap at Ashley's this summer."

Rappourt also brewed a New England-style IPA, according to co-owner Hardik Patel, who noted it's a double dry-hopped beer showcasing Galaxy and Citra hops over a melange of mango puree, wheat malt, and lactose.

The rest of the details: live music, grilled burger and brat specials, the opportunity to purchase a sampler package of all six beers (which you can upgrade to include a special event t-shirt), and a vote on your favorite beers. The top three brews will be announced later in the evening, with the brewers of the No. 1 vote-getter taking home the inaugural WSBC-ACBWC trophy.

Quantities of each beer are limited, but if you really, really love one or more of them, Adventures in Homebrewing is selling recipe kits of each at a 10% discount, should you wish to attempt to re-create any at home.

Most importantly, the proceeds from sales of the sampler packages go to help Trail's Edge Camp, which helps children on ventilators experience the fun of summer camp.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Glasshouse Brewing Closed; New Owners Planning Expansion

Glasshouse no more: Owners Brad and Brent Payeur (left) are selling the brewery on Ann Arbor's west side. Former head brewer Kuma Ofori-Mensa (right) is now with Cultivate in Ypsilanti.

As many have surmised with the doors having been shuttered for some time now, Glasshouse Brewing on Ann Arbor's west side is closed, as reported by MLive's Jessica Haynes. From Jessica's article:
Payeur told The Ann Arbor News that the business has closed and a purchase agreement is in the works for a new buyer to take over the 4,000-square-foot property on Liberty, between Stadium Boulevard and Maple Road.

It is unclear whether new ownership would maintain the brewery business or start a different venture at the site.
I can report that I have learned the identity of the buyers and that their intention is in fact to maintain the brewery. Rumored plans include doubling the size of the taproom, creating space for more parking, and gradually unveiling a number of other ambitious additions. Without having made direct contact, however, I'm not sure how much can be divulged.

Opened in 2016, Glasshouse has had a bumpy ride during its brief lifespan. You can read all my previous reporting on Glasshouse here.

Stay tuned as the story continues to develop.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

From Cultivate to Collaborate

Cultivate brewing guru Kuma Ofori-Mensa and owner Ryan Wallace.

In just a few short years, Cultivate Coffee and TapHouse in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town has established itself as a premier community gathering place, not to mention a good spot to get a finely roasted cup of joe or a cold and foamy glass of beer. Now, with the addition of longtime brewer Kuma Ofori-Mensa – formerly of Arbor Brewing, Glasshouse Brewing, and Tecumseh Brewing – Cultivate is setting its sights on even bigger things: a regular collaboration with different breweries to produce exclusive new beers for customers to enjoy. I caught up with Kuma recently to talk about this unique new collaboration program.

Cultivate isn’t a brewery, so why did they hire a brewer?

Ryan [Wallace, Cultivate owner] started the brewing collaboration program several months ago, and it’s reached a point where he wants to make it a regular part of the brand here. But he doesn’t have time to flesh it out himself. The dude is busy – like he’s always doing something. I’m not even sure he sleeps. I know for a fact he rarely eats.

A pretty common thing among business owners…

Right! So I got hired on to take over this collaboration program as part of my full-time responsibilities. I also work shifts behind the bar and make sure the draft lines are clean.

Can you explain how the collaboration program works?

We come up with a recipe first, then we approach a brewery where we definitely can work with them to create that specific recipe. If there’s a brewery that excels at IPAs, we’ll go to that brewery, or there’s a brewery that’s good at stouts, we’ll go there – that kind of thing. We’re always seeking out places where we already know someone, and thankfully between me and Ryan that’s a lot of someones. Then we ask if it’s something they have time and want to brew. If yes, we go back and forth on the recipe, and we’re open – we say, “Look, if you think the recipe sucks, let’s change it.” There’s no reason any of us should try to sell something we’re not proud of.

Then it’s a matter of getting to the point of where they can say "We have these ingredients, we’re happy with the proportions, we’re happy with the targets, let’s brew it." We plan a brew day and Ryan and I go out to the brewery, though with Ryan being so busy it eventually will probably be just me. After that, there’s follow-up communication about the fermentation and any secondary additions – whether we’re dry-hopping or adding coffee, tea, or whatever. We try to find things in-house that we make to add to the beers to give them characteristic flavors.