Tuesday, July 26, 2011

2011 Summer Beer Fest De-Briefing

Michigan craft beer lovers: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these drinkers from the swift consumption of their apportioned rounds.

Following the 2010 Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, I wrote a conventional journalist-y piece about the event, complete with quotations from the Guild’s executive director, Scott Graham, as well as from various other brewers and festgoers, and featuring assorted numbers and statistics on Michigan craft beer. I was there for every rain-drenched, muddy, sweltering minute of the two-day event, tweeting comments and pictures, interviewing people, taking notes, and just in general being the sort of dedicated news-reportin’ dude that I am.

This year, as the already overwhelming festival grew even larger – to a record 62 breweries, 450 beers, and 10,000+ attendees – I decided to take a different approach. There was less rain and mud this time around, but I went Saturday only. I chatted with lots of enthusiastic brewers and beer lovers representing places like Short’s, Liberty Street Brewing, Bell’s, Saugatuck Brewing, and more, but I didn’t record any of our conversations. I tasted a fair number of beers, lingering a bit longer at each table, but I didn’t write down any specific impressions.

In short, I tried for once to just “experience” the magnitude of the event, to get a general feel for the thing, and to relax and enjoy myself. Result: A less comprehensive recap, but a lot more fun for your hardworking correspondent. Stepping back and “taking it all in” also gave me a new appreciation for just how huge Michigan beer has gotten over a relatively short time. (We are now up to around 100 breweries in the state.) It’s awe-inspiring and, well, just awesome.

But without further ado, let’s get to the obligatory List of Beers I Tried:

  • Rapunzel Wheat IPA, Arcadia Ales
  • Saison St. Clair, Big Rock Chop & Brewhouse
  • Draconus Strong Belgian Ale, Grizzly Peak Brewing Co.
  • Clementine Lemon Thyme, Liberty Street Brewing CO.
  • Emperor Norton Imperial Stout, Liberty Street Brewing Co.
  • Rye IPA, Liberty Street Brewing Co.
  • Bier Munro Rye PA, The Livery
  • Cork County Stout, Local Pub & Brewery
  • E.H. Pilsner, Local Pub & Brewery
  • Yellow Dog Bit-Her, Local Pub & Brewery
  • Beerhive Honey Ginger Tripel Ale, New Holland Brewing Co.
  • Plentigood Licorice Ale, Saugatuck Brewing Co.
  • SIPA Session IPA, Saugatuck Brewing Co.
  • Alter Spalter, Short’s Brewing Co.
  • Bloody Beer, Short’s Brewing Co.
  • Captain Fantasy Pear Saison, Short’s Brewing Co.
  • Cornholio Baltic Porter, Short’s Brewing Co., Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, Three Floyds Brewing Co.
  • Dan’s Pink Skirt IPA, Short’s Brewing Co.
  • Spruce Pilsner, Short’s Brewing Co.

Random Notes and Observations

» For my money, the Saison St. Clair from Big Rock was far and away the best thing I put in my mouth all day. More than a few beer nerds whose opinions I respect have referred to Big Rock’s brewer, Dan Rogers, as the best brewer in the state, and this beer made me believe it.

» The much ballyhooed Cornholio collaboration between Joe Short and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head was also quite tasty, and I was lucky to get mine before the huge line for it and the other experimental Short’s beers started forming. Who knew beach plums, horehound, and red popcorn (courtesy of Three Floyds) would combine into something so delicious?

» Two other beers that impressed me were Phil Wilcox's E.H. Pilsner and Yellow Dog Bit-Her from his brand-spanking-new Local Pub & Brewery in Jackson. I’m looking forward to a road trip there soon, and not just for the beer: I want to see the cool new beer stein roof sign, too!

» My suspicion that Liberty Street’s Clementine Lemon Thyme might be the perfect beer on a hot and humid day received substantial confirmation in the field. If you haven’t tried it, you should – it’s just a fantastic summer brew. (And if you haven't stopped by Liberty Street in Plymouth yet, what are you waiting for? Brewer Joe Walters makes a range of excellent beers.)

» Choo-Choo Charlie might raise an eyebrow at the use to which Barry Johnson of Saugatuck Brewing put his favorite candy. Yes, the active ingredient of Plentigood Licorice Ale is, in fact, Good & Plenty candy. And you know what? I enjoyed it far more as a beer than I ever did as a candy.

» Most interesting bit of local news: Ron Sartori and Tim Donahue of Fraser’s Pub in Ann Arbor told me they’re planning on adding more taps as well as converting the room the pizza-making people used into a sort of craft beer tasting room.

Come On, Let's Do It Again!

Many thanks once again to the folks of the Michigan Brewers Guild, all the volunteers, and everyone who loves and supports Michigan beer with their time, talent, and treasure. To all appearances, this Festival runs like a well-oiled machine, and it's all because of you.

To view my rather unexciting gallery of pictures from the event, head on over to the Book of Faces.

See you all in October at the Detroit Fall Beer Festival!

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