Thursday, July 31, 2014

Confessions of a Grizzled Summer Beer Festival Veteran

Sometimes it’s hard to write anything new about the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, our state’s oldest and largest annual gathering of hundreds of breweries and thousands who love them. But this year’s edition offered a few novel items to this jaded reporter.

The first was that – thanks to a summer cold that turned my voice into a barely understandable raspy croak – for a change I actually did more beer tasting than talking with friends old and new. The second was the debut in a big way of Fermenta, a group started by and for women in Michigan’s burgeoning craft beverage industry.

These two new things merged beautifully in my tasting cup as I was able to try several of the dozen or so collaborative beers crafted by Fermenta members at their respective breweries and released just for the festival. Creativity abounded. From Short’s, It’s About Thyme IPA showcased, well, thyme, along with orange blossom honey. And for another unique twist, Unity Vibration brought out Umani Smoked Peach Kombucha Beer, made with South African spices and Michigan-grown peaches.

Unfortunately, I was too late out of the gate to sample the Salted Caramel Brown Ale brewed by the Fermentas at Witch’s Hat Brewing in South Lyon, but those who had it spoke glowingly of its rich, malty notes. I did score a sip of DragonTrax, a bourbon barrel aged version of the brewery’s Night Fury Barleywine with peanut butter, designed to evoke a sense memory of Moose Tracks ice cream, and boy did it.

My first taste of beer from Ore Dock, the Upper Peninsula brewery whose reputation has spread rapidly even amongst us “trolls” (or lopers, if you prefer), did not disappoint. Brett Bound and Down Witbier brought the funk and their Porter was on par with any of my perennial favorites, including Great Lakes’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Original Gravity’s Primordial.

Breweries whose beers I’m mostly familiar with also offered new delights. Pat Meehan, recently named head brewer at Ann Arbor’s Blue Tractor, did a fantastic job with his Cucumber Witbier. Griffin Claw added, in addition to its superb Berliner Weiss, two more amazing tart treats: Undertow Blackcurrant Saison and Apridisiac Sour Apricot Amber. Bell’s put its Kalamazoo Stout in bourbon barrels, providing a mellower fix than the fumey, high-gravity Black Note. And Jolly Pumpkin blended its La Roja, Bam Biere, and Lambicus Dexterius to produce Rambic, a marvelous mix of lactic sourness.

One other new thing was the weather: instead of the usual combination of miserable, humid temperatures in the 90s and drenching summer monsoons, it was actually warm but comfortable in the 70s and dry for the entire weekend. This may have been a first.

Sadly I don’t think this is the year I make it up to Marquette for the U.P. Fall Beer Festival in September, but I expect to be prowling the grounds of Eastern Market come October for the Detroit Fall Beer Festival (maybe I’m not quite so jaded, after all). Tickets are on sale now for both events at

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