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.

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