“SOLD OUT! “ The sentiment rang across the state as Michigan craft beer enthusiasts worked themselves into a frenzy to obtain tickets to the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG) 7th Annual Winter Beer Festival. Online tickets sold out in record time as only the most connected drinkers were able to secure coveted passage through the golden gates months before the drinking masses descended upon Comstock Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on February 25th, 2012. The 62 MBG breweries making a showing didn’t disappoint as over 450 of the finest staple and experimental beers from across the state were available for tasting to the 7,000 beer lovers in attendance.
As with each MBG festival, the Winter Beer Fest held a seasonal theme – a flair that reminds imbibers of the chill in the air even after hours of hospitable warmth.
Stout. Oak. Bourbon
The overwhelming theme of Winter Beer Fest this year was a series of lineups that contained a beer with at least one of these characteristics, and the strong brewing presence in the Detroit area exemplified the style. Kuhnhenn’s Barrel Aged Fourth Dementia and Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine (Warren), Atwater’s Bourbon Barrel Porter (Detroit), Blue Tractor’s Oak-Aged “Hands off My Goat” Oatmeal Stout (Ann Arbor), and Rochester Mills Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale (Rochester) presented just a sample of the styles in the Detroit area.
Without disappointment, brewers outside the Detroit area brought their versions of beers worth mentioning. A fan favorite, Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), a Bourbon barrel aged Breakfast Stout from Founders Brewing out of Grand Rapids, warranted a rush of patrons and a 15-minute chant of “KBS! KBS!” before its 2:00 PM tapping. Founders also stayed on point with their Better Half Barrel Aged Olde Ale and another staple, Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), a maple barrel aged Breakfast Stout. The perpetual flow of enthusiasm on the hour, every hour, for each of Founders’ tappings was a strong indication that the brewery is always aware of the desires of its fans.
Other strong showings came from other popular brewhouses throughout the state. One of my favorite beers of the day happened to be the first one I drank – Barrel-Aged Wizard Barley Wine from Shorts Brewing out of Bellaire, Michigan. Sweet and malty, the oak added a sour twang to the sweetness of raisins. Before a day graced with stouts, the barrel-aged Wizard formed a mellow platform.
Marshall’s Dark Horse sported its usual lineup of strange and unusual concoctions including its lineup of ONE, TOO, TRES, and FORE stouts and ales among nearly 30 offerings across two separate tasting locations. Down the street, Michigan Brewing Company (MBC) out of Webberville put together a steady diet of quality ales including a stellar Imperial Russian Stout, their robust Big Stout, as well as their Vicious Hibiscus, a refreshing palate cleanser and seasonal change-of-pace to Bell’s popular Oberon.
A surprising showing came from Right Brain Brewing out of Traverse City with a unique lineup of brews including a barrel aged amber ale and barrel aged IPA. With over 22 breweries in the area, Southeastern Michigan is the cornerstone of the Michigan craft beer industry, but the Traverse City area is an up-and-coming market with players such as Right Brain, Short’s, North Peak, and Jolly Pumpkin.
If the unique ways brewers across the state threw together malt, Bourbon and technique into amazing order took center ring, the array of patterns in which the patrons threw snack foods together in creative fashion was a veritable side show. Creative minds threw together mixtures of pretzels, cheese, Slim Jims, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, cookies, pork chops (yes, I said PORK CHOPS), dog biscuits (yes, I also said DOG BISCUITS), and whatever else could be strung up for snacking pleasures.
According to the Guild, nearly 7,000 were in attendance for the 2012 episode of the Winter Classic for beer lovers, and 1,500 of those were Beer Enthusiasts. The MBG offers Guild membership not only to breweries, but to individuals as well. The $35 annual membership fee comes ripe with benefits, including a MBG t-shirt, VIP status and early entry into all four MBG festivals (Winter, Summer, U.P. and Fall Beer Festivals), discounts on drinks at participating breweries, and VIP tours and tastings held throughout the year at breweries across the state. To become a MBG Beer Enthusiast, visit the Michigan Brewers Guild Membership page for details.
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