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Thousands enjoy the Winter Beer Festival in Grand Rapids

6,000 happy beer drinkers braved the cold and wind to enjoy the Winter Beer Festival.
6,000 happy beer drinkers braved the cold and wind to enjoy the Winter Beer Festival.
Thomas Scheidel

Winter Beer Festival

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It was cold. It was windy. It was wonderful. The Winter Beer Festival took place Saturday at Fifth Third Ballpark north of Grand Rapids, and a good time was had by the over 6,000 beer aficionados in attendance. With 88 Michigan breweries serving over 800 different craft beers (all in little 3 ounce cups) it’s hard to pick favorites, but a few beers and trends stuck out.

Black beer was in vogue at the festival; black IPAs, black ales, even a beer made with black rice from Kuhnhenn Brewing Company. With a plethora of stouts and browns the beer was a dark counterpoint to the sunny day.

Along with alcohol content, most of beers being served also listed their IBU, which stand for International Bittering Units. Imperial Pale Ales (IPA) tend to have higher IBU than ales or lagers. Petoskey Brewing Company served an IPA that was almost off the charts. Their Hopsessed is a Double IPA with an IBU of 119. Most really strong IPAs are in the 80-90 IBU range. This is a beer not for the faint of tongue.

Barrel aged Terminator X, an American Strong Ale from Greenbush Brewing Company is an excellent beer with an extra kick. After brewing, the beer is aged in bourbon barrels. Normally this imparts a faint whiskey taste to the beer, but there is nothing faint about Terminator X.

Craft brewers are known for their whimsy when it comes to naming their beers. Some of the more interesting beer names on Saturday included: Death to Flying Things – Barrel Aged Imperial Stout from The Mitten Brewing Company, Igor Takes a Digger – Imperial Brown Ale from Right Brain Brewery, Barrel Aged Ho Ho Holy Crap Christmas Ale from Bad Brewing Company, Apollo’s Creed – Imperial Coffee Porter from Unruly Brewing Company and Pooh Beer – Honey Porter from Liberty Street Brewing Company.

The festival also gives brewers the chance to experiment and use some uncommon ingredients in their beers. There were lots of beers brewed with peppers or peanut butter and even a few chocolate milk stouts. Other ingredients included coconut, melon, juniper berries, sriracha, sweet potato, and even Warhead candies.

From very traditional styles of craft beer to some way out there offerings,the ninth annual Winter Beer Festival was a big success, both for the brewers and the thousands of people that tried their wares. The festival is organized by the Michigan Brewers Guild. The Guild also puts on a Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti.