We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this important beer broadcast. The 2010 Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival has just wrapped up over the weekend and it was another successful showcase of Michigan’s microbrew moxie.
The annual Ypsilanti event featured 50+ home-grown brewers, 60+styles and 400+ beer varieties this year. From statewide heavyweights like Bell’s and Founders, to regional favorites and spunky upstarts – Michigan’s brewers are surely a robust and wiley bunch. On this sticky summer Saturday, the clouds opened, sun shined and our band of hopheads set off into the Ypsilanti afternoon with only our wits and a fist full of wooden nickels.
There’s much to do, see and taste at the Beer Festival and what follows is by no means an exhaustive review of the festival, its offerings or Michigan beers as a whole. I have my beer proclivities – wheat ales, brown ales, IPA’s and Pilsners – and I tasted accordingly. Below are some of the most notable beers we tasted during the day.
Bell’s – Once thought to be “too big” for this grassroots, rah-rah Michigan love-fest and a glaring omission from festivals of years past, Bell’s made its presence known this year. A crowd favorite, they trumpeted their craftiest of craft beers.
9000th Batch Ale - Perhaps the most complex beer I had all day. In what’s surely a passion project, the Director’s Cut of beers if you will, it was a dark, chocolaty ale with flavors of cinnamon, molasses and great balanced notes of spice and honey supporting the body. Lighter weight than I was expecting but it packs a serious punch. Clearly a well-made beer, and perhaps the best one I had all day, but not my favorite. Proclivities, I tell ya. Maybe I’ll like Batch 18,000 better.
Golden Funk – Bell’s may dominate the craft summer wheat ale market (if that’s a thing…) with Oberon but their Golden Funk brings an additional, and welcomed, perspective to the timely seasonal beer. The vibrant yellow color (think Mellow Yellow) belies it’s flowered, dank and well, funky nature. Almost mildewy, in a good way, it reminded me of a basement brew. I enjoyed its serious citrus finish. If Oberon is a summer’s day on the lake, Golden Funk is that sweaty August afternoon with a broken A/C and an Ozone warning outside. In a good way.
North Peak – Archangel - For me, Summer 2010 will go down as “The Archangel Season.” This Traverse City brewery has made one of my favorite beers this year. A cherry flavored wheat ale, it’s tasty, subtle and done the right way. The flavor is neither too overpowering or hides in the background. If they were crafting a competitor for Oberon, they succeeded. The bodies are remarkably similar – flavor is really only a few hues away. Archangel steers away from the citrus and is better off for it. It was universally praised by our group. Their Red Siren offering is also worthy of a best-in-class consideration.
Michigan Brewing Co. – Badass American Lager – What they lack in brewery name originality points, they make up for in undeniable quality. Often an under-appreciated beer variety, I love a good crisp Lager, and this is one. It was the best looking beer we saw all day with bright golden color and an unmatched clarity. The flavor was drier than most, refreshing, crisp and a touch extra of wheat for substance. When you’re done mowing the lawn, crack one of these.
Keweenaw Brewing Company – The U.P.’s distinct craft beer in a can was another stand out. I tried their Brown Ale this day and came away daydreaming of lumber jacking, snowshoeing and a pet moose. A cookie of a beer, it’s dark in color but slightly sweet and has a refreshing thrust. It finishes crisp. Rich enough to satisfy taste buds but not heavy enough to weigh you down. It left us saying, “Yes We Can!”
Founders - Perhaps the most capable brewer on the block, their IPA is famous in my house and I walked up to their booth expecting a lot.
Cherise - A cherry ale like none other. Full on cherry and Lipstick-pink in color, it avoids the trappings of other fruit-heavy beers – mainly that of a syrupy, saccharin hell. In fact, Founder’s uses primarily tart cherries for this and the end result is a well-balanced flavor of sweet and tart fruit. It’s a light and bubbly beer that is very cherry and very Michigan.
Red’s Rye PA – grand jury prize for my favorite beer on this day. A unique blend of malty red ale and hoppy IPA styles, it’s a well-tempered, smart brew that left me impressed. It starts malty and full-bodied and finishes with a big bite that I liked a lot.
Leelanau Brewing Co. – Good Harbor Golden – The crown for Most Summery Beer goes to Leelanau. It was the most citrus flavored beer we had, it might have also been the most refreshing. Notes of grapefruit and lemon made it stick out.
And so another great Michigan Beer Festival ended. I left impressed with the technical prowess, skill, originality and creativity of our fair state’s brew-masters. See you next summer, Ypsilanti.
— Tom Shea is a Detroit-based part-time video producer & digital PR professional and full-time beer explorer, although his employers would like to think its the other way around. Follow him on Twitter @tomshea.