Michigan Brewer’s Guild Winter Beer Festival 2016 Recap
On Friday, February 26th we bundled up and headed to Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park for our first time at a big beer festival. This was the kickoff day for the 11th annual Michigan Brewer’s Guild Winter Beer Festival, and more than 100 Michigan breweries were on hand pouring samples of close to 1000 different beers.
The winter season brought out a lineup that was heavy on stouts, porters, coffee beers, and barrel aged beers. We tried to visit as many new breweries as possible, which meant skipping the big boys (Founders, Short’s, Bell’s) and other breweries we had recently visited (Harmony, Latitude 42, Railtown, Newaygo).
New Holland Brewing Co. (Holland) brought 17 variations of their famous Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout. They also brought along a metal dragon that made for excellent photo opportunities. We tried Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Bacon, Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Mint Chocolate, and Dragon’s Milk Reserve: Maple Coffee with the consensus favorite being Mint Chocolate. Also on tap were variants with Coconut, Mexican Spice Cake, Peanut Butter, Apple Pie Brandy, Sarsparilla, Orange Chocolate, Black Cherry, Hazelnut, Vanilla Chai, Raspberries, Triple Mash, Chilies, and Coffee and Chocolate. As you can see, it would have been easy to just hang out at this booth all day – but with each sample packing more than 10% ABV we knew we had to keep moving!
We tried more than a handful of beers, so we decided to put together lists of our favorites. We’ve also mixed in some pictures of ice carvings, beer tents, etc. The Winter Beer Festival also offered live music entertainment, ice carving demonstrations, food, and more.
Our 10 favorite beers:
Coffee Double Crooked Tree, Dark Horse Brewing Co. (Marshall) – This was already one of the better double IPAs on the market, and the addition of coffee made it amazing. Dark Horse also had variants with blood orange, blueberry, or hot pepper.
Barrel Aged Tres Blueberry Stout, Dark Horse Brewing Co. (Marshall) – The barrel aged version of this stout was well balanced and the blueberry flavor came through well. A barrel aged version of Plead the 5th Imperial Stout was also on tap.
Security and Finance, Griffin Claw Brewing Co. (Birmingham) – This mosaic hop IPA was one of the best IPAs we tried all day. We also tried Flying Buffalo (a bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stout) and Harry Cherry (a sour cherry tripel).
Mug Shot Oatmeal Coffee Stout, Frankenmuth Brewery (Frankenmuth) – There were more than a handful of coffee beers on tap, and this one stood out above the rest.
James’ Giant Peach Gose, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply (Ada) – Sour beers continue to grow in popularity and we tried a handful of them at the festival. This was by far the best one with an excellent balance of peach flavor and tartness.
Cranberry Rebellion Mead, The Hideout Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids) – We love a good mead, and had already tried The Hideout’s delicious Rebellion Mead. The addition of cranberry made it even better and made this the standout of the day in the mead category.
Benevolence, Big Lake Brewing Co. (Holland) – This one was a pleasant surprise, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout that packed 10% ABV and plenty of flavor. This was a perfect winter beer, and it really helped warm us up.
Sage Lime Witbier, B. Nektar (Ferndale) – B. Nektar is legendary for their award-winning meads, but what impressed us most were the beers they had on tap at the festival. The Sage Lime Wit had a unique mix of sage and lime flavors, was well balanced, and also crisp and refreshing.
BA Imperial Mayan Mocha Stout, Odd Side Ales (Grand Haven) – It wouldn’t seem like Odd Side could do much to improve on an amazing stout that is brewed with coffee, nutmeg, cinnamon, and habaneros – but then they aged it in bourbon barrels! It still had the expected amount of heat, but gained quite a bit of barrel character making it a powerful yet tasty brew.
Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake Stout, Rochester Mills Beer Co. – We’ve been fans of Rochester Mills’ Milkshake Stout for years, and this festival gave us the chance to try blueberry pancake and toasted marshmallow variants. The blueberry one was solid, but we all seemed to agree that the marshmallow was the frontrunner. We also enjoyed their Coffee N’ Cream Stout.
5 “New To Us” Breweries That Impressed:
Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply (Ada) – We really enjoyed the variety offered at Gravel Bottom, trying James’ Giant Peach Gose, Waka Waka IPA, and BA Maple BLK Magic American Stout.
Fetch Brewing Co. (Whitehall) – We tried three beers from Fetch, and walked away incredibly impressed. Imperial Tsarship (Russian Imperial Stout), BA Smolder (BA Smoked Chipotle Porter), and Double Back Raspberry Black (Raspberry Robust Porter) showed that this brewery knows their way around a strong, dark beer as well as a handful of flavors.
Grand River Brewery (Jackson) – We really enjoyed the Black Penny Porter, and Grand River seems to have a pretty solid lineup of sour beers as well. Grain Tree SOUR (BA sour with chestnuts, cocoa nibs and vanilla beans) and SOUR Nog (BA sour with cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate and vanilla) presented some very interesting flavors with just the right amount of sour.
B. Nektar (Ferndale) – Zombie Killer was amazing, but what impressed us most about this well-known meadery was that they also brought along some amazing beers. We already mentioned the Sage Lime Witbier above, but we also enjoyed the Mexican Chocolate Porter. Can’t wait to try more from B. Nektar!
Big Lake Brewing Co. (Holland) – The barrel aged Benevolence made our top 10 list for the day, and as Big Lake continues to see distribution of their cans expand, they’re a brewery worth keeping an eye on. They also brought along MTM Session IPA (with Amarillo), Ryecoe IPA (Rye IPA), Darkstar Stout (Chocolate Coffee Stout), and Nerd Fury (Pale Ale).
Find out more about other Michigan Brewer’s Guild events at http://www.mibeer.com/. Enthusiast memberships get individuals in to events an hour early and VIP opportunities.