Named the Best Fall Wine Festival Not To Miss by Forbes.com, the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival happened at the DeVos Place on November 21-23. Coming in at $15-$20/day (or $40 for all three days), this festival had a weird mix of conference and festival put together. I do want to make a mention that at these festivals, everyone that pours for you is a certified volunteer for the event. For example, if I attended to promote Coppercraft Distillery, I couldn’t pour you my own booze, someone else has to. This even had some of the most passionate and knowledgeable volunteers I’ve ever seen and it was a breath of fresh air!
There is three ways to attend this festival. If you are a fan of the culinary arts, and want to learn from some local professionals including sommeliers and chefs, and want to attend seminars and events, this is the event for you. Low cost to enter, plenty of information to gather, and plenty to drink all around you. If you are attending the event to drink anything other than liquor or wine, this should be a soft pass for you. Finally if you are attending to try some great spirits, this is probably the best event for you based on price and availability. Why do I make the caveat about the beer/cider/mead portion? The $$/oz is really the big mention. While they bring in a good amount of local and non-local beer (everything from Smirnoff Seltzers to Dragonmead), paying $1.50-$2.50 for a 1-2oz pour was a pain of a hard pill to swallow. That is simply the one thing I didn’t like about this event, and I’ll simply leave it at this as my opinion.
The rest of the event was by far the shining star. From $1 small plate meat/cheese boards, to .5-.75 oz pours of liquor for $1.50-$2.50, to the chance to try a lot of different wines without having to buckle down and pay full bottle (or glass at the restaurant) price. The setup was fairly spread out that it just seemed crowded (we went on a Saturday) based on the tickets sold. We were able to purchase and repurchase drink tickets on a whim, parking was across the street (we took an Uber from a hotel) and while it was crazy busy downtown for The Lion King, Griffins, and a WWE show, we still were able to get in/out of the city without too many issues!
The choices of liquor were amazing from local distilleries to out of stand makers. Every step down Hemingway Hall was heaven for different liquors to try, and with the ability to add ice at a lot of them (and some making mini cocktails) there was literally something for everyone! New to the scene Wise Men Distillery was my hit of the event. Off of Broadmoor near the airport, this is a must visit (especially now that this little industrial complex has a winery, brewery, and distillery with Cascade Winery and Jaden James Brewery taking up two other parts of the building.
The New Holland workshop teaching you about cocktails was a nice addition (workshops did cost tasting tickets but for the knowledge and cost of product, it’s worth the price of admission). Beertails & Mules by Carrie Maichele was a huge highlight of the weekend. The Wine & Beer Tasting sessions (which also cost tickets) is another part of the evnet where if you’re going to learn, this is the place to go. The discussion of Haze from Steve Smith about adaption of the cultural beer trend was extremely insightful having done our podcast before, during, and most likely after the trend is over!
Overall, this event isn’t for everyone. It tries a bit too hard to be a conference AND festival at the same time. It also does feel like you’re being nickle/dime after you get into the event after paying to attend. As a beer drinker this is a soft pass, but if you’re looking to learn about beer (or any alcohol or food for that matter), or looking to try new wines and spirits, this is your event!