In scenic Riverside Park on the banks of the Huron River, over 1,000 Michigan beers flow in the middle of the summer heat in late July. The Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival takes place in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a town often forgotten for its beer scene. On this weekend though, a plethora of amazing beers make it a must for any Michigan beer enthusiast. It’s the only Brewers Guild beer festival I have been to in Michigan, and one of my favorite events each year.
This year, I am attending the Friday session. A personal preference due to the somewhat smaller crowd and cooler evening weather. It also works for me because afterwards, as with pretty much anyone who attends, you are inebriated and tired. Something a wife with two young kids is usually not impressed with. It’s very easy to go down the wrong path at one of these festivals in a short amount of time, especially during the Brewers Guild Enthusiast VIP hour. One hour with virtually no lines gives members pour after pour of high ABV deliciousness in a very short span of time. This will be when I hit up all my must haves before the lines get long arriving about 30 minutes before the gates open, I meet up with two friends near the front of the line. Its hot out and I didn’t bring water; will have to keep hitting the many water coolers stationed around the festival throughout the evening.
Soon enough, they open gates! First, Bells Brewery is set up towards the very front of park. Raspberry Wild One and Barrel Aged Expedition Stout are the two big must haves on my list from them. Each of them a variant of Bells mainstays, each amazing in their own way, with the only drawback being these are beers you just want to sip on for a while. It brings back memories of the 2013 Summer Beer Fest, when Bells had Barrel Aged Batch 9000 flowing throughout the entire evening. Something you just want to sip on, but there are so many other beers to get to and try, you just have to drink it fast or dump it on the ground and shed a single tear. Dumping the beer and moving on is usually the wiser choice, speaking from personal experience. After Bells, we hit Ascension, a relatively new brewery located in Novi. One of the top new breweries in the state, they brought the goods. I decide to try their Barrel Aged Stout, aptly named 800 LB Gorilla. Clocking in at 17% ABV, it’s a true beast (get it?) to be reckoned with. Boozy, thick and full of flavor, it’s very impressive and makes me want to make a trip to the brewery to try more of their beers.
Next up is The Livery, a great West Michigan brewery, located in Benton Harbor, right next to beautiful St. Joseph. Known for their sours, Barrel Aged Maillot Jaune is my selection. Dryness on the back end that one could only compare to cottonmouth overpowers the good sour aspects of the beer. Disappointed, but an afterthought, as my friend is the first to ask to try their Firkin. With that comes the messy honor of tapping the Firkin. He hits it once, beer sprays everywhere, and keeps hitting until it’s tapped and he has a good coating of beer on his clothes.
If anything, this festival is consistent. Dark Horse will bring a bunch of new and great beers to go along with some sort of cool gimmick. In 2014, it was a 15 foot high ice luge that they would pour Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth down into your cup. This year, it was the Mackinac Bridge. Crossing the 30 foot long bridge, you are met with 4 tap booths, each with their own separate list of beers. On our 2 visits, I had Smells like a Citra Safety Meeting Double IPA and Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth, both big great beers that I would be more than happy to stock the fridge with. At this point though, it’s only been about 40 minutes and all 3 of us are feeling those high ABV beers we have quickly consumed. We figure though, only about 20 more minutes of short lines. Drink all the beers we really want to try now and take it easy after the rest of the attendees are let in. The line to get in goes across the bridge and all the way back into Depot Town. Our next stop is Witches Hat, one of my favorite breweries known for their Barrel Aged Night Fury variants. Dragontrax and Cookies & Cream are the 2 variants I try, and both are huge winners. The Dragontrax is a peanut butter bomb and a favorite of mine. The Cookies & Cream is a big sweet BA stout that I look forward to getting a bottle of at their next big release.
As the crowd poured in, we decided to hit up the Greenbush Brewery. They were featuring a large list of beers all meant to taste like cocktails. I had the Jack and Coke beer, and it was about as terrible as it sounds. I did admire the effort and creativity, but all of the reviews I heard from other friends was not good. After that forgettable experience, it was time for some food. Had the brisket tacos from a vendor I cannot remember, but they were amazing nonetheless The food tents are all set up together and the lines got very long as the night went on. Glad I went when I did. After that, we decided to hit up a few breweries nearby. First up was Founders, which had just tapped KBS. We waited in the long line and got our pours and decided to relax a bit after hitting most of our must haves. Founders had brought a few new beers I actually wanted to try this year, Barrel Aged ReDankulous and Sleeper Cell. Both were decent, nothing great. Nothing new, experimental, or rare for the most part. KBS is their main big thing, and the rest is usually nothing special. We mainly got the KBS to kill some time and take it easy after drinking so many big beers from other Michigan breweries.
After the KBS, we decided to hit Arcadia and their riverside location. The beers are nothing great, but it’s an amazing location that they have somehow kept for the past several years. While sitting on the dock, the big winners and losers of the fest came to mind as we were getting ready to leave. Witches Hat, Bells, Ascension, Dark Horse, they all brought their best and were aiming to please their fans. Another thing I will say was a big winner at the festival was the entertainment and games. Giant Jenga, the bands, disc golf, and Cornhole were all great and added to the atmosphere. Greenbush tried experimental and failed, Founders didn’t seem to care as is tradition, and The Livery was just not as good as in years past. Overall though, it was an amazing festival and one I always love attending. Hoping to attend the Winter Beer Festival in Grand Rapids in 2017, which brings a completely different setting and feel, but is supposed to be the best of them all.