The 16th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival

This past Saturday, July 27th, I attended my first beer festival- The Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. I’d heard and read about previous festivals, but it never had occurred to me to actually attend one.

I’m a relative newbie to the craft beer scene. I’d rediscovered my love of beer during Ashley’s of Westland’s Belgian Beer Festival back in February of 2012. Since then, I’ve been lucky to attend quite a number of their events (both in Westland and at the original Ashley’s in Ann Arbor), serving as their ‘unofficial’ photographer. This has allowed me to meet an amazing number of influential people in the Michigan craft beer scene. They all seemed to have a few things in common- they were extremely cool, down-to-earth people, and they all had the same passion for not only their beer, but Michigan craft beer in general.

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The magic token…

When it came time to buy tickets for this year’s festival, I was confronted by a few issues. First, on the day the tickets went on sale, I was in the middle of my Europe trip and had only passing access to internet on that day. The second (and much more pressing issue) was my dislike of large crowds. When I heard there would be over 4,000 people in attendance, I balked. I’d also tentatively had plans to be out of town on that particular weekend, so I didn’t buy tickets and, quite honestly, I didn’t really give it a second thought.

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Beware of some serious name-dropping about to happen (Matt Greff of Arbor/Corner pictured above)

So, here’s where the name-dropping comes in. My friend, Ann Arbor beer writer and soon-to-be best selling author David Bardallis, had told me a number of times how great the festival was and how, even with my dislike of crowds, I should give it a shot. That sentiment was echoed by many of the other beer people I trust- my ‘beer guru” Ashley of Holiday Market Royal Oak, Merchants of Dearborn‘s resident beer expert and Cicerone Annette, all the ladies of the Detroit Draft Divas, Matt & Rene Greff of Arbor and Corner Brewing, and Ashley’s owners Roy & Jeff More. (There were many others, but my name-dropping today is at an end…)

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Big crowds stretching far behind us…

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…and a throng of beer lovers in front of me.

That’s enough of my personal story (I felt it important to explain my perspective, but now I fear few are left reading….). I found tickets to the sold out event through friends of mine from Untappd and Ashley’s. Upon arrival at the park, however, a full 45 minutes early, I was greeted by a long line and huge crowds. I was fearing my worst nightmare had come true.

It ended up being nothing like what I had feared. We met a number of cool people in line, a theme that would dominate the day, and when time came to let the masses through the gates, the line move efficiently and quickly. We were quite a way back, and we still were inside the grounds by 1:10pm. I had a pretty good idea that this type of efficiency would be a common theme of the event, and it really was.

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Cool People….

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… and great food options. (Love the unintentional photobomb)

My impressions of the day go as follows (all jotted down during the festival (and getting progressively less legible as the day went on)). The lines for the breweries generally moved quickly. The grounds were spacious and well laid out. The brochure we were give upon entry was really well done, not only was it helpful in finding our way around, it makes a great keepsake from the event. The food options were quite extensive, and the food itself (what I had and what I heard from others) was highly reviewed. The weather was fortunate- it did rain hard right as the enthusiasts were let in an hour early, and also at the very end of the event. The monsoon that rolled in at the end solidified another of my lasting impressions. Although the rain caused people to have to crowd in under any and all available spaces, I did not see (or hear of) any incidents. That was what most of the event was like for me- lots of happy people brought together by a common bond- a love of Michigan Craft Beer. 

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Cocktail-Style beer. Nicely played, Kuhnhenn.

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Blueberry-lambic-sour- So glad to have found Hopcat out of Grand Rapids.

I stayed on pace for the first couple of hours, took a break for food and water in the middle and finished strong. I was able to try 24 different beers in the 3oz. sizes provided to us. My five favorites were…

  • Hurricane- Kuhnhenn, Warren- This has to be one of the most unique beers I’ve ever had. They had a whole series that were called Mardi Gras Cocktail-style beers. I was so impressed I went back for a second one- and stopped everyone I knew saying “You have to try this!”
  • Superfluid- Short’s, Bellaire– I visited Short’s 3 times, really liked all 3 I had (Bourbon Sagejuana & Cinnabilly were the other two), but Superfluid was the one I loved the most. A double IPA with a citrusy, hoppy kick- not a surprise finding a great DIPA from these guys.
  • Maillot Jaune- The Livery, Benton Harbor- I’ll be honest, of the few beers I’d had pre-festival from these guys, none blew me away. This barrel Aged Biere de Garde was sour & fruity- a perfect combination. I’ll be checking out more of their beers for sure.
  • Blambic- Hopcat, Grand Rapids- I knew about good beer from many of the Grand Rapids area breweries, but I hadn’t had a beer by Hopcat yet, although I had seen the buzz everywhere. Listed on most sights as a wild ale- it was perfect- part fruit beer, part sour, part wild ale, part lambic.
  • Atropos- Greenbush, Sawyer- I should consider myself lucky that I even got to try this one. The lines for Greenbush were almost always the longest at the festival. I waited until late in the day, and my reward was a taste of this Red IPA. Combine two styles I love, give them Greenbush’s always unique spin on the styles and we have a winner.
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Crooked banner (it was late Saturday), Great beer

I was disappointed not to have tried more beers from the smaller breweries. I did attempt to get to some of these and a few of the ones I tried that I was impressed with were Cellar Brewing (Sparta), 51 North (Lake Orion), and Witch’s Hat (South Lyon).

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Creative beer names….

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…and great beers.

We talked to a lot of different people while in line, while standing enjoy our lunch, while queuing for the bathrooms- and a few breweries kept coming up over and over again. These breweries also seemed to make a splash in the many social media forums (Twitter, Untappd, Instagram & Facebook).

  • Dark Horse- When I saw they’d brought 99 beers, I was as skeptical as everyone else I talked to, but everyone we met had something to say about them. They also had probably my favorite name of the festival too- “My Best Friend’s Squirrel” which was brewed with acorn squash.  
  • Greenbush- I mentioned them previously, but with the size of their lines and the number of people I met who raved about the beers they’d tried from them, they were certainly a big winner. They won Ashley’s 2013 Brewery Throwdown this year, so I’d had a chance to interact with a bunch of their people- I couldn’t be happier seeing them blow up like this. More great things from them to come- I have no doubt.
  • Saugatuck- Another group of awesome people I met at Ashley’s Throwdown- they seemed to have one of the most popular booths/areas to visit. My confession is I never quite made it to their lines to try one of their beers… but I did make it to the “Back Forty” to admire what they’d done with their space.
  • Griffin Claw- I expected them to make a splash. I’d seen all of the buzz surrounding their brand new facility and brewpub that had opened a couple weeks before in Birmingham. I’d made a brief visit to there a couple days before and came away impressed. It’s not just a great brewpub, most of the people I heard talking about them on Saturday hadn’t yet visited in person- they just really seemed to love the beers, and that is the best reputation of all to get. I especially loved Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA and Berliner Weisse Raspberry.
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A toast on our final beer

I was lucky to have the perfect companion for this event, Dave Hunt, a friend who I met via Untappd, who is a craft beer aficionado and an expert on the craft beer scene in his home city of Toronto, Canada. I’d been bragging for so long about the Michigan craft beer scene, that he just had to come down and see it for himself. I dare say he went away quite impressed.

Impressed is how I came away from the event as well. The Michigan Brewer’s Guild has hosted 15 previous version of the summer beer festival, and it was clear that they had really succeeded in improving a great event every year. I can’t wait for the Fall Beer Festival, which takes place October 26th and 27th at Eastern Market in Detroit. Festival tickets go on sale this Friday, August 1st. Now I understand why everyone told me it was something I absolutely needed to experience.

Here’s a link to the best of my pictures on Facebook.

6 Responses to “The 16th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival”

  1. Hogga says:

    she’s my best friend’s squirrel LOL

  2. So I’d imagine that despite the crowd, this was pretty much heaven for you? Hard to imagine they had enough beer to go around for all of those people. Unofficial Beer Photographer… Best Title Ever.

  3. Cassie Kifer says:

    Very cool! I’m glad you guys met up and it looks like an epic event! I’ve gotta get to Michigan one day!

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