Michigan’s craft beer universe revolved around Ypsilanti this weekend as the Michigan Brewers Guild hosted its 16th annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival. More than 80 Michigan breweries offered a chance for craft beer enthusiasts to sample 800+ beers in a great setting along the Huron River at Riverside Park in Ypsi.
This was my first Summer Beer Festival, and the chance to enjoy several of my favorite Michigan brews while discovering plenty of new beers with friends old and new during the Friday session was well worth the drive from Traverse City.
We started off with a visit to Dark Horse Brewing Company’s impressive setup to check out their lineup of several dozen beers. My first choice was the Reign in Blood Orange Ale, a pale ale brewed with blood oranges and orange rind. The citrus flavors and subtle hop profile paired perfectly with the summer afternoon.
It was good to see Bell’s in full swing at the Summer Beer Festival after some discussion of pulling out of the event late in the week. Even before arriving, we’d heard buzz about “Uberon,” Oberon aged for 7 months in bourbon barrels, so of course I had to try it. The beer didn’t disappoint, retaining its signature flavors of citrus and wheat, while adding body along with prominent notes of bourbon.
Our next stop was Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, where I was intrigued by the Rootbeer Rye, a brown rye ale with a bit of spice that did taste a lot like root beer. Probably not something I’d drink more than one of, but I always enjoy sampling experimental beers.
We made our way over to Short’s, where we found a diverse lineup of specialty beers. The Cinnabilly Dopplebock was a popular choice, but I opted for the hop-forward Dan’s Pink Skirt IPA, followed by one of my favorite Short’s seasonals, India Spruce Pilsner, brewed with spruce tips from Michigan spruce trees.
The creative brewers from Kuhnhenn had one of the best locations in the venue, a shady spot under large trees with the Huron River flowing just beyond their tent. I was delighted to find Bourbon Barrel 4th Dementia on tap during the Enthusiasts hour, which I enjoyed while we talked about the day’s selections with Bret Kuhnhenn. The Mardis Gras-themed setup for Kuhnhenn included six specialty pours crafted specifically for the festival. I went with the Hurricane, an omage to the legendary Bourbon Street libation.
A visit to Greenbush Brewing provided the opportunity to talk with “Ambassador of Everything,” Jill Sites, about the southwest Michigan brewery’s expansive barrel-aging program, in addition to the creative outlet of experimental brewing. I was disappointed to have missed the Atomic TaunTon Overdrive, a strawberry-vanilla ale brewed with habanero peppers, but enjoyed the lemon, orange, and spice in a pour of Sunspot, followed by Haulin’ Oats, a rich, creamy oatmeal stout, while talking beer & brewing with Jill and a few folks from the Greenbush team.
Feeling a bit hungry, I stopped into the food service area and came upon Biercamp, an Ann Arbor-based producer of artisan meats serving up “Hopwurst,” a bratwurst made with IPA and Cascade hops. I’ll admit it: the Hopwurst was so delicious, I went back and ordered a second.
I caught up with the group at Perrin Brewing, where I promptly handed over a token for a Grapefruit IPA, a crisp, refreshing summer beer with just the right amount of grapefruit flavor that I’ve been enjoying all summer at 7 Monks Taproom in Traverse City. Keep an eye out for this beer. Even if you’re like me and tend to pass on most beers brewed with fruit, give Perrin’s Grapefruit IPA a try.
One common theme that was discussed throughout the evening was how lucky – and spoiled – we are as craft beer drinkers living in Michigan. If you’re looking for an opportunity to experience great new beers from passionate, creative brewers, make plans to visit next year’s Michigan Summer Beer Festival. If next July seems waaaay too long to wait, check out the U.P. Beer Festival in Marquette this September, or the Detroit Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market in October. I’ll hope to see you there!