HeFed Report: BeerFest!

I like beer. A lot. Not only that, but I actively seek out beers that are odd, strange, and otherwordly. So it's no surprise that, once I realized my brother lives only 20 minutes away from Ypsilanti, we were destined to attend the 13th annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival.

On Saturday, we awake too early after a long night of bad barbecue, Modern Warfare 2, and the better part of a Magic Hat Summer Scene variety pack. The skies threaten rain and the Doppler radar doesn't look promising; in fact, it looks like we might be in for a bumpy afternoon at Riverside Park. Riverside? Doesn't that mean the park is located next to a river? And aren't there flash flood advisories from the recent spate of thunderstorms? Ugh. We are hopeful but believe our chances of getting wet that day are better than being struck by lightning.

We drive into the small depot town, windshield wipers set to "stun". A quick stop at a local CVS snags us cheap ponchos, which we don before walking to the park to wait in line with all the other ticket-holders. After a few half-hearted sprinkles, the skies give up; the clouds part, blue peeks through from the heavens, and the sweltering temperatures get hot, wet, and sticky. The ponchos are stowed. We join our fellow beer drinkers in a mad rush through the gates at 1p sharp.

Our strategy is simple: hit the hot spots before anyone else, before the beer was gone. I had been to the 2008 Winter Beer Fest, and some of the more popular brews were depleted before I could try them. Not this time. My brother and I hike quickly to the back of the sodden park (there are large, muddy puddles here and there around the tents and I find out later there had been sudden storms the previous night), where we begin our adventure, armed with a plastic cup and handful of tokens:
    Black Lotus Brewing Co (Clawson)
  • Funkin' A Apricot: A nice rendition of other apricot beers on the market. Reminds me of Pyramid a bit, though somewhat sweeter.
    CJ's Brewing Co (Commerce Twp)
  • Lil Smokey Smoked Lager: Very smoky, with a mesquite kicker. The lager keeps it crisp, though. It's a smoked beer you can slam.
    Kuhnhenn Brewing Co (Warren)
  • E.T.'s Reese's Pieces: We hit this booth, intent upon the Vulcan Mind Meld, but once we see the other offerings, we are drawn to the beer that tastes like chocolate peanut butter candy! It's not too cloying and definitely hits the sweet tooth.
    Blue Tractor Brewery (Ann Arbor)
  • Smoked Silly Red Ale: I'm not a big fan of this smoked beer. The red ale base makes it less smooth that I like.
    Hopcat (Grand Rapids) Rebarbora Saison: Basically it's a rhubarb beer and I'm initally excited...until we find some "floaties" in the cup that taste like cabbage. I'm pretty sure my rhubarb pilsner will turn out better!
    Bastone Brewery (Royal Oak)
  • Infernale Chili Beer: I like hot stuff, and I like beer. Why not combine them! This chili beer reminds me of Founders' "pepper series" beers last year, but it has a much cleaner taste and an even heat.
  • Peanut Butter Beer: Hands down, the best beer of the festival. It tastes exactly like peanut butter (blonde-based brew) and is so good we try to go back for thirds later on in the day, by which time the keg was done.
    Dark Horse Brewing Co (Marshall)
  • Louie's Donut Beer Brown Ale: Served from an in-situ living room outside the main tent, brewmaster Louie pours the infamous donut beer from the comfort of an easy chair next to the draught system. The beer tastes exactly like an iced chocolate donut. It is like drinking Homer's dream. DOH!
    North Peak (Traverse City)
  • Majestic Wheat: A refreshing wheat beer, perfect for summer. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Slammable.
    Old Boys' Brewhouse (Spring Lake)
  • Dog Days Blueberry Wit: Drinkable alternative to the typical shandy. Blueberry is not overwhelming. The barbecue brisket is no longer on their menu at the restaurant, though, so don't bother asking for it until later this fall.
    Right Brain Brewery (Traverse City)
  • Snuggle Bunny Cinnamon Vanilla Stout: Although "sweet" stouts tend to coat the mouth more than I like, this one is almost like a chilled hot chocolate. It is hearty, sweet, and swimming in cinnamon vanilla overtones.
    Saugatuck Brewing Co (Saugatuck)
  • Spruce Tip Ale: They use spruce instead of hops for this brew, and it's not altogether successful in my book. It lacks body and the spruce gives it a kind of sour quality. Interesting but maybe off the mark a bit.
    Big Buck Brewery (Gaylord)
  • Margarita Shandy: Sweet but very refreshing. Tastes exactly like it sounds.
  • Stout Ice Cream: Wisely, Big Buck offers a new and different frozen treat on this hot, humid day, every couple hours. We are lucky enough to arrive when the stout ice cream is unveiled. Well worth the extra $2.
    Big Rock Chop & Brewhouse (Birmingham) Vienna Lager: Despite my love of German-style brews, this one falls flat. Literally...there's no head. It's all sweet and cloying.
    Original Gravity Brewing Co (Milan)
  • 440 Pepper Smoker: Deep smoke taste with a spicy kick. Fun beer!
  • OG Ginger Ale: Straddles the line of beer and soda. Although some ginger beers have been cropping up over the last couple years, this one makes no attempt to hide it. Look out, Canaday Dry!
    Short's Brewing Co (Bellaire)
  • Agave Peach Wheat: Slightly sweet with a more earthy aftertaste than you ordinarily find in peach beers. Good, but not up to par with Short's usual fare.
  • Black Licorice Lager: Think Xingu with some licorice in it. I wouldn't mind trying a full pint, but it's definitely more sippable than slammable. Jager cowards beware!
    Walldorff Brewpub (Hastings)
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Ale: Ordinarily I'm not a huge fan of mixing other fruit with rhubarb, but in this instance it works fine. The cream ale gives it a real dessert taste.
During our tasting tour (3 oz pours, don't worry), we also visit the food tent to enjoy a perfectly prepared beer-soaked brat from Copper Canyon, topped with sauerkraut and marinated peppers. Messy, but delicious! When we've had enough of the park, we head back into town to Sidetrack Bar & Grill for some early dinner. One side of the building is called Frenchie's, where they serve burgers rated in the top 20 by GQ magazine(!?!). We decide to split two orders of sliders: blue cheese with bacon, and feta with red peppers. Both are delicious in their own way, though we are never asked how we'd like the meat prepared, so they arrive "well". (I'm of the opinion that even sliders should be available cooked-to-order.)

Despite the iffy weather patterns, we enjoyed our day in Ypsilanti and plan to head back next year!

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