How do the beers of the Midwest stack up against the west coast? I went to Michigan to attend the Suds on the Shore beer festival to find out for myself. (Oh yeah, and I visited my Mom too.)
The use of hops is a definite difference. Not only the types but the amounts used. I sampled beers from a dozen different Michigan breweries and found that the beers were good and the use of hops reserved. I found that, generally speaking, they don't go for the 'over the top' uber biers that I'm used to seeing here on the central coast. They keep the IBU's and the alcohol in check for the most part. But this doesn't stop them from producing some excellent beers with a balanced mix of malt and hops that make for easy drinking. I want to highlight the breweries that stood out for me in this annual beer festival that supports the United Way.
Top of my list: Old Boys Brewhouse out of Spring Lake with a nice selection of beers that nailed the style guidelines and frankly kept me standing at their booth wanting more. In particular was the Kennel King IPA that featured a vibrant dose of Cascade and Citra hops. Brewer David Bayes was on hand to talk up the brewery. His take on the American wheat beer had the unique addition of blueberry which made it stand apart from the crowd of wheat styles and made an impression on me.
Next, I made my way over to one of the larger Michigan breweries Founder Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids. I sampled their IPA and was impressed with the balance of malt and citrus hop and more impressed when sales rep. Beau Loncharte told me that the abv was 4.5%, I took another taste and was even more impressed. It tastes like an IPA but I'm not sure how they can claim that style when the abv is so low. In any case, it's a great beer with a full malty mouthfeel and a big hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. I then sampled their Breakfast stout which came in at 8.5% abv and had an incredible ground coffee flavor which was a truly stellar stout and the second most popular in Michigan after Bells Brewing.
I really appreciated this event because it was so easy to sample the beers. This is a smaller event with only vendors from Michigan. There were only 27 booths and a relatively small crowd of beer appreciators so there were no lines to file into to get a beer. I walked up to each booth without waiting and this really added to the enjoyment of the day.
Brewery Vivant was the odd man out with their Belgian style pale ale. From what I could gather, the sour beers have not taken root like here in the West. I was glad to be able to sample some at this fest. Their Belgian pale is bold and broad with a number of levels of flavor that made me want more. A striking yeast profile with an abundants of hop flavor that balanced and supported a delicious malt backbone. Good beer with a truly classic take on the Belgian concern for ales.
As I made my way around the booths looking for the unique I ran into an odd pair of pirates who did not seem out of place at all, as they hoisted the local ales and posed for everyone's cameras.
I came across the Michigan Beer Cellars booth where I sampled what was a very West coast take on the Cascadian dark or black IPA. This is a brewery from Sparta, Michigan and no one else at this event was pouring this dark style of IPA and this was a delicious beer. Jamesport Brewing was also on hand but as I had a number of beers at the brewpub the night before I didn't stop to sample this day. You can read more about my Jamesport experience on this previous post.
Michigan Beer Blog who have a site that covers the beer scene in that part of the woods. If you visit, tell them I sent you.
One disappointment for me was the missing Jolly Pumpkin Brewery. Apparently the distributor didn't ship the beer to the fair. I was looking forward to trying something that I'm sure would have been strange and exciting. Although, a representative from North Peak Brewing Company was on hand and he had on a Jolly Pumpkin t-shirt. He indicated that Jolly Pumpkin was part owner of North Peak. So, that's something.
There was also mead and cider being poured. I didn't taste the cider but did get a chance to sample the mead from a meadery out of Detroit called B.Nectar. This was a nice fruity sample. a little on the sweet side but a very good mead.
All in all, this was an enjoyable way to spend a day in the muggy summer heat of Michigan. I didn't visit my mother just to attend a beer festival, really, I didn't. But, I would recommend that if you are visiting relatives in another part of the country it makes perfect sense to coordinate it with either a pub crawl, brewery tour(s) or beer festival. Why not kill two birds with one stone, especially when one bird is a beer.