Dispatch from the U.P. Fall Beer Festival

Beer festival
Beer festival

With more than 100 breweries in Michigan, craft beer lovers in the Great Lakes State certainly face no shortage of choices.

But with so many watering holes and so little time, what is an enthusiast to do?

The Michigan Brewers Guild holds four beer festivals a year around the state, offering beer fans a chance to sample scores of brews from a myriad of breweries, brewpubs and microbreweries from around the Mitten State all in one place.

Gone Commando by Short's Brew
Gone Commando by Short's Brew

The U.P. Fall Beer Festival, held Sept. 7 in Marquette, Mich., is the smallest in terms of audience of the four festivals but is catching up amid the current craft beer boom here.

“It's similar in format to our other festivals but offers a unique location and atmosphere that make it many people's favorite,” says Shannon Kuchera, communications director of the beer guild.

And with a picturesque lake as a backdrop for some day drinking and mild weather, it’s no wonder.

With 3,500 tickets sold, it was the largest to date, selling out for the first time in advance. The year before 2,600 beer lovers descended upon Lower Harbor Park, an increase from the 1,800 the year before.

Atwater brewery
Atwater brewery

The U.P. Fall Beer Festival also features U.P. (that’s Upper Peninsula for the uninitiated) breweries that don’t make it to the other festivals.

Here are some of the top notable beers we sampled at the festival:

Drink your fruits and vegetables

Michigan is the No. 1 producer in the country for blueberries, so we saw a lot of beers featuring the fruit. Detroit’s Atwater Brewery had a Blueberry Cobbler Pie on tap that hit the sweet spot. The aroma of fresh blueberries hits the olfactory mucosa first followed by notes of vanilla that hit the palate, giving off the taste of cobbler. Drink your dessert? Yes please.

At Hereford & Hops, a U.P. brewery in Escanaba, the brewers had several beers featuring fresh ingredients. Again, we tried a blueberry brew, this time a blueberry lemongrass infused ale called Bluegrass Ale. The blueberry flavor was subtle and was complemented by the citrusy flavor of the lemongrass. Hereford & Hops also featured a Green Eyed Blonde, which was a hickory-smoked jalapeno infused ale. The taste of fresh jalapenos offered a spicy kick for those who like it hot.

Brewery Vivant
Brewery Vivant

Award winners

The festival offers a chance to sample some award-winning brews, such as our favorite from Metro Detroit’s Kuhnhenn Brewing, which brought its famous DRIPA, a double rice IPA. The rice contributes to the IPA’s crisp, clean taste. It packs quite the hoppy punch with citrus aromas.

Some like it hop

Speaking of hops, some of the hopping beers we sampled included Hopstache from Short’s Brewing of Bellaire, Mich., about 40 miles northwest of Traverse City.  Grapefruit lovers will belly up to the bar for this IPA. The citrus flavor is prominent but the aftertaste is smooth without a touch of bitterness.

Take a drink on the wild side

There are a lot of cool things brewing in the experimental field. Short’s Brewing PB & Banana Wheat is a wheat ale brewed with roasted peanuts and bananas. The only thing missing from this flavorful ale with its fresh aromas of peanut butter and banana is the strawberry jelly. Fit for The King.

Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City doesn’t shy away from any ingredient (smoked pig’s head anyone?). Unfortunately there was no Mangalista porter, which boasts bold smoky notes, at the U.P. Beer Fest but the brewery brought other edgier brews, including the Cool Hand Cuke, a cucumber saison, and the Blue Magic, a wheat ale brewed with Michigan honey and fresh local lavender.

Bourbon barrel-aged brews

It’s a good thing Founders’ Doom comes in a small tasting cup because after a couple of these (and it’s easy to down them with its smooth taste and finish) the boozy bourbon notes will have you dancing on the table. Founders’ imperial IPA is aged in bourbon barrels for four months and then unleashed.

At Dark Horse Brewing Co., the Marshall, Mich., brewery was pouring BBA Plead the 5th, a dark, thick and intense stout with coffee tones.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg friends as far as Michigan beer is concerned with 53 participating breweries, which offered nearly 350 beers total.

right brain brewery
right brain brewery

May we present our “Tips on surviving a beer fest”

  • Eat early and eat often. Make sure to carbo-load at breakfast: get the toast and hash browns, and while you’re at it, get the pancakes. Then look like a pro and sport a fashionable snack necklace. We’ve seen everything from pretzels to beef jerky and cheese. We’re working on a charcuterie necklace.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle. Fill with water. Drink between rounds. Repeat. Water is the most important ingredient of beer, and it’s the most important ingredient to help you avoid a hangover.
  • But if you do have a hangover, skip the greasy bacon breakfast and Bloody Mary and go for a Pedialyte (just try it before you judge us).
  • Dress for the weather (and come prepared). The forecast for Saturday said partly sunny skies and then 10 minutes before the gates opened, it turned dark. A couple of hours later it started misting. Make sure to pack that rain jacket (or find a plastic garbage bag, which works in a pinch as a poncho).  Don’t even get us started on the Winter Beer Festival.
  • Join in the camaraderie. Enjoying craft beer is a social experience, so be social and join in the cheer. What is that you say? When someone raises a glass and starts going “Woooo,” you do the same.

Michigan is gaining a lot of attention on the national beer scene for its creative and tasty craft brews, and the beer festivals are the perfect showcase. Have fun and drink responsibly!