I am a Buckeye through and through. And that not only refers to our football team, but our craft beer scene as well.
Having lived in Michigan for the past two years, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the 16th Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival held in Ypsilanti. With more than 80 breweries offering more than 800 beers on July 26th and July 27th, sometimes one’s love of microbrew knows no boundaries.
Most assuredly, I represented Columbus well, donning my Ohio Microbrew shirt bought from Celebrate Local. While every sip I poured down my gullet was brewed and distributed in the “state up north,” my heart and head was always with Columbus and Ohio, hoping for the day that we too might take over a large park (Goodale, perhaps?) and offer attendees almost a thousand different beers.
I admit I didn’t feel completely like a traitor; after all, a great deal of the beers we Cbusers drink is from Michigan and there have been plenty of Founders, Dark Horse and Bell’s tap takeovers. We obviously like Michigan beer down here. And also admittedly, Michigan craft beer is a force to be reckoned with. Whereas the craft beer scene has really just begun to take off, it has been a staple up there for many, many, many years.
One distinctive type of beer I noticed several of the microbreweries offering was a peanut butter-style beer. Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery out of Ann Arbor and Bastone Brewery out of Royal Oak were two such innovators, and I have to admit I enjoyed their beer very much. It wasn’t fancy and ended up delivering exactly what I expected and wanted – peanut butter-flavored beer.
However, there were some very odd choices, even for my eclectic palate. Right Brain Brewery out of Traverse City offered Cool Hand Cuke – a cucumber basil saison – and Spear Beer – an asparagus ale. I opted for a safer choice (or so I thought) – Fire Starter, a chipotle porter that continued to burn my lips off well after I had finished the beer.
Dark Horse Brewing Co. also had some interesting choices (and by far and the most offerings of the entire festival) with Maple Belgian Waffles with No Chicken Brown Ale, NO LEM RETAW ale (if you can read backwards, quite witty), and My Best Friend’s Squirrel Squash, an ale made with acorn squash. I was quite happy with my “99,” a porter made with toasted coconut, chocolate and lactose, and the Turtle Stout which was made with caramel, pecans and chocolate.
While there were some heavy hitters on tap (Founders KBS), New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk on firkin, and all of Jolly Pumpkin that you either love or hate, my favorites were Short’s PB & Banana Wheat, Hopcat’s The Jerk (another one that burned my lips off), and Sherwood Brewing Company’s Disco Lemonade (cream ale with strawberries and lemon).
Okay, now here’s what I love about Michigan’s beer festivals as opposed to Ohio’s and vice versa. Michigan has a very strong Brewer’s Guild and many of the bigger festivals are carried out by this guild. This means if you belong to the guild, you get early admittance. It also means that the same tokens you didn’t get to use during the winter festival, you can use at the summer or fall. That gets me to my other beef with the festivals thus far in Columbus. Tokens, tokens, tokens. These are much easier to store in your pocket or purse and not have to worry about spilling a beer as you try and gracefully (or not) tear along the perforated lines of the tickets you’re given. TOKENS ARE THE WAY TO GO.
Columbus’ beer festivals offer this – sanity. While I love the variety, attending a Michigan beer festival can be overwhelming. If you’re lucky like I was to gain admittance an hour early, that sounds like a plus – after all, that’s an extra hour to drink and you get ahead of the crowds. But that also means an extra hour to drink ahead of the crowds. And if you don’t understand my meaning in that, let’s just say that I got in around 12:30 in the afternoon and was seeing double by 2 p.m.
Another positive of Columbus’ beer festivals is recognizing faces. I know Ray Sherwood, Andrew Finsness and Scott Lowell. But in reality, because the festival was so busy, I really only saw Ray Sherwood mingling (as he always does) with the festival patrons. I couldn’t pick out any of the other brewmasters because I simply don’t know them. Even in the seven months that I have been living in Columbus, I have gotten to know a handful of brewmasters and/or at least know them by face and first name. Here in Columbus they are very friendly, very accessible, and very much a part of the crowd they are also serving.
Another aspect Columbus has over Michigan is our love and devotion to food. While Traffic Jam & Snug is quite recognizable (ask my brother Dave about ingesting copious amount of cheese after imbibing several half-pints of beer), the rest of the food was your typical summer-esque food – pulled pork sandwiches (which, was wonderful) and the such. Columbus loves its food trucks and with those food trucks comes a veritable potpourri of localized nom-noms.
Overall, I’m glad I went to the festival, but I’m looking forward to next month’s summer beer festival here in Columbus where I am sure to feel a bit more at home. I want to thank my brother Dave for lending his car and companionship to this lengthy trip and for being a good sport when it poured Michigan rain all over his never-before-worn kilt (ladies, check out the slideshow). Also a huge thanks to Diana Stampfler for hooking me up with passes and letting me be a part of this great festival. Last, but not least, Ray Sherwood for always taking the time to stop for a picture and talk beer.
Thanks, Michigan for the great beer. But watch out, Columbus is coming for ya!