Beer, Laughter, and Shared Stories: We ride into Ypsilanti for a celebration of community at the 24th Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival
Summer Beer Festival
In a world where craft beer acts as a magnet for the community, the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival played host to a symphony of flavors, memorable characters, and timeless stories. With the beautiful Riverside Park in Ypsilanti as the backdrop, the festival was a nexus for an all-star cast of beer lovers. Let’s meet some of the wonderful souls who joined us in this weekend’s grand salute to that joyous concoction we call beer.
Jim – The Enthusiast
First, Jim Hence, a craft beer enthusiast with an infectious smile, was our first interviewee. He grinned, declaring, “I still feel like a kid the night before Cedar Point.” We laughed as Jim shared his restless night before beer fest and rising early to get there as soon as possible. The twist? Jim’s wife documents his beer-tasting journey, writing his first comment after tasting the beer in a journal. They shared, “We found notes from a couple of years ago. And halfway through the beer festival, the comment was. If God drinks beer, this is the one.” We sure wish we knew which beer it was.
Joel and Nikki – Festival Survival Pros
We bumped into Joel and Nikki Flower, getting the perfect group picture on the large yellow Ypsi Real Chair. These enthusiasts’ Summer Beer Festival survival tips were straightforward: wear comfortable shoes, pace yourself, and always have a designated driver.
All in the Family with Mike “Brewguyver”
Mike “Brewguyver” O’Brien has attended every Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer festival to date. His laid-back approach involved sharing beers and trying anything that piqued his interest. Mike added, “When you share beers with a close group of family, it’s a lot of fun, actually. We’re going to taste a lot of beers today. We can’t taste them all.” He particularly enjoys beers with an infusion of tree elements like juniper in a Sahti. Mike is also an advocate for historical beers like the ones Brewery Becker is making.
Passionate Brewing with Adam
Kickstand Brewing’s owner Adam Beratta then took center stage. His love for Czech Pils and lighter beers is only rivaled by his passion for brewing them perfectly. If you’re a newbie to the festival scene, he recommended the U.P. Beer Festival for its chill vibes and passionate crowd. I’ll second and triple Adam’s recommendation; rain or shine, the U.P. Beer Festival is grand.
For the love of Beer with Casey
Our conversation with Casey Brunetti of Big Lake Brewing was just as insightful. This being her fourth festival, Casey’s strategy involved focusing on beer styles she intends to brew, such as dry-hopped Pilsners and IPAs. Casey loves to brew beer but really loves making dark beers. She told us, “I love drinking lighter beers, but my favorite brewing is dark beers. Because when you mash out, it smells like you’re making no-bake cookies.” She added with a smile, “You’re working really hard to mash out, and you’re all sweaty and grumpy, but it smells like cookies in here.”
Casey also loves her collaborative work with Fermenta, a collective of women and non-binary individuals in the industry. Her advice for enthusiasts on a successful beer fest? Stay hydrated, and don’t hesitate to dump a beer you’re not enjoying.
Getting Crispy with Jimmy
Jimmy McDaniel from M4 CIC, a seasoned festival-goer of 14 years, appreciated the sense of community the festival offered, looking forward to reuniting with his beer family. Jimmy said, “It’s just like a family; every beer fest is a family reunion almost. You get to see all your friends you haven’t seen in a year.” His current focus was on light, crisp beers (aka “Crispy Boi’s”) with special mentions for Drafting Table’s Simon Saaz and Cedar Springs’ Marzen.
Words of Wisdom from Jay
Lastly, we spoke with Jay Green (Beer Ninja) of Perrin Brewing, a festival veteran of over 15 years. Jay’s festival strategy hinged on the pursuit of clean, everyday beers. He described the pride he took in the consistency of his favorite brew, Perrin Black. Jay told us, “The reason it’s (Perrin Black) my favorite is because it’s the same every time. That’s how I get my craft. I’m going to do it the same every single time. I want that beer to be perfect.”
Jay delights in providing customers with great beers and watching their faces light up. While it may seem super sexy to be a brewer, we asked Jay about the dark side. He revealed, “The unsexy part is we’re always wet. We’re laying on the ground; we’re scrubbing dirt. We’re basically janitors scrubbing and cleaning constantly. I’m sweaty and gross all the time, but nobody sees that part.”
Finally, asking for Jay’s recommendation for underappreciated beer styles, he quickly replied, “Drink an English bitter; it doesn’t have a lot of alcohol. It looks dark, but it’s one of the best iterations of beer there is.” I couldn’t agree more, as ESBs were my gateway into craft beer a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Loving Those Beers
Weirdly, talking with this all-star cast of characters at this year’s summer beer fest left me wanting to write a love letter to Michigan beer. In their own way, they all echoed my feelings regarding the summer beer festival; It’s an excuse to gather with your friends. The beers act as a conversation starter as opposed to the main event. However, those beers bring us together and are responsible for all the love.
Reflecting on festivals gone by, I remember being so focused on hunting down IPAs. Perhaps it was my youthful exuberance or simply a lack of knowledge about the diverse beer landscape. Speaking with Mike O’Brien made me smile as I realized how my IPA-centricity had given way. Jimmy McDaniel’s love for “crispy bois” also struck a chord with me; I’ve come to appreciate the full assortment of flavors, including those light and refreshing ones. Jay, Casey, and Adam’s quest for brewing perfection caused my heart to surge with love for the passion they pour into every tantalizing pint. Along with a fair amount of sweat, which I’ll just sort of ignore.
Without further ado, here’s a compilation of standout beers that left a lasting impression on me at this year’s summer beer fest in 2023. These beers had me exclaiming, “Oh, Mama, this is great!”. The bodacious brews left me gob-smacked thinking of the artistry that went into their making. I honestly tried to keep this list short, but I failed miserably. I hope you’ll indulge my lengthy letter of love to the lustrous libations of Summer Beer Fest.
Schaendorf Brewing – Jikan: A great lager is like a great friend: always there for you, Not clingy or cloying, and delicious. Yes, great friends are delicious. There it has been said. Jikan, the rice lager from Schaendorf Brewing (located in Allegan – 40 minutes south of Grand Rapids), is the definition of a Jimmy One-Time crispy boi: light malty backbone and a crisp, dry finish. By the way, did you know that Jikan is Japanese for the measure of time between two points? If not, now you do.
Unexpected Craft Brewing
Unexpected Craft Brewing – LOL (Lovely Orange Lager): This gorgeous light lager takes the road less traveled by including a hint of orange flavor that says, “Oh Mama! This is summer in a glass”. The orange is subtle, but it certainly does brighten up your taste buds. I hope Unexpected Craft Brewing (over in Oak Park near Detroit) has this on tap, as I’d love to enjoy a full pint. A bonus shoutout to Unexpected Craft Brewing, as all their beers at the summer beer fest were made with Michigan malt and hops! I do love those pure Michigan beers.
Barrel + Beam / Farm Club
Barrel + Beam / Farm Club – Rye Club: It is wonderful to witness two brewing masters combine their talents to produce a magnificent collaboration beer. With Rye Club, Barrel + Beam (Marquette) joins hands across peninsulas with Farm Club (Traverse City) to create a silky smooth saison using rye grown and malted from Loma Farm (part of Farm Club). This refreshing yet complex beer is another exquisite Michigan-made beverage with hops from MI Local Hops and malt from Great Lakes Malting.
Batch Brewing – Radler and Swellegant: The home runs were flying out of Summer Beer Fest thanks to two German-inspired brews from Batch Brewing (Corktown – Detroit). The Radler is a twist on the German beverage of the same name. Batch takes their German lager and adds lemonade instead of soda. In the states, this combination would be called a Shandy. The zesty lemonade is not overly sweet like a soda which makes for a summer dandy that is crisp, clean, and super refreshing. Swellegant is, as the name implies, elegant and just plain swell. This German pilsner has a touch of citrus that brings excitement to the palate. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better beer to enjoy all summer long.
Battle Alley Brewing
Battle Alley Brewing – Poppin Tropic Purple Session IPA: Battle Alley Brewing (in Holly) brought the fun with a purple (yes, purple) session IPA they called Poppin Tropic. This sessionable IPA packs in a ton of tropical and berry flavors without a big buzz. The result is a dazzling beer that you can drink all day long. Evidently, the intriguing purple color comes from pea powder and blackberry juice. I wonder if my tongue will turn purple if I drink this all day? It sounds like I need to do a road trip to Battle Alley for research.
Dark Horse Brewery
Dark Horse Brewery– Gen Pop: I could be wrong, but this is the first pilsner I can remember my friends making at Dark Horse Brewery (Marshall). Bright and light with a bread and biscuit finish, I loved this beer. After the fact, I wish I’d grabbed a Swellegant to make a head-to-head comparison, as both of these beers are on my ongoing “Get this damn beer at the Brewery” list.
Murray Street Brewing
Murray Street Brewing – Beer For Tim: I’m not sure who Tim is, but he is clearly loved at Murray Street Brewing in Mattawan (20 minutes west and slightly south of Kalamazoo). Beer For Tim is a slightly tart and very drinkable raspberry sour. You also get just a hint of vanilla in the finish, which turns this beer into a treat.
Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen
Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen – Smoking Chiles: Typically, it is damn near impossible to pick just one beer that made my day at the summer beer festival. That changed with the Smoking Chiles by Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen (Boyne City). The smoke and the mild heat from the chiles are subtle yet captivating. I didn’t feel like I was sucking on a nugget of charcoal or dealing with a five-alarm blaze due to a ridiculous amount of peppers. Stiggs hit the mark square and true on this one. A fascinating beer that I actually tried twice.
River Trade Brewing
River Trade Brewing – Monoglot and Well Known Ghosts: River Trade Brewing in Constantine (just 10 minutes north of Indiana and 45 minutes south of Kalamazoo) has their IPA game on point. Both their Monoglot (which means someone who only speaks one language) and the Well Known Ghosts (not sure which famous ghost haunts them) are exceptional beers boasting a delightful blend of pine and citrus in the nose and on the tongue. These were easily some of the best IPAs I’ve had this year.
Block Brewing – Jo Pickle: For fans of great lagers and dill pickles, Jo Pickle from Block Brewing (Howell/Brighton) is for you. Hear me out before you start making a goobery sour face and scrunching up your nose. Imagine just a bit of dill pickle in your beer –Just a dash, nothing crazy. It was weird and wonderful. I really wanted to try this beer with a burger or chili dog.
Cedar Springs Brewing
Cedar Springs Brewing – Kusterer Original Weissbier: This is an exceptional wheat beer from Cedar Springs Brewing (Cedar Springs, just 20 minutes north of Grand Rapids) brewed with their own yeast strain. This beer is much more amber than a typical wheat beer. The taste is that of a very nutty banana nut bread which immediately reminded me of my mom and her famous banana nut bread. She would make the bread as a treat for Christmas. My wonderful sister keeps the tradition alive today. Prost Cedar Springs for a wonderful beer that had me remembering my mom and the love she gave us.
Big Hart Brewing
Big Hart Brewing – Workingman: As I approached Big Hart Brewing’s table at the summer beer fest, the lyrics to Rush’s “Working Man” started to tumble through my head as I ordered up their Workingman Munich Helles. This everyday German lager is perfect for, well, every day. Balanced malt and hops make for a smooth beer that finishes with a hint of sweetness. I’m not sure if Teo and Nick (brewers at Big Hart) were thinking of Rush when they made this beer, but I think their beer rocks.
Great White Buffalo Brewing
Great White Buffalo Brewing – Stars and Bars Milkshake IPA: One of the new kids on the block over in Northville, this twisted IPA from Great White Buffalo Brewing, yells out, “Hell yes! I’m bold, and I’m beautiful.” Combining hints of lime, cherry, and raspberry, this surprising beer was a sweet treat and not your typical IPA.
Ore Dock Brewing
Ore Dock Brewing – Left-Handed Lawnmower Session IPA: You can always count on Ore Dock Brewing for delicious beers. Being a fan of the left-hand, I gave this beer a go. This isn’t your average session beer that lacks body and often suffers in taste. While clocking in at a lower 4.7, this beer drinks like a full-blown IPA. The hops are strong, dank, and delicious. I wish I could get this in cans to enjoy daily.
Back to Our Beer Family
Ok, fine, not everyone at the Summer Beer Festival is my personal friend and family member, but just look at these wonderful people enjoying a fabulous festival and delicious Michigan beers.
Keg Tapping Dignitaries
Every Michigan Brewers Guild festival includes the ceremonial singing of the guild fight song and celebrity keg tapping. The Friday night honorary keg tapper was Lisa, the mother of Wolverine State Brewing brewer Brett Hartranft. The mother and son team tapped into a keg of Wolverine’s Strawberry, Lemon & Basil lager, which was very excited to get out of the keg and into our glasses.
On Saturday, the keg dignitaries were another family duo of Mike O’Brien (legendary Brewguyver) and his son Matt. They set to tapping a keg of Triple Berry Peach IPA from The Livery like seasoned pros.
Music at the Summer Beer Festival
It wouldn’t be a Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer festival without some tunes. Hell, can you even have a party without music? This year’s selection set a tone for relaxing in the sun. If you were feeling frisky, you could always get in a dance or two.
I had the pleasure of listening to Slowfoot and interviewing them for Fans With Band, yet I had not seen them live. They were the highlight of the festival, playing a great selection of classic covers and original music. With brilliant melodies, superb harmony, and stellar musicianship, Slowfoot was amazing.
Bird Into Bear
Bird Into Bear kept things chill as the sun sank into the horizon. They play a hybrid of country rock jams that had me thinking of a jazzy version of the Grateful Dead. It was all about peace, love, and more beer.
Rocking out early on Saturday were The Seatbelts from Detroit. Classic rock meets classic punk was delivered in spades. Buckle up if you catch this band in town.
The long-standing fixtures in the back forty at Summer Beer Fest, The Reefermen moved up to the main stage to close out Saturday. An institution of Detroit rock music, The Reefermen had everyone jamming to a variety of classic rock. We held our beers high as The Reefermen rocked us home.
Until Next year
The final day of the 24th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival is in the books. Already, the echoes of laughter and camaraderie are starting to fade. This annual gathering of brewers and enthusiasts proved again that craft beer is more than a beverage; it is the experiences and friendships made over the shared passion for Michigan Craft Beer.
Summer Beer Festival Pictures
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