Earlier in January, we found ourselves at Michigan’s Great Beer State Conference & Trade Show. You may be wondering why were you there? We are scratching our heads wondering why it took us so long to attend.
Michigan’s Great Beer State Conference & Trade Show
This year’s conference was held in Traverse City at the Grand Traverse Resort (home of the Great Beerd Run). It is presented by the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG), the Michigan State University Extension, and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) District Michigan. (Now that is a mouth full.) I didn’t know that prior to my arrival.
It is a packed 3-day conference. A few of the highlights included:
- New MBG Board Member Election
- The Sensory Evaluation Workshop
- Chinook Cup and Wild Card Contest
- Allied Members Trade Show
- Presentations and Keynote Address
- Great Beer State Dinner
Not listed in the highlights is connecting with long-time friends in the beer community and making new connections. For instance, we met Kenneth Konarzewski the creator of the Michigan Brewery Map App. Chuck uses the app and loves it. We also met Rose Stahl from Mr. Wizard’s Hop Farm in Monroe. We got the scoop on their annual event and a bit about their farm. We were super excited to see the Grand River Brewing crew – Brett, Caleb, Max, and Wyatt – in the lobby. They kept us entertained and made us feel comfortable and welcome.
We needed to leave Friday morning and unfortunately missed Governor Whitmer’s comments.
New MBG Board Members
Voting MBG brewery members attended the annual meeting and elected a new board.
(Left to right Jason, Spaulding, Andrea Pernsteiner, Isaac Hartman, David Ringler, Max Trierweiler, Kim Collins * not pictured Peter Manthei)
The Sensory Evaluation Workshop
“You shouldn’t miss the Sensory Evaluation Workshop” Scott Graham mentioned when we ran into him before the conference started. I was like wait, what? Up until that point, I was only aware of sensory processing evaluations which is what I thought Scott was referring to. If you are not aware, a sensory assessment assesses how a person, usually a child, processes sensory information (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and hearing). This is done to diagnose a brain disorder. (Scott was probably wondering why I was at the conference at that point.)
We kicked off the conference by attending the Sensory Evaluation Workshop given by Jason Vrosh from Founders Brewing Co. He focused on the methods for evaluating raw materials in beer. By the time he was done, I was in awe. I had no idea it was so complicated to pick the beer ingredients.
I always imagined it was a bit like baking. You pick a recipe. Buy the ingredients and then follow the recipe. As everyone at the conference already knew, it is way more complicated. What if you have to substitute an ingredient? You simply can’t pull any old bag of barley or hop off the shelf as a substitute.
Chinook Cup and Wild Card Contest
We learned about the Chinook Cup and Wild Card Contest from Sean Trowbridge from Top Hop Farms. Again, I was like wait, what? Sounds like a hockey game but I’d learned my lesson during my conversation with Scott and kept my question to myself.
If you are a beer novice like me here is a pro-tip: It is a hop contest for the Hop Growers of Michigan. “It is modeled after the national Cascade Cup, the Michigan Chinook Cup is awarded to the Great Beer State’s best Chinook hop grower as determined by a panel of expert craft brewers and hop producers through a series of “blind” tests.”
Having just attended the Sensory Evaluation Workshop, I wanted to jump up and judge the hops too. Alas, my newfound skills were not put to use. The judges were all professionals from the beer community and selected beforehand. The winner was announced during the Hoppy hour before the dinner.
Chinook Cup Winners:
- First Place: Dog Star Hops, Jim Mikesell and Ken Porter
- Second Place: Elk River Hops, Dave and Mike Batkie
- Third Place: Top Hops Farm, Mark and Sean Trowbridge
Wild Card Winners:
- First Place: Pure Mitten Hops for their Paradigm hop, Mary and Morey Dieleman
- Second Place: Taylor Hops Farm for their Michigan Copper hop, Todd Taylor
- Third Place: Two Track Farms for their Mackinac hop, Mitch and Brend Immink
The winner of the Chinook Cup will have their farm name engraved on the Chinook Cup. Each place will receive a Keepsake Cup to proudly display at their facility.
Allied Members Trade Show
I have not attended a trade show in years. I’d forgotten about the free swag and there was plenty to be had. I felt a little guilty taking their time but everyone’s enthusiasm and energy to be at the event put a wet blanket on my worry. Soon I had a bag of swag and was wandering around with a beer in hand.
The variety of vendors required to support the beer industry is surprising. We met Dan Brewer from Iron Heart Canning who shared details about their mobile canning service. I chatted with a representative from Alliance Hose & Rubber Co. before moving on to the guy from FOAMit. He was quite funny and insisted we take swag. I scored a pair of socks from Arryved and now have warm feet and know more about point of sale systems.
Keynote and Presentations
We sat with the Grand River Crew during the Sensory Evaluation Workshop. They were very entertaining. Wyatt handed out presentation assignments. It looked very organized and strategic. Chuck said, maybe we should look at the presentation list and make a plan. Don’t worry I won’t give you a blow-by-blow of each presentation but feel the need to mention a couple of them.
One of my favorite presentations was Andy Farrell’s from Bell’s Brewery, Style Trends in the Brewhouse. Did you know Bell’s created 149 unique recipes in 2021? If my math is correct, that is a new beer every 58 hours. He walked us through how they use their brewing ethos to make decisions in their Innovation Program. If you are involved in strategic planning, you would have loved this presentation.
There were two panel discussions I enjoyed. The first was with breweries discussing self-distribution and the other was with brewers from small breweries discussing challenges they face. It struck me how brewers are a jack of all trades. They do it all from recipe design to hiring to marketing to distribution to accounting – the list feels endless. But they all were excited and passionate about the work. Most importantly, eager to share their knowledge.
Great Beer State Dinner
We heard about the Great Beer State Dinner from several people. You’ll love it, they said it is Fred’s masterpiece. I knew who Fred was so finally I wasn’t saying “Wait, what?” If you don’t know, they are referring to Fred Bueltmann, the Beervangelist.
The meal has four food stations with beer pairings. Pairing food with the perfect beer is not something I excel at. I usually order my beer first then look at the menu and pick what I’ve been craving. (Pro tip: Do not pass up a professionally designed meal with food and beer pairings, especially if Fred designed it.)
My favorite was station 4 Freestyle. The menu said, “This category includes beers that have been wood-aged, brewed or conditioned with fruit and/or other ingredients with significant flavor bridges occur with this innovative, “freestyle” collection of beers.” I’m not a “fruit” beer person. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid it. Not anymore. The “Jam Jar” from Brewery Vivant paired with the mozzarella and stone fruit dressed with arugula, fruit chips, and balsamic reduction was amazing.
We were there to take pictures and document the event for the MBG and we were curious. We enjoyed the entire event, felt welcomed and accepted even though it was clear we had little if any experience with brewing beer. The event is open to the public to purchase tickets. If you are curious or thinking about opening a brewery watch the MBG site for an announcement. It is in January each year and next year it will be in Kalamazoo.
There are more pictures in our gallery. Take a peek and let us know what you think. Leave a comment and show some love by sharing this post.
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