Over 5000 Michigan beer enthusiasts gathered for a beer holiday in Grand Rapids at the 17th annual Winter Beer Festival 2023 on Saturday, February 25th. They were not disappointed!
Winter Beer Festival 2023
With 800+ beers, there was something for everyone, including Smooj from HOMES and Gorilla Juice from Ascension Brewing. Both breweries had long lines. HOMES sold out of nearly everything, and Ascension’s big buzz brews were going strong late into the festival.
Joe Shorts was slinging beer in a snazzy suit, and a pack of pastel-colored bears was spotted drinking copious amounts of Michigan craft beer. In the back forty, White Flame Brewing was kicking out the jams in their traveling tap room.
Our friends Amy Sherman and John Gonzalez of the Emmy award-winning Behind The Mitten radio show and podcast (ok, they may not have an Emmy yet, but it is only a matter of time) posted some great beer festival advice on Facebook.
Many of us like to take a few notes about our favorite beers at the festival. Instead of fumbling with pen and paper, or scribbling in vain on the program, or trying to jack around with Untapped, they advised using the voice memo app on your phone. What a terrific pro-level tip!
I took some notes on the beers enjoyed at the Winter Beer Festival this year using Amy and John’s advice. With over 800 beers on tap, the choices are overwhelming. As usual, we sought out the new breweries while stopping in for something special from our old friends.
Big Hart Brewing – Test Hill Double IPA
We love Big Hart Brewing. Located in the sunny town of Hart, Big Hart makes some of the best beers in the state. We aren’t just saying that; they won seven awards at this year’s World Beer Expo in Frankenmuth. They brought three of their award-winning beers to the festival: “Dune Rail” (Blonde ale – bronze medal winner), “Star Hill” (Dry Stout – silver medal winner), and “Test Hill” (Double IPA – gold medal winner). We had to try the gold medal winner. This high-octane brew is delicious without being boozy—a perfect beer to kick this Winter Beer fest into gear.
Alebird Taphouse and Brewery – Byron Hotel Peanut Butter Porter
We thought that Alebird Taphouse and Brewery were brand new. In talking to our good buddy Jay Green from Perrin Brewing, it turns out they’ve been slinging beers in Byron Center (just south of Grand Rapids) since 2019. In any case, they are still new to us. We gave their “Byron Hotel” peanut butter porter a shot. I love a good peanut butter porter or stout, and this one is fantastic. Loaded with peanut butter that mingles oh so well with the roasted malt, this beer is a party for your palate.
Eternity Brewing – Thai Boxer
For some reason, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” came to mind when I saw the name “Thai Boxer.” Eternity Brewing, from historic Howell, created an exotic take on the New England IPA style. I’ll be honest, when I saw mint, lime, coconut, vanilla, and ginger in the description for this one, I wasn’t too sure I’d like it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The flavors combine into a unique blend that is quite delicious.
3 Gatos Brewery – German Rex
We still need to plan a trip to 3 Gatos Brewery in Wyoming. They always deliver amazing beers. For the Winter Beer fest, they came with a couple of barrel-aged beers, which are usually a hit with winter beer drinkers. The barrel-aged doppelbock called “German Rex” caught my eye. I love a good doppelbock, and this beer from 3 Gatos is next level. The warm and satisfying malt finish is fabulous.
Brick Haus – Big Blue Something
Brick Haus Brews in Sparta opened up during the pandemic in 2020. This was our first tasting of their beer, and I’m happy to report that it was super. Their fruited beer called “Big Blue Something” intrigued me with its name and the description mentioning blueberry puree. This beer rocked the blueberries without being overly tart or sweet. I easily could have enjoyed several pints of this wonderful purple brew.
River Trade Brewing – Big Stepper
Having just opened its doors in August of 2022, River Trade Brewing in Constantine is brand new to the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals. After sampling their mighty “Big Stepper” dessert stout, I hope to see them at each of the festivals going forward. This stout has a stellar roasted malt taste with just a touch of sweetness. Sounds like yet another road trip is in order.
Reed City Brewing – PB Porter
It has been a minute since I’ve stopped to visit Reed City Brewing, and I’m not quite sure why. I know I’ve enjoyed their beers, but somehow I get diverted and never make it over. This year, after hearing Ken from the Better On Draft podcast singing the praises of Reed City Brewing, I made a point to stop. Since I’d somehow gotten into a dark beer theme, I checked out their “PB Porter.” Man alive, was this the right choice. Reed City hit the nail on the head. It is smooth, dark, and beaming with peanut butter love.
Pink Barrel Cellars – The Holy Goat
You couldn’t help but be drawn to the electric pink Chevy pickup from Pink Barrel Cellars in the middle of the Winter Festival. I discovered that this brewery in Grand Rapids is part of Ed Dunneback and Girls farm market, showcasing produce, baked goods, and now beer, wine, and cider from their 101-year-old family farm. With my path firmly rooted in dark beer, I sampled “The Holy Goat” doppelbock. This excellent beer is easy drinking with a caramel/toffee taste. Now I’ve got yet another reason to do a serious beer tour of Grand Rapids and put Pink Barrel Cellars into the mix.
It is a beautiful thing when your favorite breweries combine their creative powers to give us one-of-a-kind brews. At this year’s Winter Beer fest, we had the pleasure of sampling a few of these wonderful collaborations.
Our friends at Grand River Brewery and Stiggs Brewery got together to make one beer to rule them all. The result is a cold-brewed IPA called Simon Petrikov. David Osterhouse (brewer – Stiggs Brewery) headed down to Jackson to work with Caleb Moore (brewer – Grand River Brewery) and create this outstanding IPA. This beer is crystal clear and tastes superb. I’d love to sit back and enjoy pint after pint of this magnificent beer. Well done!
Technically, “Pitter Patter” the pre-prohibition porter collaboration between City Built Brewing and Archival Brewing was not on tap at the Winter Beer Fest; we did stop at Archival after the fest for dinner and enjoyed a pint of this excellent beer. Staying true to the style, this beer has a nice malty finish that is a touch on the dry side. This is definitely a beer you could enjoy in large quantities without getting oversaturated.
Less of a true brewery collaboration and more of a friends gathering to brew beer is the sweet stout from Stiggs Brewery called “Camping with Uncle Charlie.” Now, to be honest, most of the work making this beer was done by David and Mike with moral support (and beer) from the Stiggs Homebrew club. The end result is a heavy hitting (10.5%) sweet stout. You definitely get the taste of S’mores coming loud and clear. Apparently, every time this beer is made, it comes out just a bit different. Of all the variations, I think this version is my favorite.
I’m sure there were other collaborations at this year’s Winter Beer fest. Did you check them out? What was your favorite?
All this talk about beer, and we should have mentioned the main ingredient, HOPS. Don’t forget to ask for beer made with Michigan Grown HOPS. Thank you, Rose and John, from Mr. Wizard’s Hops, for the reminder.
Did you know there is a Chinook Hops competition? I didn’t either until we attended Michigan’s Great Beer State Conference & Trade Show. 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.”
This year Dog Star Hops won the Chinook cup. Our friends at Top Hops Farm won second place, and third place went to Bell’s Brewery Estate Hopyard.
Michigan Army National Guard 156th Expeditionary Battalion Sgt Steven New of Howell tapped a special cask from the Livery. He actually popped the pin, but that is another story that Chas from the brewers guild can explain.
You may remember Sgt Steven from the Detroit Beer Festival. His creative family didn’t want him to miss the event. They brought a cardboard cut-out of him. The cardboard cut-out led to the brewers guild getting in touch and inviting him and his family as honored guests to Winter Beer Festival 2023. It was great to see Sgt. Steven and his family enjoying the day. Thanks for serving Sgt. Steven.
The turkey legs, a Winter Beer Festival specialty, looked especially good this year.
As you would expect, there were a lot of happy beer enthusiasts at the Winter Beer Festival 2023.
Steve Leaf & Co
I have to admit, when I first read “Steve Leaf” in the Winter Beer fest program, I thought it read “Sweet Leaf” and immediately thought they were a Black Sabbath cover band. Instead, Steve Leaf and Co. are killer musicians who flawlessly played a complete cover of Weezer’s debut album (aka the Blue album). They had many in the crowded jamming. I even saw one of the Care Bears playing air guitar.
The Great Lakes Brass Band
The Dixieland horns and drums of the Great Lakes Brass had everyone moving and grooving. It was as if they threw a switch, and we all were transported to New Orleans. They wove their way through the festival, spreading cheer. You could feel the spark of energy from the crowd. The party atmosphere at the festival hit high gear thanks to the Great Lakes Brass.
Nathan Walton and the Remedy
Closing out the afternoon with a pant-load of guitar driven rock music was Nathan Walton and The Remedy. Nathan is a phenomenal vocalist and guitarist. You may remember seeing him in his other band, Stone Soup and Broken Teeth, at the 2020 Winter Beer Fest. While Nathan Walton and The Remedy have a lot of killer original music, the stripped-down band with Nathan, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Zach Dubay stuck to covers of some dandy rock songs. They folks either busting a move or air-guitaring to tunes such as “Funk 49” by the James Gang, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” by ZZ Top, and “Cochise” by Audioslave. They were a perfect ending to yet another phenomenal Winter Beer fest.
We’ve got many more pictures from the Winter Beer Festival 2023 in our gallery. Please 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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