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Got Beer?

The Michigan Brewers Guild will hold its winter beer festival in Grand Rapids this year, on Saturday, February 23 at Fifth Third Park. They moved the popular annual event from Lansing because, after more than 2,000 festival-goers showed up last year, they outgrew their facilities there. West Michigan, a beer-loving community, was a natural place to relocate – and what better spot to drink it than a ball park?

'But outdoors?' you ask. In February? Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that? “Because it’s a rare opportunity to sample nearly 100 great craft-brewed beers from the many diverse and vibrant breweries around the state,” says Scott Graham, president of the Michigan Brewers Guild. “And it’s a lot of fun!”

They’ll have some tents with heaters set up too, but the outdoorsiness adds to the festivities. More than 30 of Michigan’s finest brewers will be there – including local favorites like Founders, New Holland, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and others – all serving up their very best.

So don’t come looking for Bud Light in a can. This is a crowd that, much like wine connoisseurs, savors and appreciates the exquisite taste of a craft-brewed beer.

The Big Boys Pale in Comparison
Indeed, what makes craft beer so unique and appealing, says Guild member John Svoboda master brewer at the Grand Rapids Brewing Company, is the flavor. “We offer something that the larger breweries cannot offer, and that is interesting, complex, highly flavored beer. We can make it very mild or seasoned and spicey, heavy or dark, light, medium or strong bodied, with wonderful textures, aromas and other nuances, all the characteristics that make beer great,” he says.

It’s comparable to food, he continues. “Think of eating something with a little cilantro versus a lot of cilantro.” Or a store-bought jar of salsa versus the kind you make yourself with a freshly-picked tomatoes and spices from your garden. That’s the difference between a hand-crafted beer and one you get out of the grocery cooler.

Svoboda explains that while the mega brewers use a lot of cereal when making their beers, craft-brewers use more barley, wheat, and hops. Hops are a brewer’s spice, which is where much of the flavor comes from. And if you’ve ever detected a hint of whiskey while sipping a local brewery’s fare, it may be because some Michigan beers are aged in recycled bourbon barrels purchased from whiskey-makers down south. Mmmm!

The most popular beers in Grand Rapids right now are the pale ales, and you’ll no doubt be able to sample plenty of them at the festival, along with the much heartier, heavier stouts to warm you up. People will be surprised by the variety, says Svoboda. “Even people who think they don’t like beer will find something that appeals to them.”

Showcasing the Spirit
The $35 ticket to the event gives you 12 3-ounce drink tokens; additional tokens can be purchased for 50 cents each.

And if you’re concerned about driving home from the suburban ballpark after drinking beer all afternoon, they’ve got that covered, too. Bring along a friend to be your designated driver and he or she can get in for just five bucks. Those purchasing DD tickets are then given a wristband which signals the brewers that they can’t be served. (Note: You have to be 21 to get into the event, even if you’re the DD.)

Food will also be served at the festival, as will musical entertainment. “People come from all over for this, even outside Michigan,” says Graham. “We’re really getting to be known as a great beer state.”

In fact, with more than 70 breweries, Michigan ranks sixth in the nation in terms of numbers-per-state.

“What makes our industry so unique here,” adds Fred Bueltmann, a self proclaimed “beervangelist,” partner in New Holland Brewing Company in Holland, and past president of the Guild, “is our sense of community. We’re a competitive, diverse and unique group, but we all work together, collaborating, problem-solving, and brainstorming. Being part of the Guild has made us all better at what we do; we’ve really raised the bar, and that’s good for beer.”

The festival, he adds, is a “showcase for Michigan breweries.”

The Guild, which is 11 years old, also holds a summer festival every year in Ypsilanti. You can find details on that – and lots of interesting beer facts, including a map of Michigan’s breweries – on the Guild’s web site at www.michiganbrewersguild.org.

The beer industry is one of the few that’s booming in our state; it supports 2,000 jobs and provides more than $10 million in local and federal taxes. No wonder the Guild was able to talk the Michigan House of Representatives into officially designating July as Michigan Craft Beer Month last summer.

So if you’re looking for a way to cure your cabin fever – and boost the economy while you’re at it – come raise a glass to Michigan’s breweries. Just be sure to put on several layers of fleece, mittens, and a pair of Uggs before you do. Cheers!

What: Third Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival
Where: Fifth-Third Ball Park
When: Saturday, February 23, 2008 Noon – 5 PM
Tickets: $35 in advance $40 at the gate
Attire: Warm and snuggly

Keasha Palmer is a freelance writer who lives near Rockford. She recently wrote for Rapid Growth about Newberry Place, one of Grand Rapids' more innovative residential projects currently nearing completion on Belknap Hill.


The frozen tundra of 5/3 Ballpark

Craft beers brewed at the new Founders Brewery on Grandville Avenue

Detail of logo

Poster for the Winter Beer Festival

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
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