Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Weather & Marquette Combine for Successful 2012 U.P Fall Beer Fest

Written by  Jeff Priskorn
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Weather, Marquette Combine for Successful U.P. Fall Beer Fest

Saturday, September 8, was your typical, run-of-the-mill late summer day in Michigan: chilly, cloudy, partly sunny, fairly warm, and with periods of light showers and no showers at all. Also included: U.P. Beer Fest 2012, set in Lower Mattson Harbor Park in beautiful Marquette, MI. The wife and I (well, mostly I) were anticipating a great day sampling the wares of more than 35 Michigan craft brewers, along with some local food and musical entertainment. In all, we were looking forward to five hours of controlled and polite beer mayhem!
Lake Superior: The Best Backdrop of all The FestivalsAbout ten minutes before the gates opened we finally decided to queue up (for our British readers) behind dual rows of more than 100 people awaiting entrance. We had our IDs checked, got our hands stamped, and were ushered in as the clock struck 1 pm and the festival commenced. Program in hand, we hit the first tent on our left (the cleverly named “Beer Tent #3”). This one contained some of the big boys: Arcadia, Dark Horse, and Arbor Brewing, along with a Marquette favorite, Blackrocks. (Ed. Note: We actually got some pre-fest drinking in at Blackrocks after we arrived on Friday, and the place is doing quite well, sporting a new outdoor deck and an ever-growing variety of beer.) My first sample of the day was an Oatmeal Brown from Big Buck, the fifth tenant of Tent #3, followed up by a Coconut Brown from Blackrocks. At this point I was in danger of slipping into an early Brown rut, but thankfully I was able to rally.

As we moved clockwise around the festival towards Tent #2, we ran into Beer Hound’s esteemed creator, Paul. We talked for a while, shot a short video clip, and then separated to our own beer devices. Tent #2 encompassed 11 breweries, including Marquette’s own The Vierling, and a new establishment from way up in Copper Harbor, Brickside Brewing. Downstate breweries included Woodward Avenue Brewers, Copper Canyon, and The Filling Station from Traverse City, which just opened in March. The highlight of this tent for me was the Ring of Fire from Dragonmead, a spicy pepper ale. This was definitely a beer that can put hair on the chest of even the least hirsute drinker (like me). My enjoyment of this beer was only slightly denuded when the Dragonmead guys poked good-natured fun at me for having just previously sampled a Blueberry Wheat (replete with 3 juicy blueberries) from their neighbors at The Vierling. I took that in stride, because it was a very tasty blueberry beer, and I know they really didn’t mean it. Draining the dregs of my peppery ale, I left that tent with my manhood mostly intact.

Having Fun with Short's BeersUp next was the biggest tent of the festival, Beer Tent #1, with 13 breweries. This one included such stalwarts as Kuhnhenn, New Holland, and The Livery, as well as a fledgling brewery from right in Marquette, Ore Dock Brewing Company, open since May. I sampled the complex and interestingly-named Zinfandel Barrel-aged Cocoa Blackberry Stout from Ore Dock, as well as an Olde Ore Dock Scottish Ale from Keweenaw Brewing (no relation). Being the astute reporter I am, I eventually figured out that the old ore dock is a pretty big landmark in Marquette. I also hit up Schmohz and New Holland – it would have been the height of incompetence for a beer reviewer to turn down 3 free ounces of Dragon’s Milk, now wouldn’t it?

The final tent included eight more breweries, highlighted by Short’s, Greenbush, and a newer place called White Flame, out of Hudsonville. Short’s brought a bunch of experimental brews to the festival, including Key Lime Pie (made with graham crackers and marshmallow creme), Peaches n’ Crème, and Grasshoppah IPA with Chocolate Mint. The wife and I had a couple of these and they were fun, if not something to lust after every day. I also sampled a Cask-Conditioned Retribution with Figs & Honey from Greenbush, a high-gravity offering that was quite possibly my favorite of the festival.

BRachel Wells talking about The High Five Programeyond the beer, the masses were kept entertained by a couple of very talented bands (Circle of Willis, Drone of Wolves), at least one of which wrote and performed an original song inspired by Michigan beer. In addition, two games of cornhole, sponsored by Ore Dock Brewing, were available in the midway to further keep the patrons engaged.

The Michigan Brewers Guild strives to keep each of their festivals as green and self-sustaining as possible, and to that end The High Five Program, based in Grand Rapids, was on hand to promote recycling, reusability, and keeping the festival clean (“Less trash, more fun!”). To do so they offered incentives to the revelers, including brewery swag and other fun stuff. The other notable non-brewer tent at the festival was the “Protect Michigan Craft Beer” political action committee, whose goal is to lobby Michigan and Washington, D.C. legislators in order to help ease legislative and commercial burdens on craft brewers. Insightful readers will observe that most craft breweries are in fact small businesses, the engines of a recovering economy.

While certainly a smaller event than the summer festival in Ypsilanti, in terms of both brewers and square footage, U.P. Beer Fest 2012 delivered some of the best beer in the country, if not the world, to an enthusiastic crowd of beer hounds and lovers. And the mercurial Michigan weather cooperated! Per usual at Michigan beer events, the patrons were extremely cordial and friendly. As a guy who doesn’t really like crowds, I actually had no problem when people accidentally bumped into me, or I into them – no one was ready to throw down; rather we exchanged notes on what was currently in our sampler cup. Michigan beer truly is the great equalizer.

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn

Jeff Priskorn is a guy who didn’t even like beer until he was 25, which isn’t all that surprising given that the family fridge was stocked with Goebel and Carling Black Label during his tender years. Now an elderly young man, he can finally say that Bud Light is swill and is a proud proselyte to the microbrew world and a loud (and sometimes annoying) advocate for Michigan-made beer. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 100+ Michigan microbreweries and brewpubs, and he’s at least 60% there. In addition to drinking and writing about beer, Jeff is a software guy, actor, voice artist, and musician. Check him out at, come see his band Mad Rabbit (Michigan’s Live Jukebox™) at a bar near you, and sample his fledgling beer blog at