Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Heat, Hops and Hawaiian Shirts at 2nd Annual Lansing Beer Fest

Written by  Jane Nordberg
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 jane beerfest article

With temps in the upper 80s and humidity to match, Lansing’s REO Town attracted a record number of thirsty people to its Second Annual Lansing Beer Fest. While the official event ran 1 to 6 p.m., a line of 45 VIP ticketholders were grateful for the noon jumpstart on more than 30 vendors in attendance. Throughout the day, the audience would swell to 1,000, making me grateful my husband and I had worn matching garish Hawaiian shirts to be able to locate each other as we tried different sides of the five-block area. The shirts also turned strangers into friends.
“Love your shirts,” said one fellow beer lover, who approached us as we attempted to take the requisite selfie. “Let me take your photo.” Our new friend, now living in Jackson, went to Northern Michigan University and lived in Harvey until just recently, while we had moved from the Houghton/ Hancock area last year ourselves. It figures our first friendly encounter would be with a fellow Yooper.

The shirts even garnered a shout-out from the talented Mark Warner, the guitarist du jour who touted our “tropical vibe.”

So the shirts were a hit, but perhaps not so much as the edible accessories worn by a sextet of fun-loving beer drinkers who had turned the traditional pretzel necklace into an art form. The dominant fashionista of the group claimed the pretzels helped to cleanse the palate between beers. My spouse and I had come armed to the Beer Fest with full stomachs, but we could see the utility of portable – and fashionable – sustenance. Keep on walking, keep on tasting, while noshing on your necklace of pretzels, cheese sticks and Slim Jims. Genius!

Our first stop on the beer express was the 51 North Brewing Company (Lake Orion), where I proclaimed the Paint Creek Tangerine Wheat exceptionally good. In fact, my first beer of the day was probably my favorite. I like a fruity beer to taste like a fruity beer, and this one did not disappoint. Nothing subtle about the flavors, and with the heat of the day my 3 ounces was gone in a shot. My husband preferred 51’s Velvet Moose Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, which he proclaimed as a hearty stout with solid flavors.

Disclosure Number One: My husband and I are not fans of hoppy IPAs. Of the 16 beers we tried at Beer Fest, not one was an IPA. If it’s summer, I’ll drink a crisp cider or a fruity wheat, switching to a porter or stout in the winter. The hubs likes a good brown ale. Every beer hound has his preference, just sayin’.

Disclosure Number Two: I elected to be the designated driver for this particular excursion, so I had a full 3-oz. portion of only two beers that day and subsequently went to water. This didn’t stop me from taking a sip from the beers I had exceptional interest in, but in all honesty I did not have full samples of all 16 beers we tried between us.

Disclosure Number Three: One of the great things about the Beer Fest is the variety of brewers who traveled from near and far. While Founder’s Brewery and Bell’s brew some outstanding beer, their distribution is fairly widespread. We chose to focus our attention on those beers we would not normally have the opportunity to try without a personal visit, such as The Beer Hound Brown from the Gravel Bottom Brewery (Ada) and the Mango Mama from Latitude 42 Brewing (Portage). Ditto the Smooth Operator Cream Ale from Right Brain Brewery (Traverse City) and the Bonfire Brown from Saugatuck Brewing Company. Short’s Brewing in Bellaire provided a Bourbon Magician my husband favored, and I enjoyed the Tongue Tied Cherry Saison from Rochester Mills Beer Co. (Rochester).

While we went into the Beer Fest saying we didn’t need to taste beers from our favorite locals, Bad Brewing in Mason and Eagle Monk in Lansing, I couldn’t resist Bad’s Strawberry and Rhubarb Belgian Tripel and my husband submitted to one of his favorites, Eagle Monk’s Delta Porter.

In addition to the variety of beers on offer in one convenient location, another benefit to this type of event is that many brewers are fortuitously accessible to answer questions. Such was the case with Matt Sherrow, owner of Fenton Winery and Brewery in Fenton. His Swinging Berries Merlot Double Cream Stout was a hit with my husband and me, as we had not tried a beer/wine hybrid before.

“We started as a winery, and then moved into brewing beer from there,” Sherrow said. “The processes actually lend themselves to each other, and people seem to really like the blend.” Indeed, it was one of our favorites from the day.

We ended our REO Town excursion with two winners: the Peach Gruit from Mountain Town Brewing in Mount Pleasant, and the Cherry Cider from Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. John’s. I was skeptical of the latter, as I have found Uncle John’s apple cider too mild for my liking, but the cherry cider was a winner.

Reaching our beer saturation point, we took our cue from a shirt worn by one happy Beer Fest attendee that read “Go Drunk. You’re Home.” We passed our extra drink tickets to the grateful pretzel necklace crowd and did just that, our curiosity and palates sated from the day’s offerings.

Jane Nordberg

Jane Nordberg

Jane Nordberg comes from a long line of beer lovers, culminating in the title of her master’s thesis being “Get Me a Couple of Stroh’s: Dialect Sustainability Among Brits in Detroit.” Until recently, she resided in the Upper Peninsula where, as a reporter and managing editor, she wrote about Michigan beer whenever possible. She has written about the Western U.P.’s microbrew scene, among other topics, for Lake Superior Magazine. She is currently a freelance writer living in the Lansing area with her husband, Erik, who enjoys riding shotgun on trips to brew pubs.