Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Hundreds Sample Unique Homebrews at Arbor’s Annual Rat Fest

Written by  David Bardallis
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It’s no secret that Arbor Brewing’s founders Matt and Rene Greff came out of Michigan’s thriving homebrewing scene. And today, with more than two decades in the commercial brewing industry, they still pay homage to their roots with Rat Fest, an annual event featuring dozens of beers created by area homebrewing clubs.
This year’s fest – the seventh – again drew hundreds of drinkers in search of something different to the Arbor Brewing Microbrewery to sample 28 unique beers brewed by seven different clubs. This year’s participating brewers included the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild Hop Heads, Ann Arbor Brewers Guild Maltsters, Brighton Brew Club, Burns Park Brewers, Hyperion Brewers, Pontiac Brew Tribe, and the Sons of Liberty Homebrew Club.

Each club brewed four different beers on the brewery’s 10-gallon “Rat Pad” pilot system, with the only stipulation being that one had to be a sour, tart, or otherwise “funky” brew. Festgoers freely sampled from among the offerings, while partaking of a buffet where they could build their own hot dogs with sauerkraut, cheese, onions, chili, and other fixings.

As is the case each year, attendees voted for their favorites in several categories including Best Group of Beers, “Most Unique” Beer, Best Sour Beer, and Best Overall Beer. Each club was also tasked with developing a theme for their booths, with some of them more successful than others. Burns Park handily won the Best Theme vote with their 1970s-inspired booth, featuring disco balls and even an unopened can of Billy Beer (you may need to Google that if you’re under 45 years old).

That wasn’t the only thing the Burns Park brigade won: They also took Best Group of Beers, as well as Best Sour and Best Overall Beer for Champipple (youngsters again may need to Google the reference), a golden ale brewed with pils malt and grapes, soured with a mixed Belgian yeast culture, and dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin. (It was my favorite as well.) Burns Park’s other beers included Honey Boogie Helles, an imperial helles dosed heavily with Michigan honey; Nojak IPA, a single-hop Citra brew; and Squiddly Diddly IPA, an outside-the-style-guidelines beer “with a hidden agenda.”

Voters chose as “Most Unique” Brighton Brew Club’s Funky Beets, a sour ale brewed with pils and Munich malts, roasted golden beets, and fresh beet juice. The runner-up in this category was the Sons of Liberty’s Citra-Nilla IPA, brewed with pale and caramel malts, hopped with Centennial and dry-hopped with Citra, and conditioned with vanilla beans. My choice was the AABG Hop Heads’ Poivron de Goyave, a guava peppercorn Belgian pale ale.

Other standouts to my palate included Pontiac Brew Tribe’s Orange Obsession, made with pils and Munich malts and honey, orange peel, and orange marmalade. The effect was a dry, cream soda-like brew. I also really liked the AABG Hop Heads’ Ye Olde Vineale, a Brett-fermented ale brewed with treacle and cabernet sauvignon grapes that was my favorite up until I tried Champipple.

If you missed out and any of these beers sound delicious to you, you have a second chance this week as Arbor Microbrewery will be featuring kegs from each club through Sunday. Pop in and give them a try, or else wait until 2018 when Rat Fest returns for its eighth year.

David Bardallis

David Bardallis

David writes regular columns for The Ann Arbor News and Great Lakes Brewing News, along with occasional features for Michigan Beer Guide and other publications. His book, Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing, is available on Amazon.com and wherever fine paperbacks are sold. A lifelong Michigander, longtime craft beer drinker, and sometime homebrewer, he lives in Ann Arbor, where he maintains his blog at AnnArborBeer.com.