The keg was tapped in Southeast Michigan on Saturday, October 22nd as Michigan Brewers Guild members and beer fans descended upon Detroit’s Eastern Market for the 3rd Annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival. Like Lions defenders honing in on a ball carrier, the powerhouses of Michigan’s rich craft beer industry converged on downtown Detroit to challenge the discerning palates of beer enthusiasts. Over 50 brewers across Michigan, “The Great Beer State,” brought with them a vast array of ales and lagers, each of which having lent rich characteristics to a vast, unexplored fall beer lineup.
I have lived in the Detroit area for almost two years now. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to get to know the Detroit area beer culture and explore the cracks and crevices where creativeness resides. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to the Eastern Market. Detroit’s 3rd Annual Fall Beer Festival was a perfect opportunity for me to venture downtown and discover this rich area. The Summer- and Winter Fall Beer Festivals hosted by the Michigan Brewers Guild have developed a dedicated following with attendance reaching thousands. The lines were long and the crowds were thick in the third rendition of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival.
Random note: I wasn’t in the gate 5 minutes before dropping my phone. Total phone-drop tally for the evening? Seven. Thank you to whoever invented the rubber cell slicker that turns a Blackberry into a bouncy ball.
A predominant theme to the lineup of beers across all brewers was the inclusion of the cliché “fall” beer styles, appropriate for the beautiful brisk fall day. Pumpkin beers abound. Nearly every brewery had some form of a pumpkin-related beer. Typically an ale from deep copper to pale amber in hue, pumpkin beers are hearty and sweet at the same time, may or may not be brewed with actual pumpkins, but are infused with spices reminiscent of pumpkin pie…allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves among others. Dragonmeade’s Lil’s Drumpkin Pumpkin reminded me of a pumpkin Wonderbread with its rich yeasty profile. CJ’s Pump o’ Plenty hinted more toward the carmelly toasted notes of pumpkin pie baked a little too long. I scooped up a sample of Great Baraboo’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, which was thick with vanilla notes and aptly tapped from a pumpkin.
Harvest ales have a more robust malt profile than pumpkin ales. Instead of a sweet dessert-like beer, harvest ales have a more distinguished heartiness. Bastone’s Harvest Spiced Ale has the malty characteristics of a harvest ale with a subtle hint of spiciness. Though the brew has that pumpkin pie note, there’s a reason Rock VanMeter, Bastone’s brewmaster, calls his beer a harvest ale. Hop profiles of harvest ales range from non-existent to IPA-like. Founder’s Harvest Ale touches the latter end of that spectrum as a full-bodied, malty sweet, hoppy brew. Ann Arbor’s own Blue Tractor boasted Henter’s Moon – a harvest ale, more standard than odd, with a strong hoppy nose and finish to match.
Random note: Feeding time. Beer has calories-a-plenty, so why is it necessary to pair it with foods that are even worse for you. Not to the wise – EVERYTHING tastes good two hours into a beer festival, so why not take the low-cal road? Slow’s BBQ’s “The Genius” meets my criteria. Veggie “chicken” with slaw and pickles on a single slice of Texas toast gave me my texture and salt fixes without busting the scale or budget.
Oktoberfests are more lager, less ale, have rich malty character with a hint of burnt and a low hop profile. Michigan breweries distributed lager and ale versions of the traditional Oktoberfest style beers. Hopcat, a bierstube and brewery in Grand Rapids, slung their Hopfenkatze Oktoberfestbeir. A crisp lager with big maltiness, it was perfectly paired with fall. Hailing from Bellaire, Michigan, Shorts Brewery, the fastest growing brewery in Michigan, brought their Chaos Oktoberfest – a mild and malty beer with more hops than I am used to for the style. Motor City Brewing Works’ Oktoberfest was also a great session beer suited for long fall football afternoons.
Random note: Get the beers you can’t go without first. Kegs do go dry.
Along with the wide array of fall beers, the best brewers in the state brought some staple wares as well as some brews designed specifically for distribution to the most discriminating beer tasters in Michigan. Arbor Brewing had their Jackhammer Old Ale in attendance, a treat for lovers of the robust peatiness of Scotch ales. Bastone Brewery poured samples of Peanut Butter Beer, which retained the Belgian characteristics common to most all Bastone beers. Dark Horse Brewing’s Double Crooked Tree is typically an IPA that’s hard to find in stores, but the true double IPA with wild hop notes was available to all on this day.
My favorite beer of the day came at a scheduled tasting at 4:00 at the Bell’s tent. I not only sampled a fall festival exclusive from Michigan’s number one brewery, a bourbon barrel aged blend of Expedition and Double Cream Stouts, I had to work for it by convincing the generous pourer to allow me a sample ahead of standing in the obscenely long line. The keg would have surely run dry. I would never have had the opportunity to describe the rich vanilla notes the bourbon flavor imparted upon the thick, rich body of a perfect combination of Bell’s two most popular stouts…a real treat.
The third Fall Beer Festival was my first. As a reporter, the Fall Beer Fest was as successful as any I have attended. It was an opportunity to experience the unique offerings from breweries around the state only available during the fall. The exclusive brews from the heaviest hitters in the Michigan brewing industry were as varied as the personalities in attendance. The chance to to enjoy the best beers from The Great Beer State in the ambiance of a fall Saturday in the Eastern Market makes the Detroit Fall Beer Festival a can’t miss for Detroit beer lovers. It’s those same beer lovers that keep Michigan brewers busy creating craft beers to tempt our taste buds making Michigan Brewers Guild events a success season after season, year after year.
Next up: Wood and Wild Ale Festival at Hopcat on November 2011. Over 50 wood/barrel aged/smoked/ and wild ales from Michigan and all over the world will be pouring throughout the weekend. A bunch of these selections have been specially picked just for this event and are bound to go quickly. The festivities open with the doors on Friday and last all weekend.
Other beers of note in attendance of the 3rd Annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival a the Eastern Market (in no particular order):
Black Lotus Monster Mash – a malty take on pumpkin beer with a burnt crust note.
Big Buck Smoked Porter – a rauch-style dark ale, lighter in body.
Detroit Beer Co. Barleywine – the best barleywine I tasted at the event. The strong ale was well balanced with malt and hop character.
Dark Horse Oktoberfest – a standard session beer just as an Oktoberfest should be.
Fort Street Brewery Best Pumpkin Beer Here – a pumpkin beer made exclusively for attendees of the Fall Beer Festival.
Fenton Winery and Brewery Imperial Nut Brown Sour – any imperial has character, but my first experience with the brewery was pleasant as the brew is nuttier than it is sour.
Greenbush 1825 Belgian Strong Ale – Joe at Greenbush recommended this as his goto after hours brew. It’s a stronger session with a smooth character.
Grizzly Peak Klevenklop – one of the paler pumpkin ales, this brew is stronger than it is spicy.
North Peak Hooligan – pumpkin ale that is reminiscent of a pale ale with a spice twist.
The Livery Oktoberfest – definitely an aley Oktoberfest from a brewery known for its firkins.
Liberty Street Pumpkin Pie Ale – a little on the sour side, but a very nice spice profile.
Michigan Brewing Company Screamin’ Pumpkin Ale – easily the best pumpkin beer at the event with the perfect combinaiton of malty body and pie spice.
Lily’s Strange Stout – a smoky near-porter lends toward winter beer offerings.
Mt Pleasant Brewing Crazy Train Black IPA – a new style, this IPA offeres hoppy notes balanced by a smoky undertone.
Right Brain Brewing Pumpkin Pie Whole – hoppy undertones lie beneath a pie spice veneer. Right Brain has the best swag.
Rochester Mills Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale – boubon notes in a beer jsut like I like it with a very solid body to compliment the richness.
Shorts Funkin’ Punkin’ – a little lagery for a pumpkin ale, but nicer as a session for lovers of milds.
Sherwood’s Oktoberfest – Oktoberfests range in variety, and Sherwood’s runs the middle ground.
Woodward Avenue Brewers Pumpkin Ale – a nice addition to the variety of ales I sampled at the festival.