|Michigan Craft Brewers Summer Festival 2013
Sometimes you just know when things are going to be good. As Lady Roberts and myself headed up towards Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti for the 16th Michigan
Craft Brewers Summer Festival, there was a feeling in the air as if all the stars were aligned perfectly for this trip. For Lady Roberts, they were certainly
aligned. As we left our lunch spot at Whole Foods Market - just 10 minutes from the festival site - she screamed out "NORDSTROM RACK!!!".....
"Where?"....."Over there!" And so, it came to pass that Lady Roberts and two of our maids spent the next four hours perusing the shopping bargains at the
aforementioned Nordstrom Rack.
Me? It was all about the beer. So, right off the cricket bat this festival had SOLD OUT ages ago. We had all learnt from the fiasco of the 2013 Craft
Brewers Winter Festival, which had sold out inside three hours, leaving many an irate beer fan, including us at The Manor. Thus, we weren't going to miss
out on the Summer Festival, securing our tickets the moment they went on sale. Secondly, this was the biggest Summer festival yet: Over 80 Michigan
brewers with over 800 (as in eight hundred) beers on offer. Oh yes, the stars were aligned all right.
And on that starry note, let us begin...
1) Bell's Brewing Co, Kalamazoo.
Uberon - barrel aged wheat ale - (6.7%)
Being a Royal member of The Michigan Craft Brewers Guild has its privileges - namely, you get in an hour early before the rest of the peasants. So, with
cup in hand, I scanned the area, free of crowds. Bell's had two tents, including one for their really special beers. This looked promising.
So, first off was Uberon. This was their version of the gorgeous Oberon Ale which had been aged for seven months in barrels used for their Black Note Ale
(which included aging in bourbon barrels). Uberon was a truly magnificent beer - you had the orange peel flavours of Oberon, combined with soft, smooth,
warming bourbon, some oakiness and then an apple cidery finish. Oranges and bourbon took it in turns to lead the beer flavours throughout the tasting.
What a start! Quite honestly one of the best beers I've ever tasted and I was half tempted to do an Oliver Twist and head up - cap in hand - for more.
Totally brilliant! 16/10
2) Bell's Brewing Co, Kalamazoo.
Roundhouse IRA (7.5%)
With copious amounts of late-kettle hop addition followed by dry-hopping, this bright and crisp India Red Ale gave a bucket load of fresh fruit flavours
tempered by hoppy and grapefuit flavours. Honey and some floral spiciness also made themselves known, before the grapefruit and hop flavours returned
for the bitter finale, which lingered on the palate for quite some time afterwards. Another superb offering from Bell's. 12/10
3) Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, Ann Arbor.
Bumpercrop IPA (7.3%)
Blue Tractor is one of those breweries that I always mean to stop by at and always get sidetracked. Today, I was going in! Brewed with the very floral Citra
and the rare Nelson Sauvin hops, the Bumpercrop IPA was a fruity delight. With a nose of hops and grapefruit, this soft, mellow and syrupy IPA gave
flavours of grapefruity hops, juicy Californian peaches, some pine with an orange spice bitter finish. Quite delightful - a bumper crop indeed! 9/10
4) Dark Horse Brewing Co, Marshall.
The Mighty Peach Basil Ale (7.5%)
As usual, Dark Horse created a stir by bringing no less than 99 beers on tap (last year's Summer festival it was 49 beers). They took up 12 tables, plus a
tent with t-shirts, caps etc. The purists would argue that brewing that many beers is purely a case of Arts for Arts sake and certainly, when the description
for their Uber-Boober read "Crème Ale made with baby formula", you have to question where a brewery needs to draw the line.
But anyway, The Mighty Peach Basil Ale: The aroma was of Basil which had been freshly plucked from The Manor garden, while the flavours were distinctly
herbal in style - tons of Basil with a little bit of Sage & Rosemary, all offset by the fruity sweetness of peaches. With strong Basil flavours dominating the
finish - with no sign of any malt or hops in the mix - this was like the alcoholic version of a mug of herbal tea. Very strange, but actually quite likeable. 8/10
5) Dark Horse Brewing Co, Marshall.
4 Elf Winter Warmer (6.5%)
With 99 beers on offer, I could hardly leave it at just one tasting, so I plumped for a style that made sense to me. With a nose of Christmas cake, the 4 Elf
was a slightly confused tale of sweet malt, nutmegs, burnt sugar and molasses with a dash of cinnamon and figs, followed by a finish of raisins, bitter
orange, Christmas walnuts and cold coffee. Think of a (British) Christmas Pudding that had found its way into the spice cupboard and then made itself a
carafe of Starbuck's coffee. Now, being a Winter Warmer kind of bloke, this was very odd and a far cry to the excellent winter warmers that make their
appearances at the tail end of the year. 4/10
6) Dark Horse Brewing Co, Marshall.
I was hoping to finish up my Dark Horse tastings with their PrickPA, which was an IPA brewed with prickly pears, but sadly, the lads at Dark Horse were
having issues with the PrickPA keg. It was all foam and no beer. So, I went for the GingeRed instead. In classic Dark Horse fashion, this beer challenged
you - some pleasant hoppy flavours with a solid ginger backbone, coupled with flavours of cherries and wildflowers. Some maltiness made itself known in
the bittersweet finish alongside ginger, grass and caramel. Yes, unusual. 7/10
7) The Livery, Benton Harbor.
Butterfly Effect - white IPA - (6%)
This was more like it - in contrast to the very serious folks at Dark Horse, the team from The Livery were downright cheerful and chatty. And with an
impressive line-up of beers that didn't resemble a liquid freakshow, this was a place to hang out with for a while.
I've always been a big fan of New Holland's White Hatter IPA, so I eagerly began my tastings at The Livery with a white IPA. Thus, The Butterfly Effect (look
up the description of The Butterfly Effect on Wikipedia - it's intense) proved to be a delicious crisp, hoppy beer, bordering on wheat ale characteristics with
bitter lemons, Curacao and a sprinkling of black pepper. More spices and hops joined in the conversation mid-flavours with a refreshing dry, grassy and
herbal finish. Beautiful! 9/10
8) The Livery, Benton Harbor.
BA Maillot Rouge - barrel aged Biere de Garde with raspberries - (7%)
For those who haven't attended our beer tasting classes at The Manor, Biere de Garde is a somewhat obscure northern-French version of the popular
Belgian Saison, brewed on farms - with local ingredients - as nourishment and reward to the thirsty farmhands (we give out free pots of tea and a plate of
biscuits to our farmhands). That said, the BA Maillot Rouge was a tour-de-force. Beginning with the expected bubbly effervescence with lovely aromas of
raspberries, the first sip was incredibly sour; a puckering level of raspberry tartness that coated your palate like a primer from Lowe's.
And that was just the start! Moving on, the flavours brought on garden herbs, oak and spices with vanilla and more raspberries. With raspberry jam seeing
out the finish, this was a staggering, complex, yet delicate beer, beautifully balanced. A total masterpiece! 15/10
9) The Livery, Benton Harbor.
BA Turn of Events - barrel aged sour bourbon oaked Imperial Wild Ale - (10%)
A while back, a visitor to The Manor mentioned over dinner in The Great Hall that Benton Harbor is a very pretty place to visit on the west coast (a.k.a the
ART coast) of Michigan. And based on these three beers, we would say that Benton Harbor is an essential place to visit! A pretty town on the coast with
great beers - honestly Squire, what more could you ask for?
So, the Barrel Aged Turn of Events: Just like its cousin - the BA Maillot Rouge - this was a tour-de-force. The lip smacking tartness that greeted the
opening sip, soon gave way to those smooth, warming oaky bourbon flavours which calmed the palate down, rather like throwing a bucket of water over a
fire. Then came the fruit flavours, dark fruit flavours to be precise - black cherries, dark plums, a healthy dose of dried cranberries and moist raisins, all
taking their turns in rotating around the palate, but always taking a back step to bitter tartness and its woody bourbon partner, which used their solidarity to
control the finish.
Yes, definitely, a total masterpiece part 2. 15/10
10) Rochester Mills Beer Company, Rochester.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Barley Wine (12%)
Yes, our taste buds were now firmly in a bourbon frame of mind and the Rochester Mills chalkboard had a pretty tasty looking selection on offer. I actually
hadn't had a Barley Wine since that last hideous, freezing winter in the Ohio Valley and after nine tastings, it seemed highly appropriate to my Royal self.
And what a little ripper we had here! A rich, syrupy (think of a fine aged Port) and incredibly smooth texture with gave forth flavours of sweet bourbon,
prunes, African dates and McVitie's Digestive biscuits, all dancing alongside some brown sugar and aniseed. Sweet malt made an entrance in the finish,
combined with more dark fruits and more bourbon. This was a full bodied, smooth and intense Barley Wine that worked like an anaesthetic around your
taste buds. This beer could make a hideous, freezing winter in the Ohio Valley seem almost doable (but not quite). Perfect for that winter firepit though.
I told the Rochester Mills folks that this was one of the best beers I've ever tasted and they went and brought out the head brewer, so I that could repeat my
praise to him. This was - easily - one of the best beers I've ever tasted. 16/10. A perfect pairing to Weasel Boy's Barrel Aged Anastasia Russian Imperial
11) Greenbush Brewing Co, Sawyer.
Brother Benjamin Imperial IPA - cask - (10.1%)
An IPA on cask? Yes, I was in the mood for that. Greenbush was the runner-up to Dark Horse for the number of beers they had on offer - a mere 49 beers
on tap, with names such as Ex-Girlfriend ESB, Atomic TaunTon Overdrive Strawberry Vanilla Habanero Ale and Starchicken Shotgun IPA. Brother Benjamin
was one of those caramel-forward IPAs, which featured those soft, mellow cask characteristics with cherry Tunes, garden herbs and large plant leaves. Mild,
citrusy, grapefruit notes were hovering way at the back of the mix, but this was all about strong flavours of herbal hops doing the des jeux par deux with
butterscotch and caramel. Pleasant enough, but not really my style of IPA. 6/10
12) Founders Brewing Co, Grand Rapids.
Devil Dancer Triple IPA (12%)
Commercial Blurb anyone? "Founders most complex, most innovative, most feared and yet most revered ale produced. Massive in complexity the huge malt
character balances the insane amount of alpha’s used to create this monster. More IBU’s than any brewery has documented, more than you would believe
and dry-hopped for twenty-six days straight with a combination of 10 hop varieties. Dangerously drinkable and deliciously evil. We dare you to dance with
the Devil. 112 IBUs"
Well, firstly, it's not the most "revered" ale produced by Founders - that distinction belongs to their Kentucky Breakfast Stout and actually, the only reason I
got to taste this at all was because I was first in line for their "revered" Kentucky Breakfast Stout and the bloke behind the table thrust a glass full of the Devil
Dance in my hand. That said, this was odd...very odd. To say this was intense would be putting it mildly. I think a spoon could stand up in it. Rich, syrupy,
dense with massive grapefruit flavours. Mid-flavours were vegetable-like, with sour grapefruit, oranges, a touch of caramel and an overbearing taste of
With a variety of dark fruits and a tongue-numbing bitter finish, this was - well, odd. If the idea was to leave me speechless, it worked. Really, it actually
reminded me of the version of Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine that had been dry-hopped with Cascade hops, except Old Guardian is a million times better.
And if we're going to compare apples with apples (which I am), this was no-where near the class and complexity of Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA. 4/10
13) Founders Brewing Co, Grand Rapids.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout (11.2%)
Right then, this is the one - the one that has lines a mile long in the stores, hoping to just catch a glimpse of a bottle - the one that is almost impossible to
get hold of and always released in tiny quantities. At last year's Michigan Summer Festival, the line for this one was a mile long - I measured it. This time -
however - I was first in line for the 7.00pm tapping.
What a classic! The bourbon and roasty malt flavours combined brilliantly together to produce an incredibly smooth and soft stout. Flavours of milk
chocolate, coffee, vanilla, peat and ash announced themselves in the initial tastes, while brown sugar, Jersey cream, bourbon and wood joined in the
conversation towards the finish. Alcohol came through while warming up. Now I could see what the fuss was all about. This was a supreme, smooth, well
balanced and extremely tasty Imperial stout. 15/10
14) Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids.
Monkswood - barrel aged ale - (7)
You can't call us slackers at The Manor - despite thirteen tastings culminating with the sublime Kentucky Breakfast Stout, there was still room for one more
and Brewery Vivant looked intriguing. All their beers had a distinct Belgique flavour about them and even their logo appeared right out of the film In Bruges
(highly recommended film by all at Roberts Manor, by the way). I was told the Head Brewer was a mad football fan, so I hastily racked my brain for any
distinctive and successful clubs from Belgium...I couldn't think of any...because there aren't any. But, no matter - when he introduced himself, it turned out
he was a mad fan of north London's Tottenham Hotspur - he'd even been there, which certainly earned my r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
Anyway, getting back on track, Monkswood was actually a barrel aged version of their Solitude Belgian Ale and when we talk about barrel aged, Brewery
Vivant were not taking any prisoners - they were using Jack Daniels barrels, which as far as I can recall, is the first time I've seen JD used to age beer.
Right from the first sip, there were intense flavours of cherries, pears, figs and dark fruits, mingling with some noticeable sourness. The bourbon kept itself
well restrained, working as a counter-balance to not just the dark flavours, but also toffee, light malt and some woody, burnt toast flavours. As one might
expect, there was a lovely cherry tart (as in mouth-puckering tart, not the pastry tart) finish, with bourbon swirling around at the back of the mix. Just a
beautifully balanced take on a Belgian Sour Ale. 9/10
And that, shipmates, was it for the 2013 Michigan Craft Brewers Summer Festival. In the back of our minds, we were wondering if this would be our last
Michigan Summer Festival as there are plans afoot to move our entire Manor staff across the country to our Manor House in Southern California. We shall
see on that one, but one thing's for sure...we HAVE to make it up to Grand Rapids for the 2014 Michigan Craft Brewers Winter Festival. We've yet to
attend their Winter festival and it's starting to get annoying. See you there!!!
|There it is...the long awaited 7.00pm tapping of the esteemed K-B-S!!!
|Lord Roberts, looking particularly resplendent in his Bath Rugby shirt. Not too sure about the two blokes behind him though!
|A selection of the Greenbush Brewing Co beers on offer. Ex-Girlfriend ESB coming in at 6% there!
|The Bell's specialty beers tent.
|Not forgetting the Royal bogs, of course - essential for every self-respecting beer festival;