Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Fest 2013

Wow!  Michigan sure knows how to put on a beer festival.  If you ever have the opportunity to purchase tickets to this event, do not hesitate.  This year they sold out in 13 hours.  I will definitely be trying to score tickets for next year’s festival.

The Location

Grand Rapids is the perfect city for a beer festival.  With tons of breweries and craft beer bars, beer lovers didn’t have to look far to find options for events on Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday night after the festival.

We chose to attend a Bell’s Brewery Tap Takeover at The Meanwhile on Friday night.   17 different Bell’s beers were on tap with some incredible choices to keep every type of beer drinker happy.  Black Note and Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout were clear favorites of many bar attendees, although neither keg was kicked at the end of the evening due to all of the available offerings.  My personal favorite was the Kal-Haven.  I have been on a rye beer kick, and this is the absolute best rye beer I have ever tasted.  As a matter of fact, I ordered it 4 more times during this trip.  Just a great rye flavor that made me crave some corned beef and mustard.  But I digress.  The Meanwhile was a great bar with a great vibe and some kicking soul music.  From there, we traveled to Hop Cat for some more samples.  The Rochester Mills Bourbon Barrel Aged Milkshake Stout was fantastic.  As we had worked that morning and driven for 4.5 hours to get to Grand Rapids, we decided to call it a night.

The next morning we headed to Brewery Vivant for a beer breakfast.  Last year, I wrote a post about chicken and waffles.  Let me tell you…the best chicken and waffles combination was discovered at Vivant that morning.  Perfectly crispy and juicy chicken and fluffy waffles.  A beer mimosa and a Tart Side of the Moon completed the morning carb loading.  Then it was time for the festival which I will talk about later.

However, since this is the location section of the post, I feel the need to talk about the location of the festival.  Held in Fifth Third Ballpark’s parking lot, it was the perfect size to hold a group of 6,000 people.  Plus, with a little research, Steve was able to book us rooms directly across the street.  Not only did we walk to and from the festival, which was a great way to start and end our drinking, but on the way back to the hotel we passed both a Jet’s Pizza and a Burger King.  Jet’s won out that day, as it did for many festival goers.

Saturday night, we found ourselves at Stella’s for a Dark Horse Tap Takeover.  While I really wasn’t overly thirsty, I had to drink a Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th and a Sour Plead as well.  Unfortunately, some of the 24 beers weren’t being tapped until others were removed, so I did miss some that I was interested in trying.  But I am sure my liver thanked me later.  Stella’s is a great bar with 25 cent old-fashioned video games.  While I stuck to Ms. Pac-man, Steve enjoyed almost all of the offerings.  After leaving there, we headed to Founders to grab a glass of Rubaeus.  This beer is the base beer for Blushing Monk claiming to have four times less raspberries, but it sure didn’t taste that way.  It was delicious, funky, and tart.  I am glad we made the drive for this beer.

And finally, on Sunday morning after grabbing breakfast, we drove an hour to Bell’s Brewery.  Steve had been really wanting the Raspberry Wild One and we were unable to try it at the festival.  It was definitely worth the drive.  While it wasn’t nearly as tart as the Rubaeus from the night before, it was well-balanced, refreshing, and amazing.  Plus, I needed to have more Kal-Haven.


When we arrived at the festival around 12:15, the line to get in at 1:00 was already at least 1000-2000 people deep.  It might have been more, but with people all jumbled together it was very difficult to tell.  At our place in line I was afraid that we wouldn’t get into the festival for an hour.  I was way wrong.  Another great reason to attend this festival was the speed with which the line moved.  We were into the festival with glasses in hand at 1:15.  I still don’t quite understand how this occurred, but I am not complaining.  And the efficiency continued inside the festival.  There weren’t a lot of long lines at any of the breweries.  The longest were tied between the Bell’s Special Kegs, Founders at CBS release time, and consistently throughout the festival at Greenbush.  Bell’s moved extremely quickly.  Greenbush and Founders did not.  But every other brewery had a short wait and beer was dispensed quickly.

General Festival Information

Steve and I were both impressed with Bell’s.  Not only did they bring tons of great beer, but Laura Bell was there pouring samples for almost the entire 5 hour event.

Kuhnhenn brought fantastic beer to sample.  They had their BA 4D and the Raspberry Eisbock along with many others.

The weather was in the 20′s and there was an inch or so of hard packed snow on the ground.   During the course of the event, that snow turned to 2 inches of slushy water.  Many people in tennis shoes were rethinking their shoe choice that day.

As long as you were dressed warm, it was a great day.

No one that I saw was an idiot drunk.  People were having fun, but no one threw up or passed out.  It was overall a pretty laid back festival considering all of the delicious beer festival and the 5 hour time period.

There was filling food for purchase.  This was helpful as the day wore on.

At the end of the festival, patrons could spend $2 and have a breathalyzer test.  What a fantastic idea!  Since we were walking, and there was a huge line, I didn’t feel the need to spend the money.  But it was a great option for everyone who was about to attempt to drive home.

We saw tons of friends that we had made while waiting in line at the Dark Horse 4 Elf Party.  Everyone was friendly and there to have a great time.

The only cons I have

In my opinion, Founders screwed up.  They advertised that they would be tapping CBS at 5:00.  We headed over and got in line around 4:30.  The line was pretty established at that point.  We were about 30 people back.  When at 5:00, the line still didn’t move, we were confused.  At about 5:10, the line disappeared.  Apparently, according to people as they walked past, Founders tapped it early and allowed the people in the front of the line to get multiple samples without getting back in line.  Plus, they only brought a 6 barrel.  We didn’t get any.  When Steve asked why, their response was, “We can never make enough beer to please you people.”  When he asked if they had anything else on tap, the pourers attempted to push the Centennial on him.  Steve asked if they had anything better, and the response again was, “We can never make enough beer to please you people.”  I will be honest.  As a Founders fan, this attitude and condescending treatment does not make me look at Founders in quite the same light.  While I still appreciate their beer, I don’t appreciate some of their management decisions and their haughty attitude.

I had assumed that only true beer lovers would attend this festival since it would be freezing.  I assumed wrong.  The guy behind us in line said that he won’t drink Miller Lite, but Heineken is good.  He also didn’t know who Bell’s was and he lives in Michigan.  In addition, apparently there was some sort of hideous/ridiculous food necklace competition that I was unaware of.  People were wearing the most obnoxious jewelry made out of food.  There were bagels, cheese in wrappers, gun belts made out of beef jerky, bags of Doritos, entire sandwiches, baggies of animal crackers, etc.  I could honestly go on and on listing the food items around people’s necks.  One guy in line by us bit into a hard sourdough pretzel on his necklace and cut his lip wide open.  Another guy with a necklace on stood next to us and ate a cheeseburger.   Please slap me if I ever choose to wear a pretzel/food necklace.

Lastly, the Port-o-Potties were not the ones that I like.  Some of them have shelves near the top.  This is great when your hands are full with a beer glass, gloves, a phone, etc.  These had no shelves.  I either had to hand Steve all of my junk or put it on the floor of the Port-o-Pottie, which is definitely not recommended.

In sum

I can’t state enough how much fun I had at this festival.  While I have been to many festivals, this is definitely in my top 3-4 of all time.  It can’t really surpass the Firestone Walker Invitational.  But it was a great time.  Get tickets next year if you can.  You won’t be disappointed.


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This Post was Written by Hop Bunny G

Hop Bunny G.

Comments & Reactions from Around the Web

  • http://twitter.com/BQRC23 Renee

    I’m sort of over the festival experience in general. After many years of attending them and trying new things, I have a tough time feeling like I get enough value for my money. I’m the type of person that prefers to open 1 or 2 bottles of beer per night and savor them. In general, I’m not a fan of tasting menus, wine tastings or passed apps. That said, Michigan Brewer’s Guild festivals are absolutely a no-brainer, especially for Ohioans. There’s so much great beer to taste that doesn’t make its way out of the respective breweries. It’s like a crash course in the best that MI has to offer, and if you don’t leave with a long list of breweries that you hope to visit, then you’re nothing like me! The organization that you noted is incredible and the food is actually quite good. There’s a reason these things sell out so fast and anything put on by the MI Brewer’s Guild is absolutely the exception to the rule for me!

    Of note: members of the guild used to get in early with VIP status. If that’s still true, it’s a nice value if you plan to attend multiple festivals in the same year!

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