Tag Archives: Beer City USA

First Timer’s Review of Founder’s Fest 2015

BY: JESSICA SCHILLING
PHOTOS: DAVE JOHNSON

Founder’s Fest is anything but “just another beer festival.”  While this was my first time attending the event, it certainly was not my first time enjoying Founder’s Brewing Co. brews and bands – Founder’s Fest was the culmination of everything good in the Founder’s world. One of the highlights of the festival for me was seeing the diverse cross-section of attendees.  I lived in Colorado for about five years and that is a place that takes music festivals pretty seriously. Founder’s Fest felt like I was at a music festival back in the mountains; bringing together people from all walks of life, spanning the generations, they have created a community with a sense of consciousness for serving a greater good.

 The People.

It seems like everyone in Grand Rapids was at the festival!  I ran into so many friends, and saw people of all ages and professions enjoying great music and awesome beers together.  I made a point of speaking with some of the other festival goers and met a couple guys that had come from Asheville, North Carolina to attend the event – a father-in-law and son-in-law.  Even while extolling the virtues of their runner up “beer city” they clearly enjoyed coming to Grand Rapids and had great respect for the crafting done in West Michigan. After grabbing beers we enjoyed what shade we could find and the antics of performers strolling through the crowd; everywhere you looked there was something to see! There were also the more “mature” audience members that had brought their own chairs and set up near the back of the crowd, allowing for the 20-somethings to push towards the front to catch their favorite bands up-close.  

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The Bands.

Speaking of the bands, another impressive aspect is that you rarely had to endure downtime without live music playing.  There were two stages set up in close proximity to each other, and as one band was finishing up a set on one stage, the next band was warming up on the other.  The variety of music was clearly aimed at providing something for everyone, and they succeeded. I heard everything from the FBC All-Stars covering Rage Against the Machine and Pink Floyd, to Elephant Revival which included a woman playing the washboard and a saw. Rounding it out was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the end of the night, the weather managed to hold so none of the acts were rained out (although the rain might have been nice, it was a concrete jungle out there). But hey, at least when it’s warm outside the beer tastes even more refreshing! 

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The Beer.

The beer . . . oh, the beer!  If you’re not a beer drinker, you could still attend this festival and have a great time listening to the music alone… But let’s not kid ourselves – the beer is definitely the highlight!  Prior to attending i saw online that people had problems thinking they would spend all night waiting in line and paying $10 for a beer they could get any other time for $4.  That was not the case on either account. The most I paid for a beer was $6 and the longest I waited in line was about 20 minutes – and that was for a KBS!  We were standing in line for specialty beers (which was a separate line from the “regular” Founder’s beers), I was planning to have a CBS but the keg ran out about five people before us.  We were lucky enough (IMHO) to get some of the fresh KBS that was tapped to replace the CBS!  The traditional Founder’s beers were the same price as what you could get in the tap room – $4 – $6 each – and I never waited in line for more than 5 – 10 minutes for one of those.  If you were at any other festival, you would likely be paying $7+ for a Bud Light; to anyone who was complaining about having to spend money on both a ticket and beer, you obviously do not go to many music festivals. 

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The Layout.

Overall, this festival was run very well and the layout provided for a great flow.  When we first walked up there was a line to get in – however, they had about six lines and they had an assembly line-like set up so they were able to move people through quickly.  There was a good sized ticket booth and beer tent right at the entrance, then another around the corner – both had lines that that went quickly and kept people moving.  The whole area was set up in an “L” shape, and the bands were in the corner – this meant you could be almost anywhere and have a view of the stage and hear the bands . . . and with a beer tent at each end, you didn’t have to wander far for refreshments either.  My one complaint would be that all of the port-a-johns were at one end – while this may have been good to concentrate the smell and all that, it would have been nice to have a small row near the entrance/exit. 

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The Vendors.

I did not eat at the festival, but I did note that there were food booths.  I saw that Slows BBQ was there and I saw people walking around with Gyros.  The vendors that really impressed me were the ones selling “stuff.”  The festival focused on having local entrepreneurs – there were no booths selling carnival-type-flashy-thingy-loud-hats-and-stupid-shirts; there were booths with beautiful locally made items.  You could get clothing, but it was sustainable/recycled and made by a small business, there were wood working pieces, leather items, paintings, and there were not so many that you felt like you were at a craft show.  It was just right in the variety, originality, and quantity.

I will be back at this festival again! It was a great time, I saw people I knew from all parts of my life, made some new friends, had some excellent beers and listened to some fantastic music. The festival was well run and set up, I didn’t spend the entire time waiting in line, and didn’t spend any more on drinks than I would’ve in a normal night out at Founder’s.  It was a great event and a great way to celebrate this awesome Beer City USA town that we are lucky enough to live in!

2013 Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival

 

BY DAVID SPRUIT
PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY JOHNSTON
February 23, 2013  Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, MI

74 breweries.

620+ beers.

6,000 of your closest friends.

On a cold, snowy winter Saturday, the 2013 Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival was a veritable fantasy land for Michigan beer lovers. The gates opened and throngs of ravenous beer fans flooded the festival grounds, while a brisk breeze and steady snowfall set the stage for epic afternoon of beer quaffing and reveling. Festival goers clad in all manner of outlandish outfits made their way through four tents of breweries, large and small from across the land shaped like a hand. All though food vendors were selling neanderthal sized turkey drumsticks many festival goers choose to snack on their ‘pretzel necklaces’ resplendent with everything from simple pretzels to full on bagel sandwiches and beef jerky.

Eccentricities were not left alone to the festival participants, breweries brought some of their most ‘out there’ beers. Right Brain Brewery out of Traverse City brought their Mangalitsa Pig Porter, yep you read that right … pig in your beer. According to David Springsteen, a ‘Libations Liaison’ for the brewery, three cold smoked pigs heads are used in the brewing process. The beer has an appealing smoky, unctuous character without being meaty, words normally used to describe a bacon heavy dish applied to a beer. Who would have thought?

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Not surprisingly, Beer City USA was well represented at the festival with nine breweries offering 77 different beers. With long lines for Founders Brewing Company perennially coveted Kentucky Breakfast Stout and their backstage series beers. Additionally, burgeoning excitement for some young breweries has really added another dimension to the Grand Rapids beer scene.

One of those young breweries is The Mitten Brewing Company, which just happened to have one of my favorite offerings of the entire festival. Their Death to Flying Things Bourbon Imperial Stout, clocking in at 10.2% ABV, is a wonderfully complex concoction of warm vanilla booziness and smoky roasted malt flavors. I had the opportunity to speak with the very busy co-owner Chris Andrus and we discussed how these flavors are accentuated by a one month stint in repurposed bourbon barrels.

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Speaking of festival favorites, when I originally reviewed the overwhelming list of beer offerings, I had selected 32 must try beers. Clearly not able to logistically sample all 32 beers nor a smart decision, I decided to go with the flow and let my impulse guide the samples I’d try. Besides the aforementioned The Mitten Brewing Company’s Death to Flying Things, here’s the rest of my favorites in no particular order:

Arcadia Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Aged Cereal Killer Barleywine: Sweet and smoky bourbon notes with complex malt backbone. The flavors lingered for quite some time, highly enjoyable.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company Simcoe Silly Belgian IPA: Intense dank hop aroma and exciting yeast characters. Every sip was extremely interesting.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company Raspberry Eisbock: Dark, sweet and rich fruit notes balanced with sharp high alcohol profile.

Blackrocks Brewery Double Ginger IPA: Fiery ginger and sweet maltiness made this immensely appealing. Citrus aromas interplay with the ginger keeping your senses on their toes.

One exciting trend that appeared at the festival was the use of Michigan grown ingredients. New Holland Brewing Company brought back an old favorite, Paleooza, Michigan Pale Ale, hopped with only Michigan grown Cascade hops. While local hopped beers are common in the fall as the harvest is coming in, its great to see a commitment to a mainstay beer with lengthier availability.

When all was said and done (and everyone thawed out) and the last kegs were emptied the 2013 Winter Beer Festival was a smashing success. Overwhelming at times with just the shear selection of high quality Michigan beers and the spectacle that comes with the frenzied enthusiasm, good times were had by all.

14 beers sampled, one epic afternoon.