As we moved clockwise around the festival towards Tent #2, we ran into Beer Hound’s esteemed creator, Paul. We talked for a while, shot a short video clip, and then separated to our own beer devices. Tent #2 encompassed 11 breweries, including Marquette’s own The Vierling, and a new establishment from way up in Copper Harbor, Brickside Brewing. Downstate breweries included Woodward Avenue Brewers, Copper Canyon, and The Filling Station from Traverse City, which just opened in March. The highlight of this tent for me was the Ring of Fire from Dragonmead, a spicy pepper ale. This was definitely a beer that can put hair on the chest of even the least hirsute drinker (like me). My enjoyment of this beer was only slightly denuded when the Dragonmead guys poked good-natured fun at me for having just previously sampled a Blueberry Wheat (replete with 3 juicy blueberries) from their neighbors at The Vierling. I took that in stride, because it was a very tasty blueberry beer, and I know they really didn’t mean it. Draining the dregs of my peppery ale, I left that tent with my manhood mostly intact.
Up next was the biggest tent of the festival, Beer Tent #1, with 13 breweries. This one included such stalwarts as Kuhnhenn, New Holland, and The Livery, as well as a fledgling brewery from right in Marquette, Ore Dock Brewing Company, open since May. I sampled the complex and interestingly-named Zinfandel Barrel-aged Cocoa Blackberry Stout from Ore Dock, as well as an Olde Ore Dock Scottish Ale from Keweenaw Brewing (no relation). Being the astute reporter I am, I eventually figured out that the old ore dock is a pretty big landmark in Marquette. I also hit up Schmohz and New Holland – it would have been the height of incompetence for a beer reviewer to turn down 3 free ounces of Dragon’s Milk, now wouldn’t it?
The final tent included eight more breweries, highlighted by Short’s, Greenbush, and a newer place called White Flame, out of Hudsonville. Short’s brought a bunch of experimental brews to the festival, including Key Lime Pie (made with graham crackers and marshmallow creme), Peaches n’ Crème, and Grasshoppah IPA with Chocolate Mint. The wife and I had a couple of these and they were fun, if not something to lust after every day. I also sampled a Cask-Conditioned Retribution with Figs & Honey from Greenbush, a high-gravity offering that was quite possibly my favorite of the festival.
Beyond the beer, the masses were kept entertained by a couple of very talented bands (Circle of Willis, Drone of Wolves), at least one of which wrote and performed an original song inspired by Michigan beer. In addition, two games of cornhole, sponsored by Ore Dock Brewing, were available in the midway to further keep the patrons engaged.
The Michigan Brewers Guild strives to keep each of their festivals as green and self-sustaining as possible, and to that end The High Five Program, based in Grand Rapids, was on hand to promote recycling, reusability, and keeping the festival clean (“Less trash, more fun!”). To do so they offered incentives to the revelers, including brewery swag and other fun stuff. The other notable non-brewer tent at the festival was the “Protect Michigan Craft Beer” political action committee, whose goal is to lobby Michigan and Washington, D.C. legislators in order to help ease legislative and commercial burdens on craft brewers. Insightful readers will observe that most craft breweries are in fact small businesses, the engines of a recovering economy.
While certainly a smaller event than the summer festival in Ypsilanti, in terms of both brewers and square footage, U.P. Beer Fest 2012 delivered some of the best beer in the country, if not the world, to an enthusiastic crowd of beer hounds and lovers. And the mercurial Michigan weather cooperated! Per usual at Michigan beer events, the patrons were extremely cordial and friendly. As a guy who doesn’t really like crowds, I actually had no problem when people accidentally bumped into me, or I into them – no one was ready to throw down; rather we exchanged notes on what was currently in our sampler cup. Michigan beer truly is the great equalizer.