It’s Summer Beerfest week here in Michigan! My favorite week of the year. This will be my 5th Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti and the 20th anniversary of the festival over all. There will be 147 breweries and over 1,100 beers this year. In honor of my personal favorite of the Michigan Beerfests, I thought I would write up a list of tips for first timers.
- Have a plan, but don’t follow it religiously.
I always write up a list of beers I want to try. I’ve spent some festivals strictly trying to track down these beers. While I enjoy getting the beers I want, at some point in time it’s best to just go with the flow.
2. Enjoy Victor on the Megaphone.
Victor Lambert has been ‘welcoming’ people and doing crowd control at front of the admission line for years. Even if you are a late arrival, it’s worth sneaking up to the front to hear his running commentary before the festival starts. (But don’t cut in line- no one likes that.)
3. Join a group.
Since I’ve taken on photo responisiblities at this event, I make it a point to take pictures for two of my favorite groups- The Detroit Draft Divas and Fermenta. Getting to know these ladies has been fun. The Divas always have their own tent and are very welcoming. The women of Fermenta brew some awesome collaboration beers- look for the signs and notations on the programs.
4. Enjoy the space.
What makes this my favorite of the three MBG Festivals I’ve attended (yes, I know, I need to go to the UP one…) is the spacious surrounding of Riverside Park. We make it a point to bring in a canopy, cooler full of water and food and camp chairs, then we pick out a comfy spot and have a home base for when we inevitably need some rest and relaxation before resuming the tasting.
5. Sing the Michigan Beer Fight Song and the Firkin Tapping.
This takes place in the stage area at 7pm Friday and 3:30pm Saturday. It’s the tradition that makes it great, and there are often special firkin tappers, like Shannon Long of Pure Brews America (seen pictured above).
6. Try Breweries (and beer styles) new to you.
It’s real easy to get caught up heading to all the famous names like Bell’s, Founders, Greenbush & Dark Horse, and for good reason, but it’s also an opportunity to try some breweries you’ve never heard of before. At this year’s festival there are at least 20 breweries that haven’t been to one of these before. Show them some support! (If I may suggest a few here- Downey, Greyline, HOMES, Sister Lakes and Speciation (seriously- SPECIATION!). Also, this is a great place to try styles new to you. There’s little risk- it’s just a token and a 3oz. pour. Maybe you’ll find a style you never knew you liked. (But if you don’t like it, don’t pour it out in front of the brewer. I’ve seen that too many times.)
7. Catch up with Friends (or make new ones).
This is my vary favorite part of Beerfest. I’ve been lucky over the past 5 years to make some awesome friendships, and it’s great seeing so many of them at the festival. “Hey, let’s head to ….” makes for great conversation while waiting in line for your next beer.
8. Wait in line for something special.
This goes against my normal advice about waiting in line for beer (another rant for another time), but it can be a good thing, especially if it’s something you haven’t tried before. Never had KBS or one of the Night Fury variants? Then by all means wait in line for it. At the very least it gives you time to take a break and hydrate.
9. Find the best beer names.
You don’t have to try them all, but there are always some of the most awesome names for beers that are often ‘festival-only beers’. For example, names on this festival’s list are-
- Resting Bitch Face (Arclight)
- Mouth F@#% Spicy Bitter Sour (Cranker’s)
- This is Extremely Terrible (Eternity)
- Blazin’ Beaver Ghost Pepper Double Brown (Falling Down)
- These aren’t the hops you’re looking for (Gonzo’s)
- Phucket…It’s Not That Far From Laos (Jolly Pumpkin)
- All the Good Names are Taken Double IPA (Rochester Mills)
- Once you go Belgian (Silver Harbor)
- How You Like Me BLAU (Tibbs)
10. See if the hype is worth it.
Heard about that amazing brewery but haven’t made it there? Here’s your chance. I tell people about Arclight Brewing Company out of Watervliet all the time. Lots make it there but it’s out of the way for many. Will they live up to the hype? (Yes. The answer here is yes. Make sure you check out Ed’s sours. So amazing) Tired of hearing me talk about Canton Brew Works, Batch Brewing Company, Stormcloud Brewing Company and Drafting Table Brewing Company? Now you can find out for yourself if I’m right about all four. (Spoiler Alert- I am, I am, I am & I am). Seems like everyone in the state is talking about two relative newcomers- Transient & Speciation (I might have mentioned them already…). Search them out and find out for yourself. (You can thank me later).
11. Enjoy the costumes and special booths.
While it’s a minority of the attendees that wear costumes, they certainly add to the ambiance. Never had your picture taken with HopMan? You should- he’s a heck of a guy. Also, many of the breweries go all out setting up special spaces or booth- in the past years Dark Horse & Bell’s stand out.
12. Meet the Brewers.
This is an excellent opportunity to meet the brewers of many of your favorite beers, for example Ryan & Erin of Witch’s Hat (pictured above).
13. Pace yourself & prepare for the weather.
There are so many beers it can be overwhelming. The pressure to push it all day is tempting. So take some time to get food & extra water. I always try to drink my wash water when rinsing my cup before the next beer on top of always carrying a bottle of water with me. It’s July in Michigan, so expect the worse. 2016 was close to 100 and it made it very challenging to drink beer all day safely (and gracefully). 2013 had some wicked storms- be prepared for it all. One last tidbit on pacing- don’t try to cram in 30 beers in the last hour just because the festival is ending- you will regret it later.
14. Most important- stay away from this guy.
Just kidding, that’s actually my buddy Kevin and he’s pretty righteous. But if you see him pouring for Railtown, make sure you ask him about Lager Yeast. (Sorry- inside joke 🙂 )
Be safe and have fun!