April 2 2014 12:00 AM

‘Beer hounds’ take over downtown ballpark for first-time event


Due to a reporting error, the name of the location was inaccurately attributed. The event will be held at Cooley Law School Stadium. 

As opening day fever sweeps across the country this week, it’s officially OK to start using the word “summer” again in regular conversation — as in baseball’s boys of summer, who took to the field after the bitterest winter in recent memory. But who’s to say America’s pastime is the game itself and not the forum for open-air, public socializing … and, you know, all that beer drinking.

Well, those won’t be baseball scorecards being filled out at Cooley Law School Stadium this Saturday, and that won’t be cheap light beer in those plastic cups. At the first-ever Beerfest at the Ballpark, craft beer fans will keep track of the specialty brews on tasting sheets as they work their way through over 150 Michigan stouts, ales, IPAs and ciders.

“The domestic beers are really 29 flavors of bland,” said Paul Starr, creator of I’m a Beer Hound, an online craft beer club/database. “There’s just such a variety in craft beer that’s not there in the (macrobrews).”

Starr has teamed up with the Lansing Lugnuts to host the event, which leads off the first part of a hit-and-run pair of downtown beer festivals. (The two-day Lansing Microbrew and Music Festival bows two weeks later, April 18-19.) At the Beerfest, 33 breweries from around the state will take over the Lugnuts infield from 1-6 p.m. spreading the Michigan craft beer love. Attendees will get a special 3-oz. tasting glass and 10 tickets to spend on samples as they wander through the field of taps. The seating bowl is open for lounging, giving attendees perfect backstop views of all the activity.

“People will be standing in line for a beer and talking to the brewer with the baseball diamond as the backdrop,” said Nick Grueser, Lugnuts general manager. “It adds a whole new element to a festival like this.”

Local rookie microbrewers BAD Brewing Co. and EagleMonk Brewery will be on deck, as well as heavy hitters like Founders Brewing Co., Short’s Brewing Co. and Bell’s Brewery. Latitude 42, North Peak and Schmohz are also oiling up their gloves for the debut event.

“It’s the largest Michigan beer festival in Lansing,” Starr said. “We have a lot to offer and a lot of selections that haven’t been in Lansing. It gives people a chance to try a lot of Michigan beers that are three and a half hours away that they wouldn’t be able to try.”

If the peanuts and Cracker Jacks aren’t enough to tide you over, local food vendors will dish out barbeque ribs, pub burgers and overloaded hotdogs.

“It just makes sense to pair beer and food together,” Starr said. What makes even more sense is putting bacon on a stick, which will be available. Dreams really do come true.

Grueser said he sees this as an economic benefit for Lansing. He said that this event is “energizing” for the Lugnuts, who are aggressively trying to get more active in events outside of baseball.

“We’re trying to build some energy with new and exciting events to do downtown,” Grueser said. “More people will be downtown and they’ll spill into the restaurants and bars.”

But it’s not just businesses who are getting a jolt from the event. A portion of the proceeds are going to the Old Newsboys, a charity that donates shoes to needy children. Starr said he’s excited to write a check to them at the end of the event.

“It’s a charity that does a lot of good things, but doesn’t get a lot of notoriety,” Starr said. “It’s a perfect way to help them and what they do.”

Just don’t get too cozy down there on the field. The Lugnuts need the field back right away— the first pitch for their season crosses the plate three days later. For the rest of the season, you’ll have to do your drinking the regular way: From big plastic cups up in the bleachers.

Beerfest at the Ballpark

1-6 p.m. Saturday, April 5 $35/$30 in advance Cooley Law School Stadium 505 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 485-4500, beerfestattheballpark.net