Brats and crafts

By Michael Brenton

Festival highlights Michigan-made beer, specialty sausages

On May 25, the Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa in Thompsonville, Mich., was once again the backdrop and showcase for Michigan’s burgeoning craft brew industry at the 8th annual Michigan Beer and Brat Festival. Approximately 2,800 hungry and thirsty revelers sampled 99 beers and meads from 28 Michigan breweries. Twenty different styles of brats from eight area meat markets and freshly grilled asparagus rounded out the culinary extravaganza.

Local brat delicacies included bleu cheese/jalapeno, Philly cheese and bacon cheddar brats from Honor Family Market; cherry pecan from Pleva’s; jalapeno/Italian cheddar from Bunting’s; asparagus/white cheddar and steak and mushroom from Max Bauer’s; Hawaiian and cheese/onion from Ebel’s; apple/bacon and beer/onion from Dublin; venison jalapeno (more than spicy) from Kelly’s Venison; and blueberry, taco and cherry chicken from Kaleva Meats. Seriously, one could make a brat touring weekend just by visiting these regional purveyors. This may not be a vegetarian destination event, but for carnivores, it was mouth-watering.

But back to the beer. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. reports that Michigan is fifth in the nation in the number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, with the total number of open and projected businesses at 126 — with more in the works. Total Michigan beer production is now in the area of a quarter million barrels per year (at nearly 14 standard cases per barrel), a five-fold increase since 2002.

Just as the Michigan winery scene is rapidly expanding each year, so goes the Michigan microbrew and brewpub scene. But breweries and brewpubs are not constrained by geography, as are estate wineries, and continued expansion on a statewide basis seems likely.

At the festival, many of the established and recognizable names such as Short’s Brewing Co. (Bellaire), Bells Brewing Co. (Kalamazoo) and Founder’s Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids) were present, along with some names perhaps less known in mid-Michigan.

Liberty Street Brewing Co. (Plymouth) The Cherry Wheat Beer (7 percent alcohol by volume) showed faint cherry aromas, medium amber color, medium fizz and just a hint of cherry on the palate. I’m not a fan of fruit beers, but this was a pleasant surprise. The Clementine Lemon Thyme (5.4 percent ABV) displayed noticeable thyme in the nose and the citrus component was palate cleansing. A good food beer. The Steamy Windows California common lager (4.7 percent ABV) was served with a nice foamy head. On tap at Ford Field last year last year, this beer is a pale ale type lager, a bit floral on the aroma, mildly hopped and very well balanced. The American IPA (6.7 percent ABV) is very well-balanced. Not too overtly hoppy and not too malty, with medium bitterness, but not as much as many IPAs. This brew should appeal to a wide audience (

Saugatuck Brewing Co. (Douglas) The Oval Beach Blonde (5 percent ABV) is a quaffable summer style beer with concentrated flavor and big aromas. The Pathfinder Pale Ale (4.9 percent ABV) is created using only Cascade hops. It has a substantial foamy head, citrusy nose and clean finish. The Singapore IPA (7.0 percent ABV) is malty, bright and citrusy — very aromatic (

Petoskey Brewing (Petoskey) The Horny Monk Belgian Dubbel (6.9 percent ABV) has a deep amber color. It’s malty but not heavy, with a sweet edge. Very nice flavor profile. The North 45 Amber Ale (5.8 percent ABV) has a nice mouth feel and is richly flavored. I like this style of beer — it’s a great amber ale to crack open at the end of a long hard day. The Mind’s Eye PA (6.7 percent ABV) is an India Pale Ale with a nice hoppy character and just the right dose of malt. These brews are all winners (

Rochester Mills Beer Co. (Rochester) The Milkshake Stout (5.0 percent ABV) is dark brown, pours with a medium creamy head, and tastes malty, caramelly and slightly sweet. A dose of lactose makes for the creamy mouth feel, but it seems to have more carbonation than a reference Guinness. It’s a very full bodied and satisfying stout. The Lazy Daze Amber (5.3 percent ABV) is golden amber-colored, nicely balanced and shows medium malt — smooth (

Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids) The Solitude Abby Ale (6 percent ABV) is deeply amber colored, showcasing caramel and burnt nuts. The Farm Hand French Style Farmhouse Ale (5.5 percent ABV) is light, cloudy golden color and refreshing — a good summer beer. The mild hoppiness of the Triomphe Belgian Style IPA (6.5 percent ABV) makes it a good intro for the style (

Cheboygan Brewing Co. (Cheboygan) What a concept CBC has with La Cerveza (4 percent ABV), a Mexican-style beer brewed near the shores of Lake Huron. Dry, light and crisp, it’s a perfect low alcohol summer quaffer. Add a wedge of lime. The Lighthouse Amber Alt (5.25 percent ABV) won a World Expo of Beer 2013 gold medal. Medium amber and malty, with a toasted nut caramelly flavor, it is full flavored and balanced (

That scratches the surface of the 99 beers, illustrating the ever expanding opportunities for Michigan beer lovers. For more beer tasting opportunities this summer, check out a schedule of events at

Back to the wine scene, other very travel-worthy upcoming events in the Traverse City area include the Leland Wine and Food Festival on June 8, featuring the best local wineries and restaurants and the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival on June 21 -22. The latter features multiple Michigan-based performers, including Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, “star” of the Oscar-winning film “Searching for Sugar Man.” His appearance is creating tremendous buzz and record-setting advance ticket sales. Tickets are limited for these events, so don’t miss out (;

In Vino Veritas

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at