Ludington Love: The Winter Brrrew Fest

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    Ludington is a city of small status that’s capable of throwing big parties, and the end-of-January annual Brrrew Fest was no exception.

    I’d never been to a beer festival before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. If I had to sum the event up in one word, it would be: one giant, alcohol-powered meet-and-greet. (Okay, okay, I cheated with the word count.)

    I arrived shortly after it started, and right away it was clear that the energy level was high and the beer was flowing freely. If you’ve never attended a beer festival, picture it as an adult version of an elementary school carnival, except every table offers a much more worthy prize: a sample glass of delicious, fresh craft beer or cider.

    Jacob’s bachelor party! Photo credit: Kelsey May

    People can’t get enough of local breweries, and the registration numbers speak for themselves: attendance was estimated at more than 700 people! All the event proceeds are donated to Friends of the Ludington State Park, helping to preserve the beauty and ecosystem of the area’s biggest natural area. Brandy Henderson, the festival’s coordinator, said of the Friends organization, “They are great partners and do so much to keep our state park beautiful and great destination for visitors.”

    During the festival, I tried around 18 beers over the course of the afternoon and didn’t have a single bad experience. Everything was, at the very least, really good! Some I wouldn’t order again because they weren’t outstanding or my personal preferences, but I didn’t have a single bad tasting all day. Normally, I might try several beers before going ‘ga-ga’ over one. But at the Brrrew Fest, the participating brewers pulled out all the stops.

    Here are the ten breweries that really caught my attention:

    Virtue Cider, Fennville, MI

    There were a surprising number of craft cider presses in attendance, which, when you take our agriculture of apples into consideration, is not surprising. Their Percheron is aged in French oak barrels, and smells fragrant like a white wine. It tastes like an apple, and not just in flavor. This drink has body and is somehow firmer than other ciders I’ve tried. The brewmaster summarized the experience perfectly, “It’s one of my favorites.”

    Jolly Pumpkin Artisinal Ales, Ann Arbor

    Their Sour Saison, called the Luciermaga, was weird. A good weird. It was very sour, although I certainly finished mine off, and I’m not usually able to even handle Sour Patch Kids. The beer itself was a little thick and had the aftertaste of pickle juice. I’ve never had a sour beer before, and I’d like to sit down and see how one pairs with a meal.

    Summit Brewing Co.St. Paul, MN

    This brewery is going to start distributing 6 packs in Grand Rapids, and I sure hope their Horizon Red IPA is in the mix. This IPA pours a deep red and has an interesting aroma of flavors. It has a bite initially, thanks to its use of Horizon hops, and it finishes spicy and savory. At 5.8% ABV, it’s a perfect sipping beer.

    Photo credit: Kelsey May
    Festival attendees listened to music from Chad Rushing, then Rusty Horse. Photo by Kelsey May

    Rochester Mills Brewing Co., Rochester, MI

    Every December, Rochester Mills plays a twist on a classic holiday tradition: they celebrate Christmas with 12 Days of Milkshakes. They craft a different milkshake-inspired beer each day, and wow, did they have some fantastic results this year! I drank their Crème de Menthe (thin mint chocolate aftertaste was out of this world) and the Chunky Monkey (banana-y, so if bananas are your jam, you’ll love it). Rochester Mills’ brews ship all the way to Florida and are in every Meijer and Kroger in Michigan, so there’s no excuse for why you haven’t tried them out yet.

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    The Steam Engine Stout. Photo courtesy of Mountain Town.

    Mountain Town Brewing Co., Mount Pleasant, MI

    Mountain Town is the kind of establishment that I want to spend several days in a row visiting. They have an extensive beer menu, and most of their brews have really creatively themed names, mostly involving trains. If any brewery stole my heart (and loyalty as a future customer), it was Mountain Town. I’d never heard of them before the event, but Kim, the head brewer, drew people in and described the process of brewing as something akin to art, so how could I not fall in love with their beer? Their most popular is Trainwreck, and I tested their Railyard Raspberry. Believe me when I say I’ll be back for more.

    Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids, MI

    This brewery is on the last dregs of their winter specialty beers, and for a good reason, too. They’re amazing. Ski Patrol, a wit/wheat ale, is really popular. My reaction was, “Why can’t this be in year-round production?” It is only available for a limited time, and you will be so glad you picked up a 4 pack.

    Customers were lined up to try Blake’s Hard Cider. Photo by Kelsey May.

    Blake’s Hard Cider Co., Armada, MI

    El Chavo mango & jalapeño is, despite the strangeness of the ingredients, one of their most popular ciders. I tried the Tonic, which was the crowd favorite that day. Kayla, social media manager for Blake’s, said, “Our cucumber and ginger hard cider had first-timers asking for the ‘summery’ and ‘refreshing’ cider that they had heard about throughout the day, and [we] had others coming back for seconds!” If you’re a cider lover and are looking for something out of the ordinary, anything made by Blake’s is a safe bet.

    If you’re interested in warming up this winter with a beer festival, go right ahead! You’ll enjoy yourself, no bottles about it! Just make sure to dress warmly and be prepared to stand. Treat the event like an outdoor bar featuring more beers than you can possibly hope to try, and have a great time!

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