How I Managed to Survive a Beer Festival

How I Managed to Survive a Beer Festival

written by Michael Hylton

Ypsilanti may be the poor man’s Ann Arbor, but at the end of July it has its day in the sun — or two beer-filled days in a park with a shitload of drunks. Yes, I’m talking about the Summer Beer Fest in Y-Town. I had missed the last one and was determined to make it this year since I lived about four houses from the park. When the Friday finally came around, I counted down the hours at the office.

Before the event, the Michigan Brewers Guild, posted a list of the beers and brewers in attendance, and it looked massive — 799 beers and 88 brewers, all from the Great Lakes State. You could drink a different beer each day for over two years, or drink an insane number of beers in a few benders. As for me, I wanted to try as many 3 oz. pours as I could, but try as I could, I did not even make a dent in the number of beers available to try.

It all started at 5 p.m. for the plebs who were not members of the guild, and I got there at 4:30 p.m. to find that a line had already formed outside of the park. Here was when I learned the first lesson: be a Brewers Guild member. If I had been one, I could have joined the party at 4 p.m. without waiting in the huge fucking line. I did get to taste beer only five minutes after it opened to the public, so it was not a disaster.

I started alone because my friends were not able to show up until 6. There was no way I was waiting that long, so in full George Thorogood mode I went. I actually preferred starting alone because the beautiful thing about alcohol is that it makes people very social. Within minutes I was talking to random people because it seemed like that was what the event called for.

I used my phone to make a list of my first 14 beers, but I think I had about 16. So, I will list off the beers I remember tasting as I go along. First up was Pilgrim’s Dole from New Holland because that was the first tent I found. Weighing in at 12% ABV, this wheatwine is aged in bourbon barrels because… well, why not? The BBA was probably the biggest trend at the event in addition to the mighty IPAs. I cannot speak on mouthfeel or any of that shit, but I will say that it is worth the $14 for a four-pack. What I downed in two drinks felt like a shot of something strong and tasty.

Next, I saw the Bells tent. I was a little surprised to see Oberon and Two-Hearted being offered since, let’s face it, I can buy this shit at Meijer or anywhere else in the state. Avoiding the usual suspects, I kept with the theme and asked for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Stout. This one edged out Pilgrim’s Dole by a slight margin. It tasted great while maintaining an 8.5%, and the cherry taste did not overwhelm.

I stopped at the B Nektar station while maintaining probably too quick of a pace. Since I had just slammed two very heavy beers, I decided on the lighter Sage Lime Witbier. I will just say that it just tasted bad and way too watered down. A word of advice to you, gentle reader, is to stick with their meads.

As I exited the tent, I saw a large wooden structure in the distance with a number of flags and posters. Of course it had to be Dark Horse, the only brewer from which I tried two beers (or was it three?) and for good reason. They had three lines: one on the left with three beers, a middle line with two, and one on the right with three more. The middle line was outrageous, so I took the right one to grab Sarsaparilla Six Stout, a satisfying 8% Imperial that tastes like, you guessed it, root beer. 10/10, would beer again.

With a fresh cup in-hand, I got back in line when I saw their head brewer, Aaron Morse, pouring their barrel-aged version of Plead the 5th from high above through a homemade ice-luge. It was the only beer that I had tried before, but I remembered how good it was, and I saw that most of the pours were filling the entire 6 oz. cup. I had decided that I needed a little break as I would be at a pint that averaged 10% in about the span of twenty-three minutes, so I took in the scene. The park was big enough to host such a multitude, but the crowd was immense. The beer renaissance is in full swing here, was my initial thought. During my walk around the park, I met a dude at the water coolers who asked me if it was a bad thing to drunk already, so I figured we would get along.

We stopped at Oddside, where I tried the Bright-Eyed and Banana-Tailed, a fucking weird one. Not sure what else I would expect from them. Things got even weirder when we tried Griffin Claw and I had their Undertow, which is a Black Currant Saison. It had a nice sour taste that scrambled my brains and other assorted insides even more.

Next up was Michigan Brewing Company. These guys brought probably around 50 beers with them, none of which I had ever tried. It was difficult to make a selection, but I settled on Big League Brew mainly because of the name (note that this trend will continue). The peanuts and crackerjacks were pretty subdued probably due to my taste buds still reeling from the Undertow. Overall, it was forgettable in the midst of such competition.

At this point we both received texts from our respective groups, so we parted ways. Maybe we will share a beer another day. Once I met up with my friends, my focus dwindled since I was already miles ahead of them. I still managed to write down another five beers before I stopped caring to. We went to the Frankenmuth booth, and there I tried the Dopplebock Lager, an enjoyably heavy-hitting beer at 11.2% and only 24 IBU. Speaking of Frankenmuth, they are a pretty underrated brewery since I don’t see a lot of their stuff at the local bars.

Afterwards we hit Tri City, which I had never heard of, and then Right Brain. I had Tri City’s Intergalactic IPA (5.5% and 46 IBU) just for the name. It tasted like an ordinary IPA, which made it forgettable. As I finished it in line for Right Brain, a dude asked me what I was getting. I told him I was eyeing the Strawberry Fields because of the Beatles reference (yes, I am that easy to win over when I have been drinking). He seemed to like the response, however, and told me that he was introducing his kids to Beatles music. I recommended a song to try (The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill), and he thanked me for the advice and handed me some tokens. At this point I figured he was a brewer, and it turned out that he was the founder. The festival is surreal like that. By the way, that beer was good, but I think I prefer Strawberry Blonde by Arbor Brewing Co.

For some strange reason I stayed on the berry kick and tried Railyard Raspberry Wheat from Mountain Town Station Brewery. It is definitely stronger than Strawberry Fields, but, really, the only fruit beer that has ever grabbed my attention is Soft Parade. That’s it.

The last booth I remember was Rochester Mills, and I tried the Milkshake Stout because it was one of those beers that I had heard a lot about, but had never tried, and it did not disappoint. It had the malty chocolate taste I craved after going astray with the berry beers.

Of course, I did not stop my drinking there. I made it to The Wurst Bar up the street thanks to my group, which dwindled to four people including me. A word about Wurst: it’s a great bar because they offer six craft beers for two dollars every Friday, and I challenge you to beat that anywhere on a weekend. Usually they do not stray too far from a few standards, but they have had Scotty Karate in the past.

I remember seeing a few old friends and taking pictures, in which I looked less drunk than I expected when I saw them posted the next day. There were even some group pictures taken on my phone somehow. I am not sure when I got home, but I distinctly remember starting off in the wrong direction when I left the bar. Also, my girlfriend later informed me that I went to bed with my shoes still on. Even though tomorrow would suck, that night was a fun one. And that’s all that matters. After parties aside, it is safe to say that the Summer Beer Festival is something you must experience. Although I was far too hungover the next day for round two, attending both days is a good goal to shoot for. I guess there is always next year.

Written by Michael Hylton

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