So... Winter Beerfest '08, Grand Rapids... Well, it did not reach the heights of frivolity of last year's fest, but it was fun nonetheless.
On the down side: The venue shift from a parking lot in old town Lansing to a baseball stadium in Grand Rapids was a disappointment. The tents this year were tucked into odd spaces that took lots of thought and maneuvering to reach and some of them (oh those poor pourers for New Holland!) were rather exposed to the wind. Walkways were narrow and not very well cleared of snow and ice. We all did a bit of slipping and sliding on the ramps and stairs and worried over those trying to get around on crutches or with other types of mobility limitations. Anyone in a wheelchair would have been pretty well shut out of this fest. There was no central hangout/meeting up area, so I did much less socializing than last year. The poor musicians were left to try and work frozen fingers over cold strings in odd spaces where it was difficult for the audience to stop and listen. Also, no veggie food. I certainly wasn't expecting much in the way of food, but is one warm, non-flesh option that hard to do? Finally, several of the fun people from last year were absent and much missed on this go-around.
On the up side: I had a lovely drinking crew consisting of Pete, Daye, Wendy's Matt, and Andy. There were some good beers and (thankfully!) some new things to try. Also, we did get to use the flush toilets of the ballpark and they even had heaters in there! I was feeling the need of some time away from the old homestead and beering/strolling/lolling/eating in GR fit the bill nicely.
Because of the set-up of the beerfest, I found it hard to take decent notes. Also, the coldness made it difficult to get a good read on the porters and stouts, in my opinion. They all came across as a bit sharper and less round/thick than they "should" have been, so I'm thinking temp had a lot to do with that and was fairly forgiving as a result. Considering all this, I'm not going to rank but rather will categorize:
Copper Canyon, Rye-PA: Nice, bit of a bite, lovely floral smell
Founders, Porter: Nice enough
Founders, Black IPA: Excellent, crisp, IPA but not hard/bitter
Founders, Breakfast Stout: yum
Rochester Mills Beer Co, Coffee 'N Cream Stout: good, smelly! (nice coffee nose)
New Holland, Cabin Fever Brown: very nice coffee brown
Kuhnhenn, Aldebaran Double Red: Nice!
Michigan Brewing Co, Winter Warmer: rye/IPA that had some sweet/maltiness without being syrupy, too little smell though
Arbor Brewing, HXL Double IPA: lovely, lovely smell, right on the edge of sweet and thick, but it didn't fall over the edge... reminded me how lucky we are to have ABC/Corner right here in our neck of the woods!
Arcadia Brewing Co, Hop Rocket Imperial IPA: probably the crispest of the big IPAs, lovely with a light smell and hop, perhaps too clear
The Hideout Brewing Co, Smuggles Hazelnut Stout: yum... seemed more chocolate than hazelnut, but extremely tasty and unsubtle
Black Lotus, Hip Hops American Pale Ale: good smell and as good as it was at summer beerfest -- nice to see that kind of consistency from a newish place
The Bad... (or at least seriously middling)
Sherwood Brewing, Alaskan Sister Wit: lots of banana (too much!) and coriander
Shorts, Cup A Joe: yet another coffee stout but it was okay
Shorts, Huma Lupa Licious: not much taste but nice freshly mowed lawn smell
Dark Horse, Double Crooked Tree IPA: fine
Arbor Brewing, Super Snapper Imperial ESB: last beer of the day... but fine
Mountain Town Station, Iron Horse IPA: fine, really not all that fine except that is was way better than the other beer from here that I'd had right before it
The Hideout Brewing, Midnight Oatmeal Stout: no huge mistakes, but no unique character
The Hideout Brewing Chicago Typewriter Double Red: pretty hoppy!
Black Lotus, Generation X Porter: Solid, but not anything in particular to distinguish it from the other porters of the day.
And the Ugly (several of these were bad enough to be poured out):
North Peak Brewing, Whitley's Wheat: yellow beer with spice - forgettable
New Holland, Pilgrim's Dole Wheat Wine: icky sweet -- mostly a style issue, me no likely wheat wines!
Michigan Brewing Co., Imperial IPA: waaaaaay too thick and sweet
Mountain Town Station, Winter Warmer: this was a spiced wheat that was so bad I got a "do over" on this and the guy poured me a IPA instead
Schmohz, Kiss My Scottish Arse Scotch Ale and Mad Tom's Porter: all the beers here had been "Jolly Pumpkin-ized," meaning they were way too similar
Darkhorse, Whisky Richard Belgian Ale: way too sweet with a liquor-like finish
Walldorff Brewpub, Hopnoxxxious IPA, Bee Sting Honey Rye, and Old Woody Imperial Stout: afraid they were all stinkers and all got dumped. I think that might be some kind of record for suckiness.
Looking back over this list, I'm thinking beerfest was actually pretty successful despite its inadequate venue. Along the way I also got to see a little more of Grand Rapids. It has a solid downtown that had an impressive amount of foot traffic, some nice brick streets and "office block" height buildings (def. looks like a downtown, but is not particularly tall), good signage (shows some love and $$ has recently gone into the town), and some happening spots. The new location for Founders turned out to be pretty impressive. Long and narrow, it had high ceilings and a good sound mix for both bands (the Werks and Back Forty). The streetside wall consists of windowed garage doors that can be opened in the summer which should rock in July and owners have thoughtfully decreed the bar non-smoking but provided a separate enclosed smoking porch for those so inclined. They also now have proper food, something very much lacking at the old location. The place is huge compared to the old digs, so I was worried that they might be getting a bit too big, but the beers remained solid (although the Red's Rye I had there was wicked bitter, but I'm thinking that after a long day of drinking, a nap, and sinus issues, my taster may have been off). And now they have their good beer and their good music space a bit closer to downtown. I approve.
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