Three days of driving from brewery to brewery had led us to this point; standing in a winding line in a football field, anxiously waiting with our recently issued tasting glasses and beer tickets. After a long trip, it was finally time for Bell’s 30th Anniversary Funvitational! Although we were an hour early, the line was long ahead of us. It grew even longer behind us as we waited. I was so excited I could hardly stand still.
Finally, just before 4pm, they allowed us to enter the baseball stadium where we were to spend our afternoon drinking and reveling in the celebrations of a Kalamazoo institution. I appreciated the few minutes head start we were given; these are people who understand that we had so many beers to try (almost 100 breweries showed up!), and only five hours to do so. The atmosphere was incredible. You could feel the excitement in the air, even from the security staff. People pumped their fists high into the air to show their entry bracelets, and I got at least three high fives from the volunteers as we entered. We were greeted by a multitude of beer tents and a small marching band, all decked out in birthday-wear. We threw ourselves into the line for Russian River Brewing Company right away, and definitely weren’t the only ones. This California-based brewery is quite the name in the beer world, with their focus on small-batch, intensely hopped styles. Due to the small batches, some of their beers – like the Pliny the Elder and Supplication they had brought – are very rare. Since we live so far from California, we weren’t about to miss our chance!
My expectations were high, but Pliny the Elder definitely met them. I mean, what else can you expect out of a beer that has a 100% rating on Beer Advocate? This imperial IPA delivered on the hops, proving to be complex, fresh and balanced throughout – totally living up to the hype. The Supplication, a sour brown ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries, was also delicious. Again, well-balanced, with quite a bit of wine character. I hope to have the chance to drink both of these beers again someday!
I’ll have to keep the rest of my reviews short, considering we split 45 samples total! If I wrote about all of them, you’d be here all day. So let’s dive right in! While waiting in line for Russian River, I sent Beer Nerd Boyfriend on a mission to get two more beers on our list. He returned with Terrapin Brewing Company’s Liquid Lunch (a peanut butter & jelly porter made with real raspberries) and Brewery Vivant’s Paris (a red wine barrel-aged imperial saison). Both kicked off our festival in the best way – delicious, sour, rich and tasting like berries.
In no particular order, here are my top picks for MVPs of the day:
B. Nektar Meadery’s Ciders – I had wanted to stop here on our way to Warren, but they were closed. So I was delighted to discover them here! They brought two ciders, a Raspberry Ginger and the Zombie Killer (made with cherries). Both really captured their respective flavors, and made them shine as ciders.
BraVo! Restaurant & Café, Funfetti Cake Cream Ale – Who doesn’t love Funfetti? Even better, who doesn’t love a beer served with real sprinkles? The beer itself wasn’t exceptional, but it was refreshing and the presentation was a lot of fun.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Hopsavant Citra Brettanomyces Pale Ale & Petite Sour Blueberry – I loved the Hopsavant because Citra is one of my favorite hops, and it had a nice tartness without being too sour. Nick preferred the Petite Sour Blueberry for its true blueberry notes.
Jester King Brewery, Wytchmaker – We really leaned towards the sour styles, didn’t we? This was a remarkable farmhouse rye IPA. Lots of delicious pine, funk and citrus.
Maui Brewing Co., Imperial Coconut Porter – This was one of my surprise favorites. The line in front of this tent was long, and I didn’t understand why until tasting this porter. It was all coffee and chocolate up front, with the coconut appearing near the end and lingering. It was like drinking a chocolate-covered macaroon. Yum!
Saugatuck Brewing Company, Barrel Aged Neapolitan Milk Stout – This one is a Beer Nerd Boyfriend pick. The vanilla, chocolate and strawberry were all present and the texture was indeed reminiscent of ice cream.
The Bruery, Autumn Maple and Rueuze-Gueze – Okay, we cheated here. We’d already tried both of these beers before, but they were so good we couldn’t help but indulge. The Rueuze-Gueze remains one of my favorite sours ever, and the Autumn Maple seasonal nicely showcases all the spices involved without tasting like your typical pumpkin beer.
Bell’s Brewery, Mango Habanero Oberon – Here’s an embarrassing admission: we didn’t try much of what Bell’s had to offer at their own birthday party. Oops. By the time we made it to their tent, many of their special kegs had already been kicked. Not to mention I was a little tipsy and forgetful at that point, having been drinking for almost four hours already. However, I am happy we managed to get a taste of this special Oberon, which definitely shows that mangoes and chilies belong together, forever.
Overall, it was a great birthday party. Everyone was happy to be there. A man accidentally spilled his beer on me and apologized by giving me an extra beer ticket. The food was delicious and affordable and there was giant jenga and cornhole for when you wanted to take drinking breaks. I’m still super impressed with the organization of this festival as well; everyone knew what they were doing and Bell’s even made a huge effort to reduce any waste materials. All your utensils, plates, napkins, etc.? Those could all be tossed in the compost bin.
I have to admit that we left before the final fireworks. Embarrassingly enough, I was pretty toasty by the end and extremely insistent that we return to Rupert’s Brew House so I could pet the giant Great Dane some more. Since Nick is the best, he patiently obliged.
We had a blast, and I sincerely hope that Bell’s will be repeating this event at some point in the near future.
With that, our time in Michigan was done! I started classes that Monday, and this trip was absolutely worth the exhaustion and two-day hangover that followed it. Hopefully, we’ll be back soon – although there are still so many states, and so many beers to explore.
Those of you who have been reading through all of these, thanks! Stay tuned because I’ve got big plans for The Beer Intern. Starting next week, I’ll be putting up new posts EVERY THURSDAY to quench your beer curiosity. Beer Nerd Boyfriend, AKA Nick, will also be joining me from time to time for monthly articles.
There’s a whole world of beer out there! Stick around with me and we’ll go on an adventure.