Never having been to a microbrew festival, my girlfriend and I had pretty lofty expectations about the Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival which took place on February 9th. The festival is the highlight of a week long series of craft beer related events in Traverse City.
We’ve made several trips to the Traverse City area during the past year and a half due to our incredibly generous and understanding friends, who claim we know Traverse better than they do. For us, as patrons of the Michigan beer arts, Traverse City has become a veritable paradise and each visit is something to look forward to.
When we arrived Thursday afternoon, we made our way through the snow and headed directly to Seven Monks Taproom and their awe-inspiring 46 taps of delicious craft beer, to meet up with a friend and sample some brews from the shared tap takeover by Brewery Vivant and Odd Side, each from Michigan’s west side.
We then made our way to what has become one of our favorite stops while visiting the area, The Filling Station Microbrewery. The Filling Station is still relatively new to the burgeoning craft beer scene in Traverse City, but it boasts a comfortable, laid-back atmosphere and excellent food. (I can’t recommend the Station Salad enough!)
My girlfriend and I returned to Traverse City the next afternoon. With so many things to do and an open schedule, what did we choose to do? We returned to the Filling Station! I drank one of my favorite beers of the whole trip (their Einbeck Dopplebock) and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, then we headed to Traverse City’s newest brewery, Brewery Ferment.
I was excited to visit Brewery Ferment for two reasons, to sample unfamiliar beers and to purchase jewelry made by one of its employees as a Valentine’s gift for my girlfriend. Little did I know, Brewery Ferment held one of the highlights of my trip, flavored pickled eggs!
Much to many of my friends’ chagrin, I love having pickled eggs while tipping a few back. In this case, sampling curry and beet-flavored eggs, which made an excellent pairing with their Worker’s Daily and Bookstore Bitter.
Next up, a short trip to Mackinaw Brewing Company for for their $2 pint happy hour. I thought their Belgian Whitecap Ale paired well with their baked whitefish dip.
Before returning to our friends’ house, we made a quick pit stop at North Peak Brewing company to to purchase a couple of growler fills. We were both excited that they hadn’t run out of Grain Junkie barleywine!
After a really enjoyable Friday, the day of reckoning was upon us. Saturday afternoon we made our way to the Traverse City Microbrew and Music Fest and were immediately impressed by the size of the grounds and an already long line for entry.
Once we made it to the gates, we were carded and wrist banded, then waved to the next station, where we were issued five drink tickets and a plastic cough-syrup-sized sampling cup. Most patrons soon discarded this cup and joined another line to purchase a more suitable glass and additional drink tickets. (Note to Porterhouse Productions: please increase the price of the tickets to include an actual pint glass or snifter — I would rather pay a little more up front than miss out on part of the event itself by waiting in another long line.)
As luck would have it, right off the bat there were two great bands performing back-to-back. Traverse City’s own flatpicking virtuoso Billy Strings and Michigan rockabilly favorites, Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys set an amenable backdrop for our tippling.
Housed in that same tent were Beards Brewery (Pomegranate Pale Ale, Brimley Stout, American Pale Ale), Odd Side Ales (Mayan Mocha Stout and Smokin’ Hama Mama), Brewery Vivant (Tart Side of the Moon, Triomphe, and Solitude), and New Holland Brewing (Pilgrim’s Dole), all proud possessors of beers that we were excited to try.
I can assure you, as thrilled as I was to see the expansive list of breweries and their delicious wares, there is no conceivable way to sample all of the beers you’re interested in. (Believe me, I tried!) The number of choices offered at each brewery ranged from one to over ten.
When faced with so many choices, you have to make a decision: do I try as many different beers as possible in half-filled glasses and wait in more lines for more beer, or do I get a complete beer fill and try to savor only a few? I chose the latter strategy.
After having a few beers, a journey to the porta-johns is in order. This is one harsh criticism I will level at the event organizers, Porterhouse Productions. Even though there were a lot of them, there were long lines and there could have easily been twice as many on hand to service everyone in a reasonable manner. (As dusk approached, better lighting in that area would have been a real help, too). To the festival’s credit, they had quite a number of portable bonfire pits and an excellent food court (but again, Porterhouse, please include some tables for seating) with a number of really enticing choices. It would also have been nice to offer more winter gear for sale (gloves/mittens, hats, hand warmers, etc.) for those who weren’t prepared for an outdoor winter adventure.
The highlight brewery for us, and one of Michigan craft beers’ true gems, is Greenbush Brewing who generously provided two of the festival’s finest beers in their Mammoth Weizenbock and a Jadis Winter White Ale. Not only that, they were clearly the brewery who was having the most fun and could have just as easily been festival attendees with the beaming joy they gave off.
Special mention goes to our friends at the Filling Station for going to the extra step of building a snow fort to serve their beers from, and again, for the absolutely delicious Einbeck Dopplebock, which I wish I could enjoy again right about now…
In the end, the cold was no obstacle for us and the Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival met or exceeded our wildest expectations for a fun time enjoying beer and we will certainly return August 24th, and most likely next winter too.