Thursday, 07 December 2017 09:48

Beer in Review: A Year in Beer

Written by  Joe Boomgaard
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From left: Starving Artist, Blood Forge (top); Brewery Vivant, Dawn of Vim (bottom); Virtue Cider, Sidra de Nava; Speciation Artisan Ales, Incipient From left: Starving Artist, Blood Forge (top); Brewery Vivant, Dawn of Vim (bottom); Virtue Cider, Sidra de Nava; Speciation Artisan Ales, Incipient Joe Boomgaard

Confession time: I’ve fallen out of love with IPAs.

Call it palate fatigue, call it a reaction to too many bad/unbalanced beers in the marketplace, but my beer of choice has shifted quite a bit in the last year. Now, I still like the style and I enjoy tasting the flavors of different hops, but the thought of drinking a hop bomb really turns me off. 

Which is strange, because perhaps my favorite new Michigan beer from 2017 — Blood Forge by Ludington’s Starving Artist Brewing Co. — is a double IPA. 

Starving Artist’s mad scientist and head brewer Andy Thomas managed to create a world-class beer that happens to be a fruited IPA, typically a combination I loathe. 

In this case, however, the end product manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Blood Forge explodes with citrus aromas and flavors that are balanced out by just enough hop bitterness and a super soft mouthfeel that hides the beer’s 10-percent ABV. It’s a beer that fans of New England-style IPAs would appreciate because it’s focused more on flavor than bitterness. 

One could argue — and I will — that Starving Artist has really come into its own with Blood Forge, on top of the solid portfolio of top-notch brands that Thomas has already developed. In particular, Thomas has a knack for making IPAs that burst with flavor while also featuring a comfortable level of bitterness. That includes favorites like Hop Marley, a low-bitterness double IPA, and Conspiracy, which features Cascade, Centennial and Azacca hops in an effervescent beer. And with a solid ESB, milk stout and smoked porter, Starving Artist proves it’s no one-trick pony. 

 

RIDING THE BANDWAGON

Speaking of NEIPAs — and forgive me for being curmudgeonly, but someone needs to say this: Many of them are terrible. There’s no denying NEIPAs are the beer of the minute, but the buzz behind the style has meant a lot of breweries are rushing to the market with turbid tipples that frankly are just bad beers.

Moreover, there seems to be a different definition of the style depending on the brewer. Some focus more on producing an overly hazy beer by adding oats or even flour, while others generate the haze through copious amounts of dry hopping intended to create soft juicy flavors rather than harsh bitterness. Having traveled to New England this year and consumed many a true NEIPA, I’d say brewers there seem to be focused more on the latter. 

Versions from West Michigan that stacked up well in my opinion included Brewery Vivant’s Dawn of Vim, Ellison Brewery’s You Can Get With That Juice, Greyline Brewing’s Green Jackalope, Rockford Brewing’s Dogma Style, and Transient Artisan Ales’ The Juice Is Loose. 

 

FUNK YEAH

At this point, local beer fans might be asking: Does Speciation Artisan Ales really need any more press? After all, the tiny Comstock Park-based purveyors of wild and sour ales have made a major splash in just a few short months, earning seemingly dozens of nationwide accolades and mentions as one of the best new breweries in the country.
The answer to the question is unequivocally yes.

In less than a year, Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger have developed some of the most interesting beers to hit the local market in a long time. Even if you don’t think you like sours, give Speciation’s beers a try, particularly any of the Genetic Drift saisons or the fruited and/or barrel-aged versions of Incipient, a wild ale. The brewery’s beers can be found at a handful of the better beer bars around the state, but trying Speciation’s beers is about to get even easier, as the brewery plans to open a tasting room some time in 2018. 

 

OLD SCHOOL

Maybe it goes back to palate fatigue or perhaps it’s a factor of getting older, but I’m finding more and more these days that I’m drawn to traditional and Old World-style beers. Give me a well-done pilsner, lager and weißbier any day of the week. 

A look back into my Untappd check-ins shows a distinct appreciation for the Bavarian beers at Cedar Springs Brewing Co., including special offerings like the Holzweizenbock or even the brewery’s staples like the Küsterer Original Weißbier and Heller Weißbier. 

Founders also crept into the traditional territory with the taproom release of its Eisbock, a malt-bomb of epic proportions. (I’m also looking forward to trying the reformulated Solid Gold golden lager brewed with corn and lemondrop hops that’s set to be released in February.)

The Pilz from Creston Brewery also deserves a mention here, as it’s become a go-to beer in recent months since the brewery is a mere couple blocks from our world headquarters. 

 

APPLE A DAY

Another factor in my palate’s evolution this year is a newfound love of ciders. Frankly, I never paid much attention to hard ciders, since largely I disliked the overly sweet varieties that were around when I started getting into the craft scene. 

But I’ve been developing an appreciation for super dry and funky varieties, as well as bourbon barrel-aged ciders. Some of the better ciders I’ve tried this year marry the complexity of a wild ale with the dryness of a brut champagne. 

Standouts included Maggie’s Reserve and KBS Barrel Aged from Sietsema Cider, Barrel Johnny from The Peoples Cider Co., Ashmead’s Oaked from Vander Mill and Sidra de Nava from Virtue Cider in Fennville. 

These ciders offer more than a break from beer, and sometimes that’s just what is needed. 

 

LOOKING BACK

2017 was a relatively calm year in West Michigan’s craft beverage scene, especially when compared to the frenetic pace of the last few years. Here’s a look back on some highlights. 

 

Openings: 

These companies opened during the course of 2017

18th Amendment Spirits Co., Muskegon

Arvon Brewing Co., Grandville

Bam Entertainment Center, Holland

Bee Ryder Meadery, Caledonia

Big Boiler Brewing, Lowell

Beer Church Brewing Co., New Buffalo

Brewery 4 Two 4, Holland

Cellar Brewing Co. (new location), Sparta

City Built Brewing, Grand Rapids

Earthen Ales, Traverse City

Grande Mere Inn, Stevensville

Great Legs Winery, Brewery & Distillery, Holland

Great Mead Hall & Brewing Co., Bangor

Haymarket Brewery & Pub, Bridgman

Kalamazoo Stillhouse, Kalamazoo 

Kelsey Block Brewing Co., Three Rivers 

Ludington Bay Brewing Co., Ludington

Monkey Fist Brewing Co., Traverse City

North Channel Brewing Co., Manistee

Red Tail Brewing, Reed City

South Haven Brewpub, South Haven 

Speciation Artisan Ales, Comstock Park

Thornapple Brewing, Grand Rapids

Zeeland Brewing Co., Zeeland

 

Closings:

May these establishments R.I.P. 

Arcadia Brewing Co., Battle Creek location

Cultivate Brewing Co., Berrien Springs

Dutch Girl Brewing Co., Spring Lake

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