by dianna Stamplfer
photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Believe it or not, I was nearly 40 before I consumed my first beer! Up until that time, I’d focused all my attention solely on Michigan’s growing wine industry. I remember the day – it was February 21, 2008 – a Thursday, at Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids. The beer? Pale Ale.
Admittedly, it took me nearly two hours to finish that first pint. The flavors were different from anything that I had known before and I was having difficulty deciphering them on my tongue and in my mind. Luckily, I was with members of the Michigan Brewers Guild who carefully guided me through the process. Little did they know the impact that day would have on me.
Two days later, I was introduced to a whole new world – the Michigan Winter Beer Festival. More than 3,000 individuals gathered outside at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park to sample more than 250 beers from nearly 50 breweries. It was the ideal venue to explore my new found hobby. I was fortunate to have many of the industry’s leaders at my side throughout the day – asking questions about my wine, coffee and soda drinking habits, narrowing the focus to beers that might best suit my amateur palate.
Festivals such as this provide both novice and expert beer drinkers the opportunity to explore a vast array of brews – from fruity to hoppy to malty to obscure. I quickly learned there are all-day, low-alcohol beers as well as high-gravity, high-alcohol beers that pack a punch with every sip. There are the traditional beers which are produced each year from the same recipe, as well as inventive brews that sound and taste like they’ve been concocted in the lab of a mad scientist. The beauty of it all is there is something for everyone – no matter what style, color or flavor you prefer.
From that first weekend, I was on a Michigan beer quest! I found myself seeking out the nearly 100 breweries around the state; looking for local craft beer on the shelves at my local Meijer; attending countless festivals, tours and events; and exploring the world of beer and food pairings alongside one of the nation’s leading experts – Fred Bueltmann of New Holland Brewing. Ironically, it was Fred who first introduced me to the Michigan Brewers Guild, thus setting me on this exciting path.
Over the past three years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a half-dozen or so Michigan beer dinners at Salt of the Earth in Fennville (saltoftheearthfennville.com) as part of the restaurant’s popular “Michigan Beer & Wine Series.” These culinary showcases are a great way for chefs and brewmasters to team up and test their pairing skills, as well as give the consumer an opportunity to taste the beers in a totally different, mouth-watering way. The complexities of the beer take on new flavor profiles when paired with certain foods – much like at a wine dinner. In fact, many industry insiders say that the diverse characters in beer make it a better food companion.
Another exciting way to introduce yourself (or someone else) to Michigan craft beer is to take a brewery tour for a behind-the scenes look at this intricate operation. Several of the state’s 100 breweries offer tours on select dates throughout the year. The Michigan Brewers Guild also coordinates dozens of such tours exclusively for its Enthusiast members each year (membership is $45 per year and also includes one hour early admission for all four Guild festivals, available online at MiBeer.com).
Tour operators around the state are finding trips related to the state’s brewing industry to be quite popular. Motor City Brew & Bike Tours (MotorCityTourCompany.com) offers 20 public dates this summer, taking bicyclists on guided excursions through Detroit with visits to historic sites and local breweries. The group also provides roundtrip motor coach transportation to all Guild festivals.
Uncommon Adventures (uncommonadv.com) introduced its unique Tour de Brew last summer in northern Michigan. This kayaking voyage departs from Bowers Harbor on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City and includes a leisurely paddle to Power Island in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. There, a beachside beer-themed lunch is prepared by tour guide Michael Grey. Once back on the mainland, participants get a tour and refreshments at nearby Jolly Pumpkin Brewery & Distillery and North Peak Beer.
Looking to unleash your inner brewer? Saugatuck Brewing Company is currently the only operation in the state where the public is invited to craft its own limited-batch beer. Forget the frilly bridal and traditional bachelorette parties – bring your gal-pals down and get crafty mixing up your own specialty brew. Choose from more than 100 recipes, spend four hours brewing your batch and then return in two weeks to bottle your own beer. The experience is just $250 and includes at least 11 gallons of beer (equivalent to about 60 22-ounce bottles) – with your own custom label and everything!
Craft beer festivals, social media tweet-ups and informal gatherings at local pubs create great low-pressure ways for women to acclimate themselves to this exciting world of beer, as well as provide opportunities to meet other women with common interests.
Detroit Draft Divas is one of a handful of “clubs” being formed around the state and the country to address the growing trend in female craft beer drinkers. This group celebrated its one year anniversary in May, and boasts nearly 90 members on Facebook. In addition to brewery tours and a popular beer scavenger hunt, the group gathers for various holiday activities. “Our main party is our Diva Christmas party – ‘Denim and Tiaras’ at Copper Canyon, hosted by our ‘mascot’ Todd Parker,” says Diva member, Cindy Hegenauer of Ann Arbor.
“I am part of a group of women who are promoting craft beer for women called ‘Chicks That Dig Beer,’” says Julie Huvaere of Detroit. “I am the Michigan counterpart and about 75% of our followers are from Michigan.”
Grand Rapids is a hotbed for breweries and tied for first place as BeerCity USA. Female beer drinkers here are prevalent – and proud! Downtown’s HopCat is the host pub for the PussyCat Beer Guild, a group of women who meet once a month to discuss and drink quality craft beer. Even the local women’s roller derby leagues have ties to the breweries – with an annual “brawl” between Schmohz and New Holland Brewing out of nearby Holland. Sarah Falk, who hangs her mug at Schmohz Brewery, admits that drinking craft beer is her #1 hobby. She’s not alone when she proclaims: “I love Michigan beer!”
Heather VanDyke-Titus owns Harmony Brewing with her brothers Barry and Jackson VanDyke. She says “I think that there are women who might gravitate towards fruity beers and we have those – our cranberry wheat, “oh be joyful” and our BerlinerWeisse is a sour cherry beer. But I think that women just like beer! The women that come to Harmony love beer as much as the men do. They seem to enjoy all of the styles that we have. I’m not sure if this is just a fantastic new trend–or if its something thats always been true. I know that I’ve always loved craft beer.” She adds, “My favorite Beer today is the Crossroads (Rye Pale Ale). Hoppy beers are my favorite but they need to be balanced and thats something that we strive for. We want you to taste the qualities of the hops-the hop for Crossroads is nice and piney. We’re actually doing a Pale Ale fest; called MYP.A. festival on August 25th. We’ll do a tap take over and feature all of our IPA’s-and hops in general. Its going to be heaven for hop lovers.”
While female craft beer drinkers in the United States overall remain the minority, here in Michigan those who support the industry do so whole-heartedly. More than 20% of the Michigan Brewers Guild “Enthusiast Members” are women – a number which continues to rise each year. With the increased opportunities for women to explore craft beer in unthreatening, fun and creative ways, there’s no telling where industry trends may go. One thing is for certain, the ladies are no longer content to sit back and let men call the shots when it comes to their beer choices. That’s something to celebrate!
WOMEN & CRAFT BEER RESOURCES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dianna Stampfler is a seasoned culinary and travel writer, focused nearly exclusively on her homestate of Michigan. An equal-opportunity consumer, she is a dedicated supporter of Michigan-made craft beer, wine and spirits.