Once again, the BAF attending the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Festival. This is rapidly becoming THE highlight event of the local beer calendar, as the host metro preceded the event with its own GR Beer Week.

74 breweries participated this year, pouring nearly 650 different beers, highlighted by grand displays by some of the buzz brewers including Bells, Founders, Shorts, Dark Horse, Greenbush and Perrin, all of whom enjoyed large crowds and featured some rare releases.

Access to the fest is set in waves. Media and Hospitality guests pass the gates at 11:30. Guild Enthusiast members and VIP’s can enter at noon and general admission starts at 1:00, which allows the crowds to form slowly and, for the most part, avoids long waits. Many positive changes took place this year, as the ever expanding event spread out even further in the parking lot of the local baseball stadium, Fifth Third Ballpark, completely filling the west lot. The inside square was dotted with bonfires and heating lamps for cozy breaks from the tents. As lines had been an ongoing problem, they also spread out the portable bathrooms along two fence lines, allowing for much better access to the “used beer department.”

As always, the atmosphere is festive and the weather was perfect this year. Many people “dress the part” to compliment the elements. A snowstorm had dropped plenty of white stuff the in the hours leading up to the event, and a large snow mound in the middle of the square made for a good vantage point above all the revelry. Live music and a large “picnic” area rounded out the grounds, giving festival goers plenty of ways to entertain and refresh themselves throughout the event.

From our perpective, there seems to be a “beer trend” nearly every year, as certain flavors or trends seem to be shared among many special pours. This year saw the release of several barrel aged and sour brews, to compliment most brewery’s regular lineups. We found a few gems from regular favorites such as Kuhnhenn, Shorts, Founders and Greenbush, but also enjoyed many newer participants such as Petoskey, Cheyboygan, Blackrocks, Rockford and Greenbush.

All in all, this was one of the best festivals yet and we’re already counting the days until next year’s event.