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Michigan Brewers Guild On The Map for Tourism and Tastings
New and Bigger Fests Planned for 2005–2006

By Lucy Saunders

In the middle of one of the worst blizzards of the winter, about 50 stalwarts of Michigan craft beer and their supporters gathered in Traverse City for the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG) annual conference. Despite snow (and vehicles) piling up on highways leading north, the member-donated beer flowed freely inside the warm Park Place Hotel, as did the conversations about new directions for the MBG.

Thanks to the success of its annual festival, the MBG has amassed enough funds to hold a full day’s conference with two seminar tracks covering technical and marketing issues. Other conference sponsors included Beer-Shirts.com, Briess Malting, Cargill Malt, Hopunion, MicroMatic, and Promotion Concepts, Inc. The event began with a pub crawl through Traverse City, “because we want every bar in town to know we are here,” said Fred Bueltmann, current president of the Michigan Brewers Guild and director of sales and marketing for the New Holland Brewing Company.

The next day, Dr. Gary Spedding of Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services gave a palate-blasting tasting of off-flavors during the Sensory Evaluation Seminar, followed by Kelly Kuehl’s summary of malt crop reports. After enduring an all-night, white-knuckle drive from O’Hare airport — in a car rented after his flight was canceled — speaker Fal Allen quipped, “It was a terrifying drive, AND I was completely sober the entire time.” Ignoring his sleep deprivation and stress, Allen gave an outstanding presentation on how to build a brewery lab on a budget. Alec Mull, the new Michigan chapter president for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas and owner of the Capital Draught Service of Lansing, talked about line setup and maintenance.

There will be more beer flowing out of Michigan in 2005, with bigger and better festivals to serve thirsty fans.

But much of the momentum for the MBG conference revolved around sales and marketing issues, not just for individual brewers but for the guild itself. Several representatives from tourism agencies in Michigan spoke about their programs. A few listeners were highly skeptical about the touted value of bus tours: “Those people always want lots of samples, and they think a tour is just a chance to drink all day for free,” grumbled one brewer. “Haven’t these guys seen the movie 'Sideways'?” Far more of the Michigan brewers appreciated the insights of John Bryant of Odell Brewing Company, talking about ways to create strategic plans for growth on all levels of the brewery.

The guild plans to launch a second beer festival. Since the current festival is always held over the fourth weekend in July at the Riverside Park in Ypsilanti in southern Michigan, the next festival may be held elsewhere in the state to promote awareness and attract a wider audience.

Many breweries continue to focus on beer marketing through culinary tastings and beer dinners. “Beer and food are important to bring together at the table,” said Matt Greff of the Arbor Brewing Company. Arbor features monthly tastings that focus on a specific style.

At the banquet, Chef Marc Pritchard of the Park Place created a winter’s repast of stout-braised Australian lamb (kindly donated by Meat & Livestock Australia) served with potatoes dauphinois, a salad of wild greens, and a luscious caramel malt bread pudding with Michigan tart cherries (recipe courtesy of beercook.com). Bob Pease of the Brewers Association spoke to the audience about the new association’s charter, especially in working with regional breweries and guild members.

Several honoraria were presented, most notably the commemorative ice scraper for Fal Allen’s windshield. Jokes aside, at a time when so many issues face craft brewers, the conference was a testament to the good will and combined energy of the guild. There will be more beer flowing out of the state of Michigan in 2005, with bigger and better festivals to serve thirsty fans. For more information, visit michiganbrewersguild.org.

Lucy Saunders edits beercook.com and writes often about beer and food.


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