It is easy to become overwhelmed with a plethora of beer, breweries and festivals in a state entrenched in the craft beverage scene.
As someone new to beer last year, the evening at the Beer City Station at the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival was my first experience purposefully combining flavors of food with various styles of beer. It introduced my palate to different approaches one may take, turning a sea of bright booths and enticing smells from a potential food and beer coma to one of sensory bliss. These approaches for either the beer novice or the beer connoisseur elevates the culinary experience, creating new relationships with food, drink and producers.
Beer is, excitingly, being approached as an important component of food and beverage pairing. Chefs are expanding portfolios to include beer with wine pairing suggestions on menus. Beer cellars are prized. One of the most important opportunities at the Beer City Station, is the chance to purposefully enjoy the experience of small plate food with small pours of beer. This is a great time to experiment with your palate.
Go find chocolate and a porter or a stout and see what happens. Find something spicy and pair it with an IPA as well as a pale ale, noting the differences. Most importantly take the time to truly pause and experience, not just taste, but also the enhanced sensory differences you perceive. Once this is experienced, the next time you walk into a restaurant you will question why we order our beverages before we order our food. This newfound search for an elevated culinary experience will become one regularly anticipated.
If you are new to craft beer or someone who prefers wine or spirits, this is the perfect opportunity to expand your palate by engaging in conversations with the craft beer producers and chefs. Who better to assist you in learning about something less familiar? During the visit, have in mind what you normally like to drink and eat. Do you prefer sweet or savory? Are you a coffee or tea drinker? Do you prefer wine or whiskey? Keeping your palate preferences at the ready, will help guide the person assisting you to find a beer you will enjoy. By all means, ask questions and give feedback. The producers are proud to share what they make and ensuring you find something enjoyable to your palate is important to them.
To the craft beer connoisseur, go find that next brewery or beer to become passionate about. Last year, for me, it was a triple IPA from Austin Brothers Beer Co called Slamnesia. The beer blew my mind and having the opportunity ask questions about the beer with one of the brewery’s owners made me a fan. It is those conversations and moments of connection which reinforce the relationships between the consumer in the beer community and beer industry. As someone who also loves beer, it is yet another way to support growth in the industry.
However you choose to spend your time at the 10th Annual Wine, Beer & Food Festival— whether in Beer City Station or The Elite Collection—please remember that even small pours can sneak up on you. Please take advantage of local hotels, transportation or a designated driver.
Emily Bennett is a healthcare provider who moonlights as a passionate beer traveler and writer. On January 1, 2017 she launched her Mitten Beer Quest 2017, a year-long adventure to successfully visit all open breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in Michigan over 365 days. As of today (10-3-17), she has successfully had a beer at 222 establishments, traveled over 7,000 miles and is looking forward to visiting another 80+ before year’s end. Emily is also the Chaos Manager for ThisCraftNation.com, a locally- born project, assisting Fred Bueltmenn and Kyle Bice in telling the stories of national craftspeople and makers. Follow her adventures at MittenBeerGirl.com and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @mittenbeergirl.