This Beer: “It’s like the smell of lightly decaying leaves” (Mmmm!)

Kalamazoo Beer Week

Renee Newman is the marketing and communications director for Discover Kalamazoo. She and her husband are allowed to reside in the same house as their two cats, Coco and Kit Kat.  Renee loves hiking, mountain biking and sailing, but spends most of her time hoping one of the great perfume houses in France will agree the world needs a bourbon and brown sugar perfume.

I’ll be honest with you, the thought of writing this blog kept me awake at night. What could I possibly have to say about craft beer that hasn’t already been said? (…And with much more knowledge and eloquence, I might add.)

I am a craft beer lover. I’ve loved craft beer for more years than I care to think about (read: I hate admitting my age). My husband and I travel with well-worn, dog-eared copies of the Michigan Beer Guide in our vehicles. We’ve planned beer weekends: Spending hours poring over maps and Websites, reading blogs and reviews, plotting our course, and enjoying the adventure of discovering new places and faces along the way.

But, just because I am an old experienced craft beer lover, it does not mean I am an expert on craft beer. I know nothing about brewing techniques, designing beers, ratios, the science behind brewing, etc. I can’t articulate the subtle nuances in smell and taste, and I don’t pretend to be anything other than what I mentioned before: A lover of craft beers.

I prepared myself for my foray into blogging prior to my first beer tasting. I read about the brewery, I took notes while at the tasting; I took photos of the beers. Heck, I even stuck a tasting placemat in my purse to help me remember what beers I had tasted. I took my assignment seriously.

Then, something happened. I raised one of the Arbor Brewing Co.’s samples and inhaled the aroma of … oak. (Remember my disclaimer about not being a beer reviewer?) At about the same time, the man sitting next to me raised his sample to his nose, took a sniff and after a thoughtful pause said, “It’s like the smell of lightly decaying leaves.”


kalamazoo beer week

The ceremonius Greenbush Brewery firkin taping at O’Duffy’s Pub was among Renee Newman’s favorite Kalamazoo Beer Week events.

His description was so expressive and so vivid; I was immediately transported to a path in the woods after a light spring rain. It brought to mind the smell of the earth, just beginning to wake after a long winter. The time when the fiddleheads are pushing their way through the forest floor, the scent of wild leeks hangs heavy in the air and mingles with the smell of, yes, lightly decaying leaves.  And when I took a second sniff of the beer, the oak was replaced by the smell of the woods on beautiful spring day.

Those eight words were not said directly to me, but I heard and was affected by them.  I stopped trying to decipher subtle flavors in the hopes of penning an interesting blog and began instead to concentrate on the people and activity around me, and what they mean to my craft beer experience.  I’ve spent the past four days immersed in the lives of people linked together by Kalamazoo Beer Week. I’ve overhead seemingly hundreds of conversations  … old friends getting together for “just one” before moving on with their hectic lives. Beer connoisseurs discussing the merits of each pint. Established brewers giving tips to home brewing hopefuls. The good-natured ribbing of new friends. I’ve witnessed dozens of people planning their evenings. Websites are checked, calendars are synchronized, routes decided.

What most delighted Renee Newman at the Webster’s Prime event featuring Dark Horse Brewing Co. during Kalamazoo Beer Week was the affordable brews!

There’s a new air of excitement in Kalamazoo this week, so join me in raising a glass to everyone who has made Kalamazoo Beer Week possible – from the planning committee, to the distributors, the host locations, the breweries, the managers, servers, and the customers. You’re the best part of my craft beer experience.

Check Kalamazoo Beer Week to watch the calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!


Love Buzz: Espresso in my Beer

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Jennie Bach of Discover Kalamazoo highly recommends this espresso (from Ugly Mug Café and Roastery) and beer (by Arbor Brewing Co.) blend called “Dirty Love,” which she tried Tuesday at Shakespeare’s Pub.

Jennie Bach Cook is the director of operations for Discover Kalamazoo. She resides in Galesburg with her husband, daughter and two cats.

She loves the Red Wings and Packers and is famous within her own family for being born the same day/year as Brett Favre. Jennie spends much of her free time bullying people into agreeing that Wilco is the best band EVER and watching Dance Moms.

Tuesday night, my husband and I decided to follow the advice of our new BFF Logan, brewer from Arbor Brewing Company, and attend the Arbor Brewing Company event “Espresso Love” at Shakespeare’s Pub.

I ordered a Brasserie Blonde, which was citrusy and reminded me a little bit of Oberon – it was very good. My husband ordered the Espresso Love, a stout that smelled and tasted like rich coffee (I know this because I kept stealing sips).

Logan arrived at Shakespeare’s with some friends in tow from the Ugly Mug Café and Roastery (based in Ypsilanti, Mich.). He stopped by our table to say hi and to gave us a sample a specialty brew that Shakespeare’s had on tap for the event.

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“Espresso in my beer? GENIUS!” said Jennie Bach, of Discover Kalamazoo. Jennie noted that the beer tasted a little like bananas and chocolate.

The beer was named “Dirty Love,” and it’s a version of Espresso Love that has been bourbon barrel-aged and has flavors like vanilla, cocoa and chipotle pepper. (Note: If you have never tried a beer like this, run to Shakespeare’s and see if they still have it on tap. It is delicious and coffee-ee and rich, and it makes you feel warm all the way down to your belly.) I made my husband order a pint so I could sip away at Dirty Love while also trying Logan’s next concoction: The guys at Ugly Mug poured a shot of freshly-brewed espresso into my Brasserie Blonde, changing it into a “Dirty Blonde.”

I’ve had a lot of things that are not beer poured into my beer during my life – some good, some bad. Espresso in my beer? GENIUS! Logan said that it had been described as “tasting like chocolate and bananas.” And it did taste a little like that combination, but there was so much more going on in my mouth! It was magic!

I would have had another if I didn’t have to go to work in the morning. So, I did the responsible thing and called it a night … When I was still awake at 2 a.m., it hit me that maybe espresso in my beer isn’t such a good idea at 9 p.m. But I can’t wait to do it again!

Check Kalamazoo Beer Week to watch the calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

How Kalamazoo Beer Week Made Me Ditch The Detox

"Kalamazoo Beer Week" "Chef's Table"

Kayla Kiley is the communications & digital manager at Discover Kalamazoo. She loves adventures, chapstick, unicorns, the ‘90s board game “Dream Phone,” and having lots of fun that is funny.

I have to admit: I’m a newbie to the craft beer scene. It was only last year that I started paying attention to the difference between IPAs and Stouts. But one thing is for certain: I sure do love beer.

Now, I happen to be on my second-annual, strict, 21-day detox, which excludes from my diet all things I love: Chocolate, pizza, and – of course – alcohol, among others.

But after looking at Zazios’ “Beer Dinner” with Arcadia Brewing Co. for the millionth time, I could no longer resist it. In last-minute-decision mode, I called Zazios a few hours before the event began, and low-and-behold Zazios had room at the Chef’s Table! Yes, I ditched my detox for the night. And boy, was it worth it.

So, here I am – a few minutes early, which is in part because Zazios is just the type of place you want to hang out. It’s swanky and brightly-colored, yet low lit and subtly/appropriately seductive.

The Chef’s Table sits in the middle of the restaurant. It’s visible to the surrounding diners, yet tucked into the left side of the dining room. Dinners happen around you, people are laughing, you can see the TV at the bar (MSU vs. UofM game anyone?) – but this is no ordinary dining experience.

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Three Kalamazoo Beer Week enthusiasts enjoy brews and paired food during Arcadia Brewing Co.’s Beer Dinner at Zazios Tuesday night.

With stadium-style seating and a few-dozen people watching every move of Chef Sean Kelly of Arcadia Brewing Co., we’re in the middle of what feels like a show on The Food Network. The chef works his magic on the large cooking surface in front of us while cameras zoom-in to show live video on the monitors hanging above.

During “the show,” I chow down on sesame crackers and Italian bread in front of me – complete with hummus and olive tapenade. The appetizer is paired with Arcadia’s Nut Brown Ale, which was so buttery and smooth! My first brew in two weeks! I can hardly contain myself.

Next, as Chef Kelly shows us how to make candied walnuts for the “Nut & Berry Salad,” another beer appears! The “XV.”  Immediately, I taste cherry with a hint of something deeper. Turns out, the beer was aged in bourbon barrels for six months with tart Michigan cherries and hibiscus petals. I’m not one to pride myself on my taste buds, but I was close!

I have to mention that I’m a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats seafood), so half of my beers aren’t picked to pair exactly with my courses. But my food is only a slight variation of the original menu.

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Zazios’ Chef’s Table diners enjoy the “Nut & Berry Salad” with Arcadia Brewing Co.’s “XV Anniversary Ale” during the Beer Dinner Tuesday.

Up next is the “Shipwrek Porter,” which I have with striped sea bass (others enjoy seared beef tenderloin) topped with capers, shaved parmesan, and cracked pepper. I’m not usually a fan of porters, but this 12%-alcohol-level brew is robust yet subtle. The beer-info card at my table said: It’s aged for nearly two years in 22-year-old Kentucky Bourbon oak barrels and thus has notes of vanilla, brown sugar, and spice. But what most stands out to me is this beer’s milky, coffee flavor. I’m not a coffee fan. This isn’t my style.

After one sip, the “Hop Rocket” is one of my favorites. I don’t immediately pick up the grapefruit, lemon peel, spruce, earthy mushrooms, and dew-covered grass… but I sure notice that it’s hoppy! It also has a warmth to it – with notes of toffee.

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Kayla’s “Cuban ‘Cigar’ Sandwich” was made of shrimp, collard greens, spicy roasted red pepper sauce with sesame seeds for dipping (the “ashes”). The entree paired with Arcadia Brewing Co.’s “Hop Rocket.”

Hop Rocket is likely a beer that’s good anytime, and it’s definitely nice with my “Cuban ‘Cigar’ Sandwich” (shrimp or pulled pork wrapped in collard greens with a spicy roasted red pepper sauce)!

The evening wraps up with the last pairing: Cherry Crumble with “15,” a brown-ale anniversary beer aged in cabernet barrels with tart Michigan cherries and hibiscus petals. It’s like drinking tart cherry nectar. Mmmmm!

Check Kalamazoo Beer Week and watch the calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

OMG-MEGANG — Great beer paired with great meal at Old Burdick’s

Burdick’s is one of the many Kalamazoo restaurants that’s offering Beer Dinners. View all events at

Nate Melvin is a sales manager at Discover Kalamazoo. He resides in Kalamazoo with his wife, two dogs, and a goldfish. When not enjoying a pint, he enjoys competitive eating and music.

My first pairing dinner of the week! First off, let me just say how excited I am that Kalamazoo Beer Week is on its second successful year. I love living in a town that values the craft beer industry. And with several local breweries to choose from plus all the out-of-towners in for the week, how can you lose?

Last night I attended the “Beer Pairing Dinner” at Old Burdick’s Bar & Grill in the Radisson. It was a Brewery Ommegang pairing event, however the lineup also included two other Belgian-style breweries as well: Duvel and Liefmans. Our fearless leader was Shawn Williams, who represented all three brewing entities. Shawn spoke at the head of our family-style table of around 20 eager tasters.

The first course of Nate Melvin’s Beer Dinner at Burdick’s in downtown Kalamazoo.

The first course was a golden ale from Duvel called La Chouffe paired with a meat and cheese board featuring smoked Virginia ham, salami, aged cheddar, Danish bleu cheese and a walnut-encrusted chevre. Also on the board were some Mediterranean additions such as roasted garlic, sweet gherkins and an olive display, which actually were the best overall pairing with the beer, in my opinion. La Chouffe was nice and light with a hint of spice to it, which Shawn said was due to the cultivated Belgian yeast strain used during fermentation.

The second course featured our first Ommegang brew: Hennepin Farmhouse Saison. This was the only beer on the lineup that I was formerly familiar with, and, although I’m not generally a huge fan of saisons, is one of my true favorites. Named for Father Louis Hennepin, a 17th century missionary and explorer who discovered much of New York state—including Niagara Falls—it was paired with a mixed green salad with candied orange peel and a citrus vanilla vinaigrette that was quite pleasant and refreshing. Be warned: this beer tastes light but hides it’s 7.7% ABV very well, so its effects may sneak up on you.

Our main course featured thin-cut roasted sirloin with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed green beans paired with Ommegang’s Belgian Pale Ale. The beer was noticeably hoppy for a Belgian-style beer, and due to the mushroom demi-glaze on the meat the pairing may have benefited more from something a bit maltier, however I enjoyed the contents of the plate and the glass thoroughly.

Dessert paired a double shot of blueberry and raspberry cheesecake with Liefmans Fruitesse—another brew to note, as it tasted like juice (very, very good juice). Shawn explained that the open air fermentation used to brew this red concoction gave some sourness to this Lambic-style beer, which translated to a tartness to compliment the sweet flavors. In one word, “Delightful.”

At $30—which included tip & gratuity!—this pairing was an outstanding event. My three companions and I left very satisfied and checking the calendar for events to attend later in the week. Burdick’s, along with many of the downtown restaurants, will be hosting a good half-dozen pairing events this week, so additional activities will not be hard to find.

Click on Kalamazoo Beer Week to watch the calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

First-time blogger, long-time drinker!

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Jennie Bach’s husband shows the T-shirt Right Brain Brewery (RBB) handed out to people who ordered RBB brews at Shakespeare’s Pub Sunday.

Jennie Bach is the director of operations at Discover Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

According to Jennie: What does a sour beer taste like? It’s a sour that makes your mouth water and dries your tongue out at the same time.  I think I love it for the same reason I eat salt and vinegar potato chips until the roof of my mouth hurts. I love sour! 

Let me start by saying: I’m not a beer snob.  I enjoy a cold PBR as much as the next guy. But, when I first started dating my husband one year ago, I was introduced to the world of craft beer.

This past summer, we went to Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City.  Many times, when choosing a beer at a brewery I am unfamiliar with, I will choose by the name of the beer.  I chose “Sour Owl.” I figured that owls are awesome, so the beer probably would be, too.  I was right!  I had never had a sour beer before this, but now it’s my favorite.

So, imagine how excited I am when the Kalamazoo Beer Week calendar comes out, and there is an event on Sunday at Central City Tap House entitled “Sour Sunday!”

The Tap House was PACKED, but we managed to get a table by patiently staring at some people, who I’m pretty sure were getting ready to leave anyway.  Arbor Brewing Co. was hosting the event, and I ordered a flight (a small tasting of several beers) of their sour beers.

The brew Sodibo 2012 was by far my favorite. It was like biting into a lemon. I was in heaven.  A somewhat close second was Demetrius 2011 – it wasn’t as sour as Sodibo, but it was good.

While we were drinking, one of the brewers, Logan from Arbor Brewing Co., introduced himself and started explaining how sour beer is made:  Usually by using oak barrels, but it can also be created by using lactic acid.

Logan told us that he would be at Shakespeare’s Pub for the “Espresso Love” event Monday night, and he would be accompanied by a guy on the east side of the state who brews exceptional espresso and will put a shot of espresso in any beer you want.

Our next stop was Shakespeare’s Pub so we could try the two Right Brain Brewery offerings that they tapped: “Black Eye PA” and “Will Power.”  There were also a ton of people at Shakespeare’s, but it seemed many of them were there to watch football (which made me feel less self-conscious about yelling at the TV while the Packers continued to lose).  I ordered the Will Power, and my husband ordered the Black Eye PA.  The Will Power had a buttery taste and was pretty good; then I took a sip of my husband’s Black Eye PA. Normally I don’t like IPAs, but this was different, it tasted more coffee than hoppy, and I had to order my own.

While at Shakespeare’s, we got to meet Russ, the owner of Right Brain Brewery.  I told him about my love affair with Sour Owl and was heartbroken to learn that Sour Owl was a one-time deal … typical.  However, the T-shirt and bumper sticker he gave us made me feel a little better about never tasting my most favorite beer in the world ever again.  Then the Packers lost.

To avoid any misunderstandings with the guy who had been rooting for the Giants, we headed to Bell’s, because my husband heard they had a Sweet Potato Stout. Bell’s was the perfect place to end the evening; there were several people, but the atmosphere was more relaxed.  I ordered the Cherry Stout, which was fantastic!  I love when a cherry beer has the tart cherry flavor (sweet cherries remind me of wine coolers).  My husband ordered the Sweet Potato Stout, which I tried, even though I loathe sweet potatoes. Surprisingly, it was really good!  After that, we gathered my daughter and her boyfriend (read: designated drivers) and went home.  I can’t wait for my second day of Kalamazoo Beer Week!

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!