On Saturday, my husband and I volunteered at the Winter Beer Fest IV in Royal Oak. We were helping Camp Casey, the charity recipient of the evening. Camp Casey is a nonprofit horseback riding program for children with cancer. I recently became more involved with the fabulous organization and am excited to be trained as an Equine Therapist to help this summer (and beyond).
When we saw the volunteer request, we were quick to respond. Justin and I really enjoy trying new craft beers and it was a great opportunity to do this while helping a great charity. The Winter Beer Fest, held at Royal Oak Music Theater, offered samples of more than 100 beers (pale ales, pilsners, white ales and more) and hard cider from throughout Michigan and the nation.
Justin and I were stationed at McKenzie Hard Cider, which offered Black Cherry Cider and their Seasonal Reserve, which tasted like Apple Cinnamon. YUM! McKenzie is based in New York and distributes locally to Holiday Market in Royal Oak. They try to use Michigan ingredients but unfortunately our 2012 crop was pretty dismal due to the weather so this year’s cider couldn’t be deemed Michigan product. But these ciders were still awesome. Neither include added sugars (only natural sugar from the cider) and weren’t too sweet. We had a great time marketing our beverage, talking people who claimed they ‘don’t drink cider’ into trying it, then smiling when they came back for another sample. Our line remained constant and we actually ran out of samples by 10:15pm!
The event quickly got packed! Hundreds of people flowed through the venue tasting the beverages. I was impressed with the turnout, and more so with the polite, friendly guests even as the night went on and the alcohol flowed (we’ve all been at those venues with drunk, obnoxious people). As a volunteer, we were able to take short breaks to sample too.
Justin really liked Bell’s Hopslam Ale. He recently tried this hoppy with a touch of honey beer. It is a limited supply and many distributors sell out quickly. He also enjoyed the Milkshake Stout from Rochester Mills Brewery in Rochester and Decadent Dark Chocolate Stout by Atwater Brewery (smelled like chocolate!) in Detroit.
I was excited to see Pyramid Breweries on site. I discovered Seattle-based Pyramid beers while vacationing in Alaska. For years, I couldn’t find it east of the Colorado River so was pleased when they started distributing in Michigan last year. So while I have a six-pack of Apricot Wheat in my refrigerator (thank you, sweet husband), I can’t pass up an opportunity to try their other beers. Chai Wheat is a seasonal beer that combines by favorite drinks – Chai tea and Wheat beer!
Blue Moon had a great display, including an artist painting a Blue Moon canvas. I’ve long been a fan of Blue Moon, from their Belgian White to Harvest Pumpkin Ale to their speciality releases. Blue Moon now offers a Vintage Ale Collection, which combines their white ale with the juice of either red or white grapes. We tried the Proximity, which is a white ale that includes juice from Sauvignon Blanc white grapes. It was a light, crisp taste that I liked. We also tried a Peanut Butter Ale, brewed with real peanut butter. Neither of us really liked this, particularly the aftertaste. We tried other beers, including Magic Hat No. 9 and a few from Jolly Pumpkin. One of my new favorites is Milking It Productions‘ SNO White Ale, a Belgian-Style white ale infused with orange peel and spices. It is brewed in Royal Oak and available at Holiday Market. Very tasty.
Throughout the venue, Michigan-based vendors provided samples of food, sauces and rubs. Westborn Market (Royal Oak) was set up near our spot so we wandered over to sample several variety of snack mixes. Justin loved the Dill Pickle mix, while I liked the Hot & Spicy mix. We settled on purchasing the Motor City Snack Mix. I tried Street Eatzz 313 sauces – good but too spicy/hot for my husband’s liking.
We sampled, and liked, chips and salsa by Zalza. Both products are locally produced and can be found in a variety of stores, including Kroger and soon Meijer. I’m a huge salsa fan so sometimes picky. I thought the chips weren’t greasy (my biggest dislike) and the salsas were tasty. They had mild, medium, mango and a few other choices. As we wandered we came across a samples of hummus and pita chips sold through Westborn Market and made by another local vendor, Zane Foods. Our favorite flavor, roasted red pepper, was delicious! Seriously, we’ve tried a lot of this flavor and this is one of the best. It has a nice, smooth, flavorful consistency. I was delighted when offered a free container of the hummus and pita chips (and yes, we opened both as soon as we got home!).
We had the pleasure of chatting with John Coram, co-owner of Jonny Secreto Foods based out of Rockford. Such a nice guy with great foods! We sampled several different rubs cooked on chicken bites, as well as a delicious BBQ sauce and spaghetti sauce (soon found in Meijer stores). I purchased the Craft BBQ Sauce. Yum.
I enjoyed this event. It gave us a great opportunity to get familiar with new beers and hard ciders, while meeting fun new people. I also really enjoyed working with Justin. We make a great team and have lots of fun together. It was a nice reminder of how thankful we are to have found each other and say we’re happily married to someone special.
If you’re interested in attending a beer fest-type event and supporting a great charity, stay tuned for info on Camp Casey’s fundraiser on June 22 in Royal Oak.