The Michigan Brewers Guild annual Summer Beer Festival is held just down the street from my house, in Depot Town’s Riverside Park. The place is packed with students, Ypsi Hippies, and well-groomed Ann Arbor poser types who would never ordinarily set foot out here. Fine by me.
My friend Jennifer and I are given our rationed twelve tokens and head off to the three beer tents. There are thirty-five breweries here serving 250 different beers, so it’s pretty overwhelming.
Each brewery has its area set up with signs and kegs and staffed by servers and owners. The beer is doled out in little three-ounce cups. We get our first sample of beer from a Traverse City brewery and head to an outdoor table.
While we drink the beer, my friend Lucas joins us. He and Jennifer try schooling me, using words like “hoppy” and “wheaty”—and “porter,” which also happens to be Lucas’s dog’s name. I try to understand, really; but even though I’m forty-three years old, the only way my brain can describe beer is “gross” or “yummy.” It’s an impairment I’m prepared to live with.
The next glass comes from a brewpub I pick because no one’s waiting in line. Two young servers from Woodward Avenue Brewers are listening to an old freedom rock song from the 70s and wearing giant Elton John–style sunglasses. Their Raspberry Blonde is perfect.
By now I know to ask for “fruity” beers and am surprised to find an even more delicious one at Motor City Brewing Works. It’s 100 percent yummy without a trace of yucky. It’s called Summer Brew, is served with an orange slice, and tastes like sunshine.
When I come back for another and announce to the kid behind the minibar how much I love it, he looks very pleased. “He’s the Brewmeister,” one of the other guys says, which seems impossible because he looks like he’s twelve.
Actually he’s twenty-one. “My neighbor is the owner’s sister,” he tells me, “and I would go over to their house and they would be drinking beer in their garage. Everybody else I knew drank Budweiser, Labatt’s. But the stuff they were drinking had all different kinds of colors; dark or light or red. I was fascinated. Now I’m the Brewmeister.”
It’s raining now, and Laith Al-Saadi’s band is playing. They launch into Elmore James’s “The Sky is Crying.” We scurry under a tree as the rain turns to a tremendous downpour. Everyone is running for cover, except a big guy in a red football jersey. He’s doing an improv dance performance in front of the band shell, cartwheeling theatrically and covering a lot of ground. When the song ends, he bows before the band, and everyone cheers. As I lift my glass to my face, I see what looks like a fish in it. The cheers drown out my scream of horror.
Jennifer wipes the rain from her face and pulls out the “fish” to show me. It’s a leaf, fallen from the tree.
The Brewers Guild festival returns to Depot Town on Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25.