Event whets palates for beer fest

Published 1:40 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Those who stopped by the Mendel Center on Saturday afternoon were treated to a sneak peak or, one might say — a little taste — of what’s to come from area breweries when Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor holds its first The Art of Beer Festival on Saturday, Aug. 21.

The preview was held to give those interested a chance to sample some of the areas craft beers, an industry that seems to be gaining ground both across the country and in southwest Michigan.

“Well I think we’re in a natural area,” Larry Erdman, executive director of the Mendel Center, said. “We’ve got the product available, the wineries for sure. And I think it’s a natural spin off to go from wine into beer.”

Erdman pointed out participant The Round Barn, which started out as a winery and moved into making its own craft beers.

The Round Barn presented a sampling of its craft beers at the preview.

“I think it’s a great blend of two industries,” Erdman said. “And the craft beers, the small places I think today are getting a lot more recognition than they used to get.”

The idea of the preview, he said, is “to give the region a taste of what they can expect in August, attract attendees from the Illinois area, Michigan of course, Indiana and maybe even reaching into Ohio.”

Both Erdman and Colleen Villa are hoping to attract more breweries to the big event in August as well as local artists — another component to the festival that they hope to highlight.

“We have some great local artists that we’d like to feature,” Erdman said.

The preview also featured a sampling of foods from area restaurants and merchandise from a couple of local stores.

Bell’s Brewery, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and the Saugatuck Brewing Co. and a couple of distributors joined the Round Barn in taking part in the preview.

“The August one we’re hoping to make an annual event,” Erdman said. “In this area, you know, lets say from South Bend to Grand Rapids, there isn’t anything of this nature that really features craft breweries.”

From flavored ales to thick, creamy stouts, the tasters filed in Saturday afternoon, lining up behind booths to get a taste of the different brews. Volunteers helped pour their choices into collectible glasses and representatives from each brewery were on hand to answer questions and even, talk a little shop.

“This is almost a kick off to the spring and summer season,” Villa said. Many of the participants who took part in the preview, she said, have expressed their desire to “have a presence” in the area and give consumers a chance to see what is available to them when it comes to craft beers.

The craft itself is also becoming increasingly popular. Lake Michigan College at the Bertrand Crossings Campus in Niles recently held Beer, Wine and Liquor 101 classes, and new winemaking classes were recently announced through the college as well.

Villa said coordinators of the August event are still looking for even more breweries and participants, local restaurants and eateries and area artists.

The industry, Erdman said, is not only vital to the area’s economy and tourism but to getting those that “come here to stay here.”

“It felt like a natural pairing to us,” he said. “To couple fine beer, great food and art and make a day of it. It’s a unique type of festival for this area.”