How A Cocktail Napkin Crafted Michigan’s Largest International Beer Sampling Event

The World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is May 16 – 17, 2014. Today, guest blogger Blair Giesken and Go Great Lakes Bay tell us how a simple cocktail napkin helped set Michigan’s largest international beer sampling event into motion. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.39.12 PMThey say some of the best ideas start on cocktail napkins.  J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter book series started on one. So did the idea for the flight route that later became the basis of Southwest Airlines. And the World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is no different.

This 2-day beer-centric festival of international proportion all began back in 1996 with one small sketch on a Bavarian Inn Roof Garten cocktail napkin and one big idea – to celebrate the beauty of spring in Frankenmuth.“In Germany, new seasonal beers are brewed and celebrated during their annual Maifests (Spring celebrations),” said Annie Rummel, who originated the World Expo of Beer and now serves as CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional CVB.  “We thought, why not honor the German Spring tradition with our own beer tasting event?”

And honor it they did. With the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado already highlighting domestic beer products and the strong relationship Frankenmuth already had with its sister city of Guzenhausen, Germany, the idea for this new beer-tasting event naturally evolved beyond local and domestic brews to embrace beers from around the globe.

As if coordinating an international beer festival for the first time wasn’t a tall enough order, Rummel and her talented team (along with countless community supporters) took the World Expo of Beer from a concept on a cocktail napkin to a full-blown festival in less than 5 weeks!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.45.52 PMHoping to see a turnout near 5,000 people, the crew behind the first-ever World Expo of Beer could do nothing but smile and pull the tap that year as over 15,000 thirsty beer lovers streamed into the tents at Frankenmuth’s Heritage Park, commemorative tasting mugs in hand.

Each year, the Frankenmuth Jaycees and the entire community continue to welcome thousands to shout and sing “Ein Prosit” (German for “A toast to you”) and raise a stein in celebration of beers from around the world.  The festival has even expanded to tap into the hearts and minds of true beer connoisseurs everywhere, with great additions like the Fine Food & Craft Brew Pairing Event and Beer 101 “Basics of Beer” Course.

This year, the World Expo of Beer will tap countless kegs for the annual celebration – May 16th and 17th – bringing nearly 300 brews from the furthest corners of the earth (and right from our own backyards!) – to the tasting mugs of thousands.  Feeling thirsty already?  You can pre-purchase an admission package to this year’s festival with beer tickets included so you can skip the long lines!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.47.11 PMLearn more about the World Expo of Beer, check out other things to do while you’re in the Great Lakes Bay Region, follow the World Expo of Beer and Go Great Lakes Bay on Facebook for updates on the free World Expo of Beer shuttle buses, and be sure to book your overnight stay nearby to cap off a day of tasting with a great night’s rest.  You’re going to need it!

Location: Frankenmuth Heritage Park – 601 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, MI 48734 (just 500 feet from the Bavarian Inn Lodge)

Dates & Times: Friday, May 16th from 5-10 pm and Saturday, May 17th from 3-10 pm

Admission: $10 (includes a free commemorative beer sampling mug); Proceeds will be donated to charitable causes; 21+ only; Admission packages available here.

What unique brew are you most looking forward to sampling at this year’s event? 

Blair Giesken was born and raised in the Great Lakes Bay Region and now resides in Grand Rapids.

For the Love of the Brew: An Inside Look at Brewing Michigan Craft Beer

Today is National Beer Day! To celebrate, we asked Frankenmuth Brewery‘s own Brewmaster, Jeff Coon, to give us the inside scoop on brewing Michigan craft beer. If you’re a Michigan craft beer connoisseur, see how you can learn to brew your own! 

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Brewery

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Brewery

If you’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to be a baseball player, you can go to a fantasy camp and hit pitches from an old-timer. If you ever felt the need for speed, you can go to NASCAR events and drive around the track a few times. What if your passion is Michigan craft beer? How do you get started in brewing? With some help from Frankenmuth Brewery and myself, it may not be as hard as you think.

As a lifelong homebrewer, I’ve always loved the science of brewing beer but I never had the ability to go into an actual brewery and see how they work. Once I became the Brewmaster at Frankenmuth Brewery, we sat down and talked about ways to get people further interested in the brewing process. Then it hit me, “Why not have a program where you can be a Brewmaster For A Day?”

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Brewery

Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Brewery

With that in mind, we decided to create our own class that would teach the basics of beer at the oldest brewery in Michigan. After walking through the brewing process, participants get to sit down with me and sample some of the brews we have on tap. It’s a time to reflect on what went right during the creation of the beer and see how they pair with some of the delicious menu items we have at Frankenmuth Brewery.

If you’re a homebrewer like me, your mouth is probably salivating at this point and, even if you aren’t, we hope to inspire you to try brewing a Michigan craft beer of your own.

If you’re already brewing your own beer at home, here are a few tips that can make the process much easier:

Take A Copious Amount Of Notes: The only way to insure that you are creating great, quality beer every single time you brew is to keep track of ingredients and important specifics. By doing so, you’ll be able to recreate what has made your beer good and avoid prior brewing mistakes.

Test Your Raw Ingredients: Find out what makes each ingredient the proper fit for your brew and test them before adding them into the process. If you’re using something that doesn’t taste right to begin with, you’ll likely be the bearer of a bad final brew.

Don’t Feel Limited In What You Can Brew: Most amateurs feel that they can only do the most basic brewing at home, but if you keep an open mind, you can easily create many different kinds of Michigan craft beer. If you come to the Brewmaster For A Day course, I’ll show you how to do a more complicated lager brew with only a shallow pan and beach towel.

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Photo courtesy of Frankenmuth Brewery

Brewing beer is a process that takes time, patience and a good set of senses. It isn’t as simple as just heading to the tap and pouring a brew. From sampling raw ingredients to adding yeast during the fermentation process, it’s the small details that can truly make beers from Michigan breweries something special.

So what’s it like to be a Brewmaster? Well, aside from being the best job in the world, it provides a unique experience for learning everything about beer. As a student in the Brewmaster For A Day program at Frankenmuth Brewery, you can be a part of that experience too.

Frankenmuth Brewery is giving fans a chance to win a free spot in their next Brewmaster for a Day class. For details, visit their Facebook page here!

Happy National Beer Day! What are you doing to celebrate in Pure Michigan?

gQV1Kwc99eTgyLTNIRhbeSfAZG_rGNu0PzazD8BiGlgAs an avid homebrewer since he was a teenager, Jeff Coon has helped to successfully revitalize the craft beer selection at Frankenmuth Brewery, the oldest brewery in Michigan. Following the rules of German Beer Purity Law, he has kept the brewery’s German heritage in tact while also exploring other kinds of new beers.  Follow him on Twitter @BrewingPastor.

A Visitor’s Guide to Exploring Frankenmuth – Michigan’s Little Bavaria

To celebrate the kick off of Zehnder’s Snowfest in Frankenmuth next week, guest blogger Craig Sterken takes us on a tour of some charming attractions in Michigan’s Little Bavaria.

If you’ve ever dreamed of spending a winter’s day in a charming alpine village, but don’t have the funds to fly to the Bavarian Alps, a weekend visit to Frankenmuth, Michigan might be the thing for you. Nicknamed “Little Bavaria”, this small city in the heart of mid-Michigan will have you believing you’ve been transported to your dream village within minutes.

Photo by Craig Sterken Photography

Teeming with charm, Main Street offers shops, boutiques, restaurants, a brewery, and a step back in time with horse and carriage rides.  A carriage ride will take you through a picturesque neighborhood and through the downtown area. Afterwards, you have your choice of two well known restaurants. On opposite sides of the street you’ll find Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, famously known for their chicken dinners and the Bavarian Inn, widely known for its home-cooked German fare. Both establishments also host gift shops and fine wines.

The Cass River wends its way through town and is flanked on one side of the river by the Bavarian Inn and the Bavarian Inn Lodge. An appealing covered bridge, known as “The Zehnder’s Holz Brucke” spans the river connecting the two properties. Available to both cars and foot traffic it adds to the delightful scenic views of Frankenmuth.

Photo by Craig Sterken Photography

For shoppers who want more than the boutiques in town offer, there is River Place. Over 40 shops offer goods for the discriminate shopper. River Place has pleasant walkways, benches, and paths to stroll, linger, and enjoy, even in winter. For entertainment beyond shopping you can also visit Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Indoor Waterpark. Providing wet and wild family fun and relaxation it can be a wonderful respite from the winter weather. They even provide complementary shuttle service to Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth restaurant.

Photo by Craig Sterken Photography

Though Frankenmuth is widely known for their many festivals throughout the year winter brings Zehnder’s Snowfest. One of the most well known snow-sculpting competitions in North America, it is also host to the National Collegiate Ice Carving Championship and the High School Snow Sculpting Competition. You’ll be able to watch the snow sculptors at work and ice carvers employing their skills with chainsaws, picks, and even handmade tools created for the job. This year will be the 23rd annual completion and will be held January 22-27.

Photo by Craig Sterken Photography

Don’t forget to visit the southern outskirts of town and visit Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Bronner’s is the World’s Largest Christmas Store. Founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner, it is open year round and bustles with activity as shoppers, tour busses, and cars come and go. Over 100,000 lights are lit throughout the season and it provides the perfect atmosphere for getting yourself in the Christmas mood. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon shopping for ornaments, artificial trees, Santa suits, or for resting your heels in their cafeteria.

Frankenmuth just has so much to offer. On a recent visit my wife and I stopped for wine tasting at St. Julian Winery, shopped for a comforter at Frankenmuth Woolen Mills, ate lunch at Tiffany’s, and bought freshly roasted chestnuts from a vendor on Main Street.  So, if you’re looking for a weekend full of family fun, a good meal, or a romantic getaway with that alpine village feel, Frankenmuth delivers. Visit one of the bustling shops or just quietly sit on a bench sipping hot chocolate and watch the fun unfold around you.

Craig Sterken is a freelance photographer and lifelong resident of Michigan. His photos have been published in travel publications, magazines, brochures, and websites throughout the state.  His prints adorn the walls of homes, offices, hospitals, and businesses and can be purchased online or in various galleries and shops in Michigan. Visit his website CraigSterken.com or on Facebook  for more information.