Michigan Winter Beer Fest: The beer will be cold

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Long underwear. Check. Insulated gloves. Check. Snow boots. Check.

Skiing? Mountain climbing? Nope.

Beer festival. Outdoors. In February.

Enjoying beer and winter at the same time is the theory behind Michigan's annual Winter Beer Festival, held in a minor league baseball stadium parking lot outside Grand Rapids. Michigan has become a craft-brewing powerhouse, and this festival is where many of its most lauded brewers pour their most ambitious beers.

The suds festival requires layer upon layer, thick necklaces of homemade snacks (from pretzels to string cheese) and, perhaps most important, a positive disposition. No one in his right mind would stand outside for six hours drinking beer in a snowstorm. Which, of course, makes doing so even more fun.

Michigan brewers both large (Bell's, Founder's) and small (lager-only Wolverine State Brewery) take part.

"It's completely absurd," said Scott Sullivan, owner of Greenbush Brewing in Sawyer, Mich. "The last two years there's been a snowstorm, and everyone is out in the cold drinking beer, and no one cares that it's cold and snowing."

Greenbush brought a dozen barrel-aged beers in 2013 and plans to bring even more in 2014.

"It's a good opportunity to experiment and try beer that people never see on shelves," Sullivan said.

Tickets for Winter Beer Festival (1-6 p.m. Feb. 22, Fifth Third Ballpark, 4500 W. River Drive NE, Plainfield Township, Mich.) go on sale at 10 a.m. Dec. 1. The event sold out in less than a day last year. Tickets cost $45 plus fees and are available at mibeer.com.

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