Ypsi has 'frothy history,' 'hoppy future'

It was once said beer is the cornerstone of American society. If that is true, then in Ypsilanti, beer is not only the cornerstone but also the glue, nails, timber and cement solidifying this community.

Each summer for the past 13 years, the Ypsilanti Summer Beer Festival has been a reminder of that frothy history and our hoppy future. This year, they continue the tradition.

The 14th annual Ypsilanti Summer Beer Festival is set to be held July 22-23 in Riverside Park. It will feature more than 300 different craft beers from 50 of Michigan’s best craft breweries. The festival will also feature booths for visitors to enjoy food from some of Michigan’s best restaurants.

Tickets for this year’s celebration went on sale back in May and have been out-pacing all estimates.

“Tickets are selling even better than last year,” said Scott Graham, Executive Director for the Michigan Brewer’s Guild, which hosts the winter and summer beer festivals. “We definitely expect them to sell out.”

Why wouldn’t they? As a famous quote often and erroneously attributed Benjamin Franklin extols, “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Ticket pricing for the 21 and up, ID-required event is $30 for Friday and $35 for Saturday, which has extended hours. If beer isn’t your thing or you have the task of making sure your friends get home safely, they also offer $5 designated driver tickets. These tickets do not allow for the purchase of alcohol. Each full-priced ticket gives you access to the festival and 15 sample tokens. You can trade each token for one 3 oz. beer sample of your choice. More tokens can be purchased for only $.50.

Last year, the celebration attracted more than 9,000 thirsty visitors. This year, 10,000 pilsner, ale, stout and lager-loving people from around the country are expected to attend the largest beer festival in Michigan.

Unlike many other celebrations of industry, the Ypsilanti Summer Beer Festival is fully independent. The large number of paying festival attendants and Michigan Brewer’s Guild members, the Ypsilanti Summer Beer Festival can operate without outside sponsorships. That independence echoes the spirit, strength and ingenuity Michigan’s brewing community has embodied for centuries.

The rapidly growing popularity of the festival is due in part to the resurgence of craft, micro and nano-breweries across the state. When Stroh’s announced it was closing its 135-year-old Detroit plant in 1985, Michigan’s brewing future seemed cloudy, but the keg-sized hole Stroh’s left was soon filled by smaller breweries. With more than 100 state-licensed breweries, Michigan is now ranked fifth nationally in number of breweries.

Despite a volatile economic situation, Michigan craft breweries are experiencing a large upswing in popularity. Over the last decade, craft breweries have seen consistent double-digit growth annually.

In 2010, the industry has had its largest growth spike ever, jumping 21 percent in sales over 2009. That’s a total of approximately 163,000 barrels (5,053,000 gallons), a sharp increase from just 90,708 barrels (2,811,948 gallons) in 2006. The growth for Michigan craft breweries far outpaces the national average of 5 percent. Its growth counters the American beer industry as a whole, which declined 4 percent in 2010.

Craft beers still only account for 4 percent of the total amount of beer sold in Michigan’s $5.2 billion beer economy, but 50 percent of all craft beer sold is Michigan-brewed.

“There is still a lot of room for growth,” Graham said. “But the breweries are doing exceptionally well and they should. Michigan is making world class beer.”

Because of this continued popularity, many existing breweries have begun expansions to keep up with the demand. Corner Brewery, Ypsilanti’s oldest brewery, is on track to max out its current 5,000-barrel capacity this year. This has prompted them an expansion, which will increase their production capacity by 40 percent to 7,000 barrels for 2012.

Since there are so many new and innovative breweries throughout Michigan, it is difficult for smaller breweries to get major recognition. This is why festivals like the Ypsilanti Summer Beer Festival are so important. They bring national attention and local mouths to our state’s talented and dedicated collection of breweries.

“It helps us showcase the best that Michigan has to offer,” Graham said.

Besides exposure for statewide breweries, local businesses also benefit greatly.

“The benefits are fantastic,” said Brian McShane, bar manager for Corner Brewery. “You have 10,000 beer lovers gravitating to one small area and you are bound to get a lot of foot traffic.We get the added benefit of being only a few blocks away from the action.”

Since Grob and Stroh’s Breweries fermented their first hops in the 1800’s, Michigan brewers have been churning out award-winning, world-class beers with pride. Today, those traditions and values are stronger than ever. Thanks to the wonderful people at the Michigan Brewer’s Guild, we get a chance to highlight the talent and perseverance that is, as they say, ‘Pure Michigan.’

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