St. Joseph or St. Joe is one of many small towns speckling the Lake Michigan shoreline in Southwest Michigan. In the early days, St. Joe was an important town for both Native Americans and later early settlers due to its strategic location. The St. Joseph river begins nearly halfway across the State allowing for an excellent trade route as it eventually opens into Lake Michigan. Today St. Joe is a blossoming beach town with plenty of specialty boutiques, unique eateries, and a picturesque lighthouse to gaze upon. The town is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan and has a really beautiful beach that is better enjoyed when not visiting for the Winter Beer Fest.
Whew, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business!
When I first decided to attend the 3rd Annual Winter Beer Fest, which historically falls on the last Saturday of January, I began researching things to do in St. Joe. In doing so, I found the 6th Annual Chili Tour was being hosted the night prior, so I added that to the list! Shortly after adding it to the list, I bailed on the Chili Tour and instead decided to visit a friend in Kalamazoo. That said, it’s definitely an option for others who would like to make a weekend trip out of it. I mean, what goes better with chili than beer?
I arrived in St. Joe Saturday morning and landed a great parking spot close to the event located on the corner of Broad Street and Lake Boulevard. I loitered in the streets for a bit, then headed to the Winter Beer Festival which opened its gates at 12:00PM sharp. As I approached the tents there was a line for people who were responsible and printed their tickets, then the will-call which I filed into. I bought mine online for $35.00, not including a $3.50 convenience fee 🙄, bringing the total to $38.50. Once I had my ticket, I was ID’d at security and given a wrist band (the lady took great care not to touch my arm hair with the excess sticky part, which was much appreciated). I headed in and was handed what was referred to as a “sample cup,” by event staff (and on the official Winter Beer Fest website), which to me sounds more like the cup you pee in at the doctors office but maybe that’s just where my mind goes. Along with the 4oz sample cup, I received 12 wooden drink tokens.
Once through the gates, there were two large tents where the brewers were set up. These tents were separated by elevated pavement and a row of trees, which was probably a major trip hazard for some but also provided an area to catch some warm winter sun during/between beers. There was a live DJ from Jelliefish Productions (their spelling, not mine) in the corner of the north tent along with 2 food venders from Nosh Village and Twisted Dawg. I also saw that Biggby Coffee made an appearance but I was already too hyped up on caffeine from the 24oz coffee I smashed on the drive in, so I skipped their booth entirely.
Under the tents were the following 16 breweries, in alphabetical order, who were pouring their featured brews:
Arclight, Bell’s, Blackrock, Black Dragon Meadery, Founders, Grand Armory, Greenbush, The Livery, North Pier, Old Nation, Round Barn, Short’s, Silver Harbor, Sister Lakes, Tapistry and Watermark.
Now, I am not a beer connoisseur, beer aficionado or a beer snob and I’m definitely not a hipster – I just know whether or not I like a beer, along with the fact that I often enjoy the feeling I get if I drink enough of them. So I won’t rate the beers, or the breweries, or talk about my favorites – I’ll just say that at least 12 of the breweries had something I enjoyed. I made my rounds, hitting breweries I was unfamiliar with, which meant skipping Bell’s, Founders and Short’s as I’ve indulged in plenty of their beers. I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every single beer I had and this made me want to save up some money and do a west coast brewery crawl. This sounds like a logistical nightmare, but I digress.
Things I Really Liked
- Water: Almost all brewers had water available to clean out your cup before they added their own brew. This was really nice so you weren’t mixing a Stout with an IPA or a Sour with a Pale Ale.
- The Views: The location was fantastic, I’ve never been to a beer festival where I could fill my cup and gaze upon the seemingly endless amount of water in Lake Michigan.
- Toilets: They had a lot of portable restrooms, which meant that there were barely ever any lines. I hate festivals where there are 12 people in front of you, I never had to wait for more than one person.
- Sold Out Event: The event appears to have sold out the past few years, which means they limit the amount of tickets sold. This prevents too many people from attending the event and knocking beer out of your hand. I may have had 6 or so people in front of me for a beer 1-2 times but the line moved fast.
- Staff: Every single person working the event from security, admissions, general event staff and the venders were incredibly cheerful and happy to be there. It just makes the event more fun when everyone is happy.
Things I Would Do Differently
- Pretzel Necklace: I thought, “Where is everyone buying these” but realized they were all different and that I made a rookie mistake by not bringing my own…never again. Grab some dental floss, twine or fishing line and run it through a handful of pretzels and you’re in! A pretzel neckless will clear your palate, absorb alcohol and give you a sense of camaraderie (I didn’t realize this was a thing). Some people even upped their pretzel necklace game with string cheese and Slim Jims. Slim Jims are disgusting but I was still impressed. Bottom line, bring one.
- Koozie: Bring one of these too. A few people had either cut one of the cheap ones down to size or folded it over to fit the sample cup. Being a winter beer festival, you don’t necessarily need to keep your beer cold but you will want to keep your hands warm.
- Bring Friends: This should be obvious, but none of my friends could make the event, so I went solo. Although I was able to meet some cool people, it’s always more fun with friends.
- Handwarmers: Bring 2 for your pockets. If you don’t want beer all over your gloves, bring a couple handwarmers to give your hands a little respite from the cold.
- Scribe: Bring a pen and notebook, pencil and notebook, crayon and notebook or whatever and write down your favorite beers. I know there are apps for this but it’s easier to jot down beers and notes and update the app later, if need be. I took photos of each beer, which worked but I’d definitely bring a pen and notebook next time.
Overall, this event was very well managed, there was an excellent selection of beers, everyone was happy and you couldn’t ask for a better location. If you’re anywhere within the St. Joe vicinity, I highly recommend checking out the town and especially buying yourself a ticket to next years Annual Winter Beer Fest in St. Joe.
Breakfast: Mason Jar Cafe – I feel a little dirty recommending this place because it’s not technically in St. Joe, rather next door in Benton Harbor. Buuuuut it’s under a 2 mile drive from downtown St. Joe. Also, it’s delicious. I was stuck between 3 different breakfast options but ultimately went with the Corned Beef Hash, which is made in house and was excellent.
Lunch: Silver Beach Pizza – This place came HIGHLY recommended by my friend Melissa, almost to the point where I thought, “Is she setting the bar too high?” Well, she wasn’t! This place turned out to be every bit as good as she said – it’s literally the best pizza place EVER. Follow Broad Street toward the beach, cross Lake Boulevard and walk down a ton of steps and you’ll find yourself at the St. Joe Train Station/Silver Beach Pizza all mushed together.I ordered the Garlic Greek from their Specialty Menu and it has forever changed my life. If you enjoy garlic, a little kick and pure happiness, this pizza is for you. Just writing this post makes me salivate and want to drive 3 hours across the State to order this very pizza.
Have any of you been to the St. Joe Winter Beer Festival? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experience at the event in the comments below. Thanks for reading!