At the Michigan Brewers' Guild's Fall Beer Festival, you can have your dessert and drink it, too.
Detroit's Traffic Jam & Snug and Port Huron's Thumb Coast Brewing both brought beers -- and accompanying treats -- to satisfy your sweet tooth. Traffic Jam showed a carrot-cake take on a Belgian dubbel called "Don't Carrot All." Thumb Coast brought "Ravenscraig," a cherry-vanilla milk porter. A sample of Traffic Jam's beer got you a small slice of Avalon Bakery carrot cake. Thumb Coast gave you a handful of dark chocolate M&M's candies.
The results of both were sweet and tasty.
Chelsea Piner, head brewer at Traffic Jam, said their beer was part of the Detroit Brewing Experiment, a challenge taken up by seven of the city's craft breweries to pair up with local food purveyors to create special craft beers. She chose carrot cake from Avalon Bakery as an add-in ingredient to a Belgian dubbel ale.
"We thought, hey, let's do something wacky," said Piner, a Detroit area native who previously spent four years as a brewer for California's famed Stone Brewing Co. "We put seven whole carrot cakes (sans frosting because it would have introduced oils) into the boil. It smelled fabulous in the brewery the day we made that beer."
"I really like Avalon a lot. I like that they were one of the first employers to pay their employees $15 an hour. I like what they stand for," Piner said. And the result was satisfying.
"We didn't pick up too much of the carrot-cake sweetness, but we got the earthiness and the subtle carrot cake flavors."
Pourers at their beer fest tent were quick to offer small slices of carrot cake to go with the beer, but quicker to suggest samplers sip the beer first at least once, before eating the cake, Even without the slice, the carrot cake notes are spot-on. As a pairing, it was perfect.
The same could be said for Thumb Coast's Ravenscraig. And that pairing was a last-minute idea.
Head brewer Corey Nebbeling said the beer is a cherry-vanilla porter, named for a ship built in Port Huron in the 1800s, but later scrapped and lost to history in the early 1900s. It's tasty on its own. But Jeanne Doyle, wife of Thumb Coast's owner, got up Saturday morning and decided some chocolate -- dark chocolate M&Ms in particular -- would go well with that beer. She was not wrong.
Eating a handful of M&M's before drinking the beer turns an already nice porter into a creamy experience akin to eating a cherry cordial.
"It's just because it's the festival and it's fun, we thought we'd do this. But it brings out all the flavors, the nuances," Nebbeling said. He noted an enhancement of the vanilla notes. Others picked up on a much creamier mouthfeel that Nebbeling attributed to a raising of the lactose profile for some drinkers.
Ravenscraig is available in Thumb Coast's Port Huron brewpub. Don't Carrot All is a limited release, but Piner said it's likely to be available at Traffic Jam & Snug for another few weeks to a month. Those who like carrot cake and beer should stop in.