12 breweries, a cidery and a winery will participate in 3rd annual event
Michigan has beer festivals in parks, on streets and in parking lots. But on a bridge? That’s Portland’s claim to fame.
The city will host its third annual “Beerfest on the Bridge” Saturday, a smallish event in comparison to some of the state’s bigger festivals, but huge in its uniqueness.
“I didn’t want to do just another beer tent,” said organizer Eric Proctor, 34, owner of local marketing company Quarterline Media, and an active participant in Portland Main Street, a downtown revitalization project. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Main Street effort.
Proctor worked with Paul Starr, publisher of the “I’m a Beer Hound” blog, which focuses on Michigan’s beer scene. Starr, a college friend of Proctor's, is connected to a number of other beer festivals in the state, including one at Lansing’s Lugnuts stadium.
“Beer brought us back together, and we just started looking around town,” Proctor said. They spotted Portland’s historic Veterans Memorial Bridge, and “we thought, ‘what if?’ ”
The truss bridge was built in 1890 by the Groton Bridge Co. of New York, and connects East and West Bridge streets over the Grand River. It’s wider than many of the other historic bridges in town, making it more ideal for a beer festival than the other narrower structures.
The next step, was to get the city to agree to it. “Fortunately, the mayor is a good friend and mentor,” Proctor said. Mayor Jim Barnes, he said, helped network around town to build support for the project’s debut in 2015.
“It was a pretty big success. It got new eyes to come into Portland. That’s the point,” Proctor said. “We want people to know it’s more than just an exit on the freeway.”
"It's kind of a unique thing, that type of activity in a small town like that," Barnes said. Portland's population is just 3,883. "Usually you associate beer activities like that with bigger communities. But we like it. It helps us to show off our community."
Barnes described Portland as having a strong German heritage, "so there is quite an appreciation for beer." The community is already home to The Gallery Brewery, and Conflux Brewing is expected to open later this year.
Before the bridge event, the community had held beer tents at festivals, but Barnes said this festival is different and more laid back. "You're just there with a couple hundred other beer aficionados and the river and the nice weather. It's been very popular, and very well received in the community."
Proctor says the first year of the festival got a little boost from the weather. The bad weather. The festival followed on the heels of a tornado that struck the community, causing a fair amount of damage.
That publicity gave Beerfest on the Bridge a boost. It also gave it a signature beer. The fest worked with Saugatuck Brewing to come up with “Portland Strong Strawberry Stout,” a special ale to commemorate the community spirit that grew from the storm event. It even features a tornado on the label.
The 2016 festival didn’t draw crowds as big, but also didn’t have that signature beer. For 2017, Saugatuck has come up with a “Portland Strong Rhubarb Red Rye Ale,” to be tasted at Saugatuck’s festival stand.
Saugatuck will be one of 12 brewers represented at the festival, including Arbor Brewing Co., Bell's Brewery, Crankers Brewery, Eagle Monk Brewery, Ellison Brewery, Founders Brewing Co., Grand Armory Brewing, Lansing Brewing Co., Saugatuck Brewing Co., Schmohz Brewery, Steele Street Brewing, The Gallery Brewery. Also present will be Uncle John's Cider Mill and Leelanau Cellars, for cider and wine drinkers.
The festival runs form 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Advance tickets are $30 and include entry, a logo tasting glass, and 10 tasting tickets. That’s a $5 saving off the gate price. Advance VIP tickets are $40 and include early entry and 15 tasting tickets. Designated driver tickets are $10 and include six tickets for water or craft soda. The website also notes that the bridge has a grated surface, and recommends against women wearing heels.
More information can be found at http://www.beeronbridge.com.