Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Day of Crafting Beer

Back to my "try something new every month..."

One of the things on my 2015 “Bucket List” was to make beer at Saugatuck Brewing Company! Back in March and April, I had the opportunity to do just that—along with my daughter, Mollie; her friend, Kailey; the notable musician Delilah DeWylde and her friend Natalie Biddle. Our finished product: Borealis Blonde (named because I now am finally able to see the Northern Lights where I live and, well…I’m blonde!).

My experience with making Borealis Blonde is featured in the July, 2015 issue of Women’s Lifestyle Magazine and you can read the pretty formatted article there on pages 34-35 (along with some basic beer definitions, ingredient lists and additional sources). Or, you can click below and read the article here—along with photos from our days at the brewery. And, since July is href="">Michigan Craft Beer Month it seems appropriate that this story be published this month. Cheers!

The craft beer scene is taking Michigan (and the country, for that matter) by storm. Currently, Michigan, the “Great Beer State,” is home to more than 155 breweries (and growing, monthly). It’s safe to say there are at least two dozen, if not more, breweries in various stages of planning at any given moment and there seems to be no end in sight.

Beer festivals are also on the rise in Michigan with four events held annually by the Michigan Brewers Guild, the official trade association for this thriving industry. Community festivals are also held in Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Lansing, Ludington, Bridgman, Mackinaw City, Detroit, Charlevoix and countless other cities around the state.

Saugatuck Brewing Co.For those who would like to take their craft beer experience beyond the pub or the festival grounds, there is one place in Michigan that allows you to step in the shoes of the brewer. At Saugatuck Brewing Company, you have the opportunity to create your own brew; from selecting the recipe to creating a custom label and bottling a finished product, you’ll get the whole experience.

Saugatuck Brewing is one of the few “Brew on Premises” operations in the state, and for roughly $300, your group of up to six people can take part. This activity is ideal for corporate team building, wedding parties, birthday celebrations or any other gathering of friends. It’s a time to be creative, drink craft beer and have a great time socializing.


Once a brew date is selected, Dexter Gauntlett, the head brew-on-premise brewer, works diligently to help the group determine which style of beer they’d like to make. With more than 200 recipes to choose from, not to mention custom blends, the opportunities are endless. The experience, run by Gauntlett, takes about four hours on brew day, with another hour dedicated to labeling and bottling a few weeks later. The experience delivers personal instruction, all the equipment, and up to 72 22-ounce (750ml) bottles of your customized beer, fit with personalized labels if you choose to do so.


In early March, I had the opportunity to cross “Brew Beer” off my 2015 bucket list. I and four other women ventured to Saugatuck Brewing Company. The group included myself, my daughter Mollie and her friend Kailey, my fellow beer-loving sidekick Delilah and her friend Natalie, who is a home-brewer. This power team of all women was geared up and ready for a day of brewing!

We arrived around 10 a.m. ready to make our slightly hopped blonde ale named “Borealis Blonde” after the northern lights that frequent the skies of Michigan.

The small 3.5-barrel system that Saugatuck uses for its public brewing program is the same that they used for their own operations when they opened in 2005. The program hosts six individual tanks for brewing, allowing Gauntlett to manage multiple groups simultaneously.

Our Borealis Blonde began with a recipe featuring pilsen malt, cara-pilsen dextrin, munich malt and three different types of hops: simcoe, cascade and motueka. Gauntlett had all the ingredients lined up and ready to go when we arrived.

The first step, or the mash process, involves adding about 18 pounds of hand-milled grain into the mash kettle. Over the next hour, the thick, hot cereal-like mixture warms and steams, dispelling a malty fragrance into the air of the pub as it is stirred every 10 to 15 minutes. There’s no question you’re in a brewery.

An hour or so into the process, and once the fermentable sugars are extracted into the mash, the grain is lifted out of the kettle and sparged, which rinses the remaining sugars out of the grain bed. What remains is a hefty supply of spent grain, which is bagged up and sent home with each of us for recipe creation (mine became a fruit and nut based granola).

The next step took about an hour and involves boiling the wort and adding hops at various intervals. These hop additions add bitterness and other floral citrusy flavors and aromas to the brew. “Without hops, the resulting beer would be very sweet and likely not very palatable,” said Gauntlett.

At the end of the boil, the wort is cooled, filtered and pumped into a fermenter. Here, the yeast is pitched into the fermenter and then stored in a temperature controlled room. Our work is done at this point until we return three weeks later to bottle our creation; the bottle process takes about an hour from affixing the custom labels to filling, capping and boxing the beer.

The take-home result, besides the unique, inspiring and educational experience, is enough beef for roughly a case per person (if you’ve got a group of five). Perfect for sharing with friends back home!

The “Brew on Premises” program at Saugatuck Brewing is offered by appointment seven days a week, year-round. For more information, visit or call (616) 990-8865 and ask for Dexter Gauntlett.


“This is such a unique experience. What I most enjoyed was how easy it was. You really do just have to follow the recipe. It’s like a day of baking with your friends, except you get the perks of great beer while you do it!” – Mollie Stampfler

“Bottling and labeling was probably my favorite part, and our beer turned out to be delicious. It was nice and light, citrusy, with just a tiny hint of bitterness —right up my alley! The label was beautiful and the beer was something we made together, which made it all the more sweet to sit back and enjoy our end product.” - Kailey Fisher

“Brewing at SBC is a great learning experience. It’s also a chance to catch up with old friends, as well as make new ones.” - Delilah DeWylde

Reprinted with permission from the July, 2015 issue of Women’s Lifestyle Magazine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valentine Distilling — Bringing Sexy Back!

When you’re born with the suave Italian name Rifino Valentine, you’re destined to do one of three things – rock the screen as a star in the adult entertainment industry, rule the neighborhood as a gangster or take on the beverage industry as an award-winning, hand-crafted distiller.

It was option three that this Michigan-born-and-raised entrepreneur opted for in 2009 when he returned from an 11-year stint on Wall Street to launch Valentine Distilling Co. Drawing inspiration from the 1920s-era, the Valentine Vodka brand exudes sex – complete with a pin-up girl dressed in a tight red corset and fishnet stockings, holding a dirty martini – as a salute to Detroit’s pre-prohibition history.

But Valentine isn’t just a pretty face!

Today, Rifino utilizes a world-class Christian Carl Still to craft his traditional vodka, an elderflower infusion called White Blossom, Liberator Gin and Woodward Ltd. Bourbon.

The brand has accumulated a handful of prestigious awards over the past few years, most recently a 94-point ranking from Anthony Dias Blue, editor-in-chief of The Tasting Panel magazine – proudly placing higher than noted international brands like Belvedere, Ketel One, Grey Goose and Absolut. Liberator Gin was named 'Best American Gin' by the American Distilling Institute and Liberator Old Tom Gin was awarded 'World's Best Cask Gin' out of London.

“Returning to Michigan to start this venture, my goal was to craft a product that competes with the elite imported brands,” Rifino says. “With this latest ranking from the most well-respected wine and spirits reviewer, it really is satisfying that we were able to do just that! Now, we can truly say that you’re not just buying local, you’re buying better!”

Valentine products are currently found at more than 3000 retail stores, restaurants and bars throughout seven states, France, Belgium and Italy. For the full experience, be sure to visit the “speak-easy” style martini bar and production facility at 161 Vester Street in downtown Ferndale. Hours: Tues-Thurs, 4:30-11; Fri-Sat, 4:30-1, Sun 12-6.