Detroit Breweries Collaborate to Create Faygo Inspired Beers
For the past four years, Detroit area breweries have teamed up in October to collaborate on innovative beers in honor of the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Fall Beer Festival. However, this year’s theme took experimentation to the next level. Seven breweries decided to pay homage to the cornerstone of Michigan pop (not soda), Faygo, the beloved pop brand of Michiganders and Juggalos alike. While Faygo has been covered in the national press, usually as a side-story to the oddities of the Insane Clown Posse, the Detroit Beer Experiment, a collective of Detroit-based breweries, decided to give the product it’s culinary due by way of beer. Stephen Rogonson of Batch Brewing Co and Robert Orler of Brew Detroit were nice enough to answer some questions about the Detroit Beer Experiment.
The History of Detroit Beer Experiment
Rogonson explained that the idea came up four years ago. In an effort to highlight Detroit Beer Week, which leads up to the festival, local brewers wanted to showcase to visitors what Detroit breweries had to offer. Situated on either side of a small park in Corktown, Batch Brewing & Brew Detroit were able to highlight the best parts of working with, as opposed to against your fellow brewers.
“Anyone that comes to our tasting room, we send them over to Batch and they send them our way as well,” said Orler. “Any Detroit brewers can walk into another brewery and are treated like family.” The name of the group was an homage to a record by Carl Craig called the Detroit Experiment. Much like how the Detroit Experiment was able to highlight Detroit’s history of house music with jazz, Detroit Beer Experiment hoped to highlight unique aspects of the Detroit beer scene.
That first year, each brewery made a Weizenbock and debuted their beers at the Fall Festival. In the second year, each brewery teamed up with a local restaurant to make a collaborative and complimentary beer. That 2016 experiment created beers ranging from Traffic Jam & Snug + Avalon Bakery’s Carrot Cake Dubbel “Don’t Care At All”, Atwater Brewing + Slows BBQ’s “Smokebox”, which had malts smoked in Slow’s smoker, and Brew Detroit + Johnny Noodle King ‘s Ponzu Pilsner. “Every time we sit down together as a brewing community to chat and share ideas is really great. We’re always challenging each other to do different things” Mr. Orler remarked. ”If I didn’t have Detroit Beer Experiment I wouldn’t have thrown fish sauce in a beer.”
Last year they took the next leap in growing the community, with each pre-existing brewery teaming up with a brewery that was in the process of opening in the city. “We looked at breweries that were in planning in Detroit, versus what breweries were already in Detroit and it just so happened that that for every brewery that was in planning there was a brewery that already existed.” Mr, Orler remembered. Therefore everyone teamed up and competed for the Inaugural James Beer’d award, which was won by Black Bottom Brewing and Batch Brewing.
Running with a Joke
Orler spoke about the genesis of this year’s colorful collaboration. “I’ve thought about Faygo, and I think every brewer had talked about the idea of dumping Faygo into beer at some point kind jokingly.“ However, the decision to pay homage to Detroit’s hometown pop also meant dropping the Beer’d award, at least for the year. “Because a lot of us are really trying to focus on that Faygo flavor, we didn’t want it to turn into a Faygo contest… I think we all were pleasantly surprised at how unique every beer did come out and how a lot of them really kept that beer flavor while highlighting and complementing the Faygo.“ With over 50 different flavors, like Candy Apple, Cotton Candy, and Pineapple Watermelon, the breweries had a world of possible combinations before them.
When I asked about expanding into other events, Detroit Beer Experiment will likely remain married to the event that started it. “I think we really like the idea of it being unique to the fall festival,“ said Orler. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, as we grow Detroit beer culture, you see other things that kinda happen from it.” Rogonson added, “As far as more people? That depends on how many breweries open in Detroit! The more the merrier – so long as you’re located in the Detroit city limits.”
Detroit Beer Experiment’s Faygo Lineup
In an attempt to show as little favoritism as possible, I’m putting the beers in the order I was able to taste them. Much like Mr. Orler, I was shocked at how well each brewery was able to make a palatable beer that you’d actually want to take a bottle home of in what could have been written off as a gimmick. Not only was it a treat chase around Eastern Market with my rag-tag crew to find each participant, But It also made me genuinely excited to see how these guys could top themselves in a year.
Lunar Spritz IPA (Moon Mist Faygo) | Eastern Market Brewing Co.
I’m not gonna lie, I tried Moon Mist IPA before heading to the fest in part because Moon Mist is my least favorite Faygo flavor done by one of my favorite breweries to visit. Lovingly described by Juggalos on Thrillist as “a flatter Mountain Dew.” whose taste is less scary, Moon Mist to me is the flavor of teenage boys running out of pop at an all-night gaming fest and running to the gas station to pick up something to fuel them through 2-5 am. Eastern Market Brewing, who just last year were one of DBE’s yet-to-open competitors, dumped GALLONS of Moon Mist into their vats, and came out with a shockingly lovely Pale Ale that gets to the heart of the lemon/lime flavoring that is about the closest you can get to a natural “flavor” to Moon Mist.
Double Dirty Blonde with Faygo Orange & Coriander | Atwater Brewing Co.
Building upon what’s their most widely distributed beer, Atwater already knew they had an initial winning combination of Orange and coriander, and just doubled down on their orange-kissed wheat to make it an orange make-out session. Well balanced and mixed, Atwater could easily sell this to their devotees on the regular for wheat lovers who enjoy squeezing their orange slice into the beer to let the pulp truly soak in.
Scotch Cherry Whoop Whoop (Faygo Rock & Rye) | Founders Brewing Co.
The Biggest name in the game is also a newbie to the Detroit area, having opened their outpost almost a year ago, Founders went a different route. While most the other brewers tried to take a Faygo pop and work it into their beer for a new creation, Founder’s took (my most beloved flavor) Rock & Rye, and attempted to replicate the flavor into a Scotch Ale. Founders was able to almost too perfectly match the mellow cherry vanilla flavor of the real Rock & Rye, restoring the pre-prohibition drink name to its boozy roots. Extra points for using the Juggalo “Whoop Whoop” call in the name.
RedPop Kettle Sour (Faygo RedPop) | Traffic Jam & Snug
As I mentioned before in my city roundup, Traffic Jam and Snug is the true O.G. of the Detroit craft beer community with the first microbrewery licensed in MI. They also have stood the test of time, surviving throughout the decades on a cozy little street and keeping the place warm for when Motor City Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, and Jack White’s Third Man Records joined them within the last few years. They took on the extremely sugary strawberry cream RedPop and used a Kettle Sour to try and evenly cut through all that sugar to create an equilibrium. The flavors hit separately on taste but combine very nicely in the aftertaste.
Cotton Candy Berliner Weisse (Faygo Cotton Candy) | Brew Detroit
I was already scared of this beer when they went with what must be the most sugary of all the insanely sugary Faygos but my apprehension hit new levels upon seeing the Gatorade yellow color of the beer. When I asked Mr. Orler about his flavor combination he said, “I had a few ideas of what I wanted to use, but cotton candy was always my number one choice because it is such a unique pop that Faygo does make.” Within 5 minutes of the group deciding to participate in the Faygo edition, had already locked in on the cotton candy Berliner Weisse. That confidence paid off, as the Cotton Candy Berliner Weisse was amazing. Since the style is often served with a flavor addition anyway to cut any sharpness or bitterness of the style, it leant itself to the general idea and was perfectly paired with (to me) the normally overwhelming cotton candy pop, muting it to something that (drinking age) children of all ages could love.
60/40 Radler (Faygo 60/40) | Detroit Beer Co.
Faygo’s 60/40 is a grapefruit-lime concoction that leaves you to you to guess which flavor is the dominate. When used in this Radler combination, the grapefruit stood out with a nice tartness. In our conversation, Robert Orler praised how well Detroit Beer Company had been able to make a Radler that tasted true to the style in a way you wouldn’t necessarily think they had used Faygo over actual grapefruit and lime juices.
Better Made Grape Gose (Faygo Grape) | Batch Brewing Co.
Batch doubled down on Detroit realness by expanding upon the original assignment by sourcing its salt not from any old shaker but from hometown snack heroes Better Made Potato Chip. The result was so anticipated the kegs that were brought for beer festival had all kicked by the time I got there at the opening of day two. Batch Brewing held some at their HQ and I was able to drop by and try it after work one day. Like many grape flavored items, you can smell this bad-boy from a mile away. However, Batch does a superior job of forcing the flavor to play well with others, and the Gose holds all the right style notes, while still giving you that syrupy tang that causes kids everywhere to occasionally down some Triaminic or Robitussin.
All said and done, a round of applause is owed to the men & women who participated in this years Detroit Beer Experiment for taking what could have been a stunt and dedicating themselves to making something delicious. As for the future of Faygo beers, the success of this years release may mean you’ll see more Faygo-inspiration in the future. Mr Orler teased “I definitely had some other ideas of potential Faygo flavors that weren’t even taken by anyone else in the Detroit brewers circle. But with how well [Cotton Candy Berline Weiss] turned it out, has me thinking we may debut those at a later date.