Focus, Arts & Entertainment, and Food Service & Agriculture

Tasting festival expects to draw more than 17,000 downtown

November 14, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Tasting is at the heart of this weekend’s Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer and Food Festival.

The festival will present more than 1,200 wines and hundreds of beers, ciders and spirits Thursday through Saturday at DeVos Place. More than 17,000 public and trade attendees are expected at one of the largest culinary festivals in the Midwest. Tickets are $15 on Thursday and $20 Friday and Saturday, with a $40 three-day pass also available. Food and beverage sampling tickets are extra.

“Since the beginning, this has been a tasting event,” said Dawn Baker, the festival’s manager. “People are becoming discerning in their taste and we want them to be able to taste the best products possible.”

The show is in its seventh year and has grown every year since its inception. Baker expects this year will be no different.

The biggest addition this year is a mobile app that will guide attendees through the festival and enable them to take notes on the products they try.

“Our event is a social one as much as it is educational,” Baker said. “We want people to engage with each other and vendors, but as they learn things, they can utilize the app and record the things they like about various products to help influence future purchases.”

The event’s showcase is the main floor wine exhibition, which includes various Michigan wines along with national and international brands.

Now that Grand Rapids has become BeerCity USA, Baker said beer is an increasingly popular piece of the event. This year marks the second year of the Brewers Loft, which showcases dozens of breweries, from macro to craft.

“We’ve always had a craft beer hall,” she said. “As it’s grown, we had to find … a better way to sample them and help the traffic flow through the exhibit.”

Also included in the event are dozens of cideries and distilleries, many from Michigan, as both industries strive to strengthen consumer awareness.

“There’s a renewed passion for spirits,” Baker said.

This year there’s an expanded focus on coffee. Three area roasters will partake in RendezBREW: Rowster Coffee, MadCap and Ferris Coffee & Nut highlight the rebranded coffee, cordial and dessert area, and will offer seminars.

Twenty area restaurants will serve up small plates for visitors to taste as they browse. Select restaurants also will pair with wineries and breweries for special pairing events and multi-course meals.

The pairings are served onsite in a casual bar-top setting. Tickets are first-come, first-serve, and are available online or at the festival for between $35 and $45.

Various professionals will host cooking demonstrations and beverage seminars in rooms off the Grand Gallery and near the third-floor Brewers Loft. Presenters include Master Chef Daniel Joly, “The Fresh Chef” Amanda Leatherman, Secchia Institute for Culinary Education’s Angus Campbell and Hudsonville Ice Cream’s Ray Sierengowski.

Presenters from Meijer Inc. include research chef Jennifer Gritters and healthy living advisors Tina Miller and Shari Steinbach.

Wine and beer experts include New Holland’s Fred Bueltmann, Brewery Vivant’s Ben Darcie, Henry A. Fox Sales Co.’s Steve Smith, Virtue Cider’s Gregory Hall and Coppercraft Distillery’s Walter Catton.

Attendees can shop the Riverfront Market for wine accessories, chocolate, pasta, cheese, oils, olives, sauces, mixes and dips.

Baker said this is also a business-to-business event.

“We invite distributors to invite potential customers to the show and sample products,” she said. “Following the show, we get all of that contact information and exchange it to the exhibitors so they have leads to the potential customers they interacted with.”

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