Kim and Laren are beer guys.
The duo has been crafting their original takes on several brews since they met at Mount Pleasant Brewing Company in 2008.
Kim Kowalski, master brewer, came to the brewery in 2006. He quickly set to work challenging and perfecting what his new employer already had on tap.
“Kim brought in a superior product,” said his fellow brewer, Laren Avery. “He puts a lot of passion into his beer. It’s fermentation of the imagination.”
Joined by Avery while he was interning through Central Michigan University’s food service administration program, Kowalski said improvement is the driving force behind his craft. He’s been brewing since 1998.
“They had these beers already. I brought recipes to improve everything from the color to the taste,” Kowalski said. “They haven’t been changed in years. It’s just my job to make things better as a brewer.”
At the Oktoberfest celebration last week, Kowalski and Avery served up four handmade beers to the myriad of thirsty patrons.
Featuring Raspberry Wheat Ale, Golden Ale, Iron Horse IPA and an Oktoberfest lager, the pair spent countless months preparing the bubbly beverages.
“To brew beer, you take a glass and visualize everything,” Kowalski said. “You consider the taste, the smell and even the head on top. Formulation is probably the easiest part, timing is the most important. We collaborate on everything. If Laren has an idea, we sit down and talk about it.”
The flagship beer at Oktoberfest is brewed in late June, Kowalski said. It is then lagered, or stored at low temperatures, for the entire summer.
The result is a much smoother taste, Kowalski said – perfect to invite the changing seasons.
“We try to get it as close as we can to the tradition of late spring to early summer,” Kowalski said. “It is served in late September to bring in October. Oktoberfest is the best. It’s smooth, yet malty.”
During the year, the pair brews nine beers at the Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, three of which rotate seasonally. They produce 500 gallons per batch and make up to two batches per week.
Ales are the quickest beer to be brewed at three weeks, while lagers can take up to five months.
“It sits for a while,” Avery said of the Oktoberfest lager. “But it’s worth it.”
Avery explained that the four basic ingredients in beer — malt, hops, water and yeast — can be augmented for flavor by a wealth of additions.
Both he and Kowalski said they have added honey hibiscus, black pepper, beets, dandelions, almonds and even hot peppers into their brew on occasion.
“It’s all for the good of the beer, because the beer is good,” Avery said. “It’s like art: All in the interpretation.”
Holland senior James Holton was found under the tent at Oktoberfest sipping the locally crafted confections. He said he prefers to drink local.
“It’s something cool,” Holton said of the locally-produced beer. “I’ve always preferred local beers. It’s kind of like fighting the machine.”
But as the festivities were underway, Executive Chef at Mountain Town Station Doug Evans began to dance with his machine, too.
The six-foot grill exploded with the smells of charred bratwurst and roasted peppers as patrons lined up in droves to enjoy the food.
“It’s really a fairly limited menu,” Evans said of the offerings. “The biggest thing is brats, but people also like the soft pretzels and our lager dip. It’s not really a high-scale thing. It’s your typical comfort-style food for people to relax.”
Brent Peterson, executive chef at Camile’s on the River was also at Oktoberfest, happy to lend a hand and take part in the festivities.
“It breaks up the monotony of the kitchen,” he said of Oktoberfest. “It’s about getting out and being with other people, not being hamsters in the cage.”