Article by Gina Myers

Like many people, Rex Halfpenny's interest in beer began when he was a teenager, and his interest grew to foreign beer when he was in college, though he admits then "we were all about the quality of the buzz." In 1984, when he was transferred to California for work, Halfpenny says, "I found myself in the middle of the birth of the American craft beer renaissance and naturally fell in love with it. I made it a point to try all beers. I drank a lot of crap to find good beer. I didn't know what made a good beer or a bad beer, but I knew the difference and what I liked."

Since that moment of discovery, Halfpenny has educated himself on the subject and has become a leader in the field. After completing the Sensory Evaluation of Beer program at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1997, he spearheaded the effort to legalize home brewing in Michigan. In 1998, he and his wife Mary founded the Michigan Brewers Guild, where he served as the executive director for the first two years. Further, Halfpenny has served on judge panels for the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, the two largest commercial competitions in America. He publishes the Michigan Beer Guide, and his writing has appeared in numerous other beer-related magazines, including American Brewer, Beer the Magazine, Brew Your Own, Celebrator, Great Lakes Brewing News, Midwest Brew Notes, and New Brewer Magazine. He also teaches courses on the sensory analysis of beer and on how to become a beer judge.

On Tuesday, January 19th, Halfpenny will be bringing his knowledge to Lumber Baron's Charcoal Grill & Brew Pub in Bay City. "Beer Studies 501" is an advanced level beer class that he has been doing monthly at Lumber Baron's since January 2007. The Oakland County resident does similar speaking engagements throughout the state. "I love a new audience," he explains. "To reach them with the truth about beer flavor and complexity is eye-popping for them and personally rewarding for me." Though there are new people in attendance from time to time, Halfpenny has more-or-less a crowd of regulars at Lumber Baron's each month which is "rewarding because they are like my followers. Many have heard my stories for years and still come back for more." The speaking engagements don't just benefit those in the audience.  Halfpenny credits the regular series with keeping him on his toes: "[The speaking engagements keep me] up to date with current beer-related events and news, and it makes me search to find more things to change, to add and keep it interesting."

Halfpenny began doing these lectures about twelve years ago when he was asked by the owner of the Royal Oak Brewery. He says, "The concept was simple: teach folks how to enjoy good beer, price it so folks come every month, use it as marketing fore the restaurant and build a stronger beer culture." Since then, he has spoken at Henry Ford Museum, Schoolcraft College, other museums, art galleries, grocery stores, events, libraries, private residencies, breweries and restaurants.

For those interested in checking out "Beer Studies 501," Halfpenny explains what to expect: "Beer and cheese. Wine folks kind of took on the whole food thing and have successfully elevated wine to be more worthy than beer. White linen with fine dining and crystal, not with 12-ounce long necks. This was fine for decades, but now beer style diversity has come back and with it beer has regained its rightful place on the dinner table. Beer is remarkable with all food, and on this evening we do it focused on cheese, another food, that like beer, has been around since the dawn of civilization."

Some people may recognize Halfpenny from Good Morning America. The native Hawaiian was part of Hike-a-Nation, a 14 month cross-country backpacking trip sponsored by the US Department of Interior, which he was often a spokesperson for. His extensive travels exposed him to the growing craft beer industry in the US. He has been making beer, wine, and mead at home since 1992.

Halfpenny is reluctant to pick a favorite beer: "I like big flavorful brews overall. I can generalize and say I like strong Belgian and Trappist ales best, but I also like well-constructed, not necessarily the most bitter, strong IPAs too." He adds, "I buy beer for my cellar and select from it by the day depending on the season and temperature, time of day and/or dinner menu, guests, and my particular mood. All these things make different beers the best for that time and place."

The next "Beer Studies 501" takes place on Tuesday, January 19th at Lumber Barons, 804 E. Midland Street, Bay City. Cost is $25. Call 989.891.0100 for reservations. The new 13th anniversary edition of the Michigan Beer Guide is out now. For more information, visit:

© Gina Myers, 2010