Michigan didn’t get its nickname, “The Great Beer State,” by accident. The state is ranked fifth in the nation in total number of breweries, and it has an extremely active Michigan Brewer’s Guild. According to Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG), the brewing industry provides the state with more than 5,100 jobs, more than $144 million in wages and more than $277 million in total output. Those of us who travel to Michigan regularly don’t need these statistics or polls to convince us, because we know how good Michigan beer is!
Each July, the MBG sponsors the state’s biggest festival in Ypsilanti, Mich. This year’s festival will feature approximately 800 different beers from more than 80 Michigan craft breweries. Food will be available for purchase inside the festival, and guests will enjoy live music from a variety of Michigan bands. Unfortunately for those without tickets, the event sold out weeks ago, as it does every year. However, you don’t have to attend the festival to experience Michigan beer.
Eric Strader writes about the craft beer scene in Indiana and Michigan. He’s a dad, husband, potter, soccer coach and special education paraprofessional who likes to read, bike, hike and canoe. You can read more from him in his community blog
for The Elkhart Truth, Hop Notes
And just to make it that much more official, in July of 2012, Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) introduced Senate Resolution No. 160 while 18 Michigan representatives introduced House Resolution No. 102, both of which declared July as Craft Beer Month in the state of Michigan.
Even though much of the beer I enjoy is from Michigan, I have been more intentional about drinking Michigan beer this month. Here are a few that I have enjoyed in the past couple of weeks:
Jolly Pumpkin/Anchorage Brewing Calabaza Boreal (7 percent ABV): Jolly Pumpkin is located in Dexter, Mich. This is a Belgian saison/farmhouse ale brewed with grapefruit peel, juice and peppercorns, then aged in oak barrels and bottle conditioned. Grapefruit and pepper are right up front in the flavor, with an underlying earthy tone and some herbal notes. There is a bit of sourness and a bitter finish, but overall it’s a very refreshing beer. This is available in Michiana in 750 milliliter bottles.
During the World Cup finals on Sunday, I shared a couple of Michigan beers with some soccer buddies, including Saugatuck Black Pearl Necklace (barrel aged imperial stout, 8 percent ABV). It pours very dark, but has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, a robust flavor from the Black Pearl malt and just a hint of beery from the Pacific Gem hops. There is a greater flavor of sweet roasted malt and chocolate, followed up with notes of bourbon. This was a gift a while back, and I would guess these bottles are not available anymore. However, I have heard that Saugatuck Brewing may begin distribution in northwest Indiana soon.
Brewery Terra Firma Cherry Festive Ale (bourbon barrel aged, 7.5 percent ABV): I first tasted this beer on our trip to northern Michigan last week. Since Traverse City, Mich., claims to be the cherry capital of the world, it seems only fitting that cherry beers are brewed there. Local cherries from King Orchards in Kewadin were used, then it was aged on Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans in Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon Barrels. Both the bourbon and cherry flavors are balanced nicely with a slightly sweet vanilla beginning and a slightly tart finish.
And what says Michigan more than a Bell’s Two Hearted while camping with a view of the Mackinac Bridge?
How about a Bell’s Oberon while having lunch at Ft. Mackinac on Mackinac Island?
There is no motorized traffic (except for one ambulance and two fire trucks) on the island, so all traffic is on foot, bike or by horse-drawn wagons. This means everything including trash pickup and beer deliveries.
Before we got to the Island, however, we stopped at a couple of breweries in Traverse City and one in Petoskey. Our first stop was Brewery Terra Firma. I first met owner and brewer John Niedermaier when he was the brewer at Right Brain Brewery (which was our next stop). Before that he was head brewer at the now closed Traverse Brewing Company, which was located in Williamsburg, Mich. I can remember making stops there to pick up bottles of Old Mission Lighthouse Ale and Manitou Amber Ale, both of which are now brewed at Terra Firma.
Terra Firma opened in the summer of 2013, and the tasting room has a nice, open feel, with lots of wood and windows. We were there right before lunch, so there were only a few others there at the time. In addition to the Cherry Festive Ale, I sampled two other beers – Karma Palace IPA (5.7 percent ABV) is one of the flagships and an easy drinking IPA that combines five hop varieties; Batch 500 (IPA, 7.1 percent ABV), brewed with whole cone hops, had a bigger hop blast, with more pronounced citrus and pine flavors. I look forward to my next trip north, which will include a stop here.
Russ Springsteen, owner and brewer of Right Brain Brewery, moved the business to a newer, larger location since I had last been to Traverse City. The new location has much of the same eclectic, industrial feel of the old place, but with a much larger tasting room and more room for the larger brewhouse as well. The name fits with all of the creativity that surrounds this place. The brewery serves up sandwiches on waffles instead of bread, and the beer recipes range from the traditional to ones brewed with asparagus and beets. I enjoyed a Crouching Tiger Hidden Barrel (rye IPA, 6.5 percent ABV, IBUs 55, barrel aged 14 months) with my waffle sandwich.
We had the opportunity to tour the new brewhouse with Russ and enjoyed a Thai Peanut (spicy brown ale, 6 percent ABV) while doing so. Russ has added a 15 barrel system to work alongside the former seven barrel system to keep up with demand. The brewery still does some labor intensive hand bottling, but now has four brands that are canned using the Michigan Mobile Canning unit. Right Brain is working to get its beer in more markets down state in both draft and package.
The last brewery stop on our northern Michigan tour was Beards Brewery in Petoskey, Mich. One of the fun things about being a beer blogger is that I get to meet and follow many breweries from before they even open their doors. This has been the case with Beards Brewing. My first visit with these guys was in a shell of a building, without much more than a few tanks in the brewhouse. Each visit, the beer tastes better and better. In fact, when I asked part-owner Peter Manthei what he reflects on as they approach their second anniversary, he told me the same thing.
With a brewing team consisting of part-owner Ben Slocum, Jon Hummel and Nathaniel Morton, the brewery is really dialing in on its recipes. Peter also told me the team is especially happy with the strong local community that has formed around the small brewery. You can hear more from Peter during his Beer In Review presentation at Beards Brewery’s August 17 anniversary party. Follow the brewery on Facebook for more details about this event and more.
I sampled two beers on my visit to Beards Brewery. Keedy’s Lament (milk stout, 7.75 percent ABV) was a special release. The name came from a private joke between some employees involving the cocktail named Irish car bomb, which combines stout, Irish cream and whiskey. Keedy’s Lament is a milk stout (using lactose) aged in Traverse City Distillery Bourbon Barrels for five months.
Wabbit Season (7.2 percent ABV, Jon’s recipe) is an IPA brewed with Warrior, Centennial and Nelson Sauvin hops and fermented with a Belgian yeast strain. It is somewhat like a Belgian IPA, with a nice hoppy profile, nice notes of banana and clove, and a dry, bitter finish.
Beards Brewery even attracted the attention of a couple traveling through from Brooklyn, N.Y. David Tedeschi and Rachael Hall were on their way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and being craft beer enthusiasts, stopped to check out what Beards had to offer. This is one of the other great parts of being a beer blogger – meeting beer enthusiasts from all over. I enjoyed chatting beer with them, and as they headed north, we then made our way back south.
The fact that I’m a native Michigander does play a huge role in the fact that I love Michigan and its beer. The fact that it is only minutes away from us here in Michiana means that there is no excuse for any beer lover not to explore Michigan beer at its source. However, if you can’t get up to Michigan, there are plenty of bottle choices at any Michiana bottle shop. Happy Craft Beer Month, Michigan!
If you are interested in Brewery Terra Firma and Right Brain Brewing, you might consider Marshall King’s foodie tour to Traverse City in the fall. This trip will stop at Terra Firma before heading to Right Brain for dinner later that evening.
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