In my home town of Marshall, Mich., there is a brewery that myself and other Michigan beer fans are well acquainted with. Aaron Morse graduated a few year's behind me from Marshall High School, and in 2000 opened Dark Horse Brewing just a few blocks south of the iconic Brooks Fountain. Aaron has his own way of running a business, and according to him, Dark Horse Nation is not only about crafting beer, it’s a way of life.
Eric Strader, one of The Elkhart Truth’s community bloggers
, writes about craft beer with a focus on the Michiana area.
The brewery's recipe for success is as much about experimentation and trouble-shooting as it is self-taught skill and determination. Every week, there is a new project, from creating outlandish inventions to building additions to their ever-growing compound. Around the brewery everything is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, or, as they like to put it, the “Dark Horse Way.”
I have been visiting the brewery from day one and have loved watching the business grow. In the beginning, it was just a small tap room with a few beers on tap. Now there is a kitchen with a varied food menu, great outdoor beer garden, a huge barrel program, and about 3,000 mugs for club members hanging on the walls, ceiling, and just about anywhere a mug will fit.
Recently I stopped to enjoy a beer and some lunch. They had their single hop IPA series on tap, which includes Edacsac Dekoorc Eert (using Cascade hops, 6.5% ABV), FF Dekoorc Eert (using Falconer's Flight hops, 6.5% ABV), and Ollopa Dekoorc Eert (using Apollo hops, 6.5% ABV). These beers begin as Dark Horse's flagship Crooked Tree IPA (6.5% ABV), then are hopped with one single variety of hops - hence the name of each spelled backwards with the hops in the name as well. The food menu included Black Bier Chili (using their Special Reserve Black Ale), shrimp and roasted corn chowder (using their Amber Ale) and much much more.
Aaron and Bryan Wiggs (head brewer known just as Wiggs) were both in a meeting, so I met up with Travis, the general manager of the pub. He had just gotten a new cooler installed in the outdoor beer garden that was several times larger than the previous one - that makes for a very happy pub manager.
Beginning on Tuesday, July 29, a new 12-episode series will premiere on HISTORY - DARK HORSE NATION. It will follow the crew through their day-to-day adventures at the brewery. You will get a taste of how these life-long friends joined and follow the lead of their rebel and fearless visionary (Aaron) to brew great beer and share it with the world the Dark Horse Way. They currently distribute to 12 states and are determined to turn their business into a household name.
The people featured in DARK HORSE NATION are:
Aaron Morse – Owner, Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Aaron is the brains and vision behind the meteoric rise of Dark Horse Brewing Co. He’s created a national following for his offbeat microbrews and has turned Dark Horse into a lifestyle. But his genius doesn’t stop at beer – he has endless ambition for designing and engineering a better way to do things. He’s determined to grow Dark Horse the brand into an international phenomenon and he’s going to do it his way.
Wacky Morse – Aaron Morse’s father/Co-Owner, Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Aaron started Dark Horse in the back of his father’s party store. This fact is not lost on Wacky who, though retired, still comes to work every day like he owns the joint. It is Aaron’s place now but that doesn’t stop Wacky from bossing everyone around, including his son.
Cabe – Head of Maintenance, Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Cabe is able to build anything that Aaron Morse can dream up. Cabe spends his time rigging, welding, hammering and drinking. Not necessarily in that order. He once had a job in corporate America and he doesn’t want to go back.
Wiggs – Head of Brewery Operations, Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Wiggs is in charge of all brewing at Dark Horse. He is the chemist tasked with creating more than 80 limited release brews each year. As Dark Horse continues to grow, Wiggs just keeps going – an endless surplus of creativity and brewing ingenuity. He’s the only brew master that Aaron has ever wanted on his team and a big reason for why there is such a cult following for Dark Horse Beer.
Chappy – Head of Shipping and Receiving, Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Chappy and Aaron Morse have known each other the longest; two misfit kids who grew up in Marshall, Mich., and are now bonded for life. He is the gatekeeper of Dark Horse – he knows everything that comes in and goes out of the compound. Chappy is also the biggest and strongest guy at Dark Horse and serves as crowd control on those nights that get a little rowdy.
Go online to see a brief sneak peek of the series.
Dark Horse beer is available on draft and in bottles throughout Michiana. Currently you can find several of their full timers such as Crooked Tree IPA, Amber Ale, Raspberry Ale, Special Reserve Black Ale and Boffo Brown. In addition, I have seen some bottles of their part-timers on the shelf - Scotty Karate and Thirsty Trout Porter. And I have even seen some of their stout series - One Oatmeal Stout, Two Cream Stout, and Fore Smoked Stout. However, I have not seen any of the Tres Blueberry or Plead the 5th Imperial Stout on the shelves in awhile.
Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th (Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels, 11% ABV) is one of their most highly rated and highly coveted beers. It is released annually at their Four Elf Party in December, and if you can get your hands on this, you will not be disappointed. One of my favorite Dark Horse beers was only brewed once - Monster 29 (barley wine 17.5% ABV). Monster 29 was brewed on the 36th Anniversary of the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald and is in memory of the 29 men that perished aboard the ship on Lake Superior. It was brewed with 13 different malts, 10 different fermented sugar combinations, and other special ingredients. And yes, it is a monster of a beer.
If you really want to experience Dark Horse Nation, however, the best way is to travel the 90 minutes north-east to Marshall, Mich. It is a great way to spend an afternoon, or check out some of the free live music in the beer garten on Thursdays. On Saturday, August 16, the brewery will host its annual Chicken Wing Thing featuring wings, 13 sauces, live music, and of course, plenty of good Dark Horse beer. Quite often at these events, there will be special release beers that are only available at the brewery.
DARK HORSE NATION is produced for HISTORY by Warrior Poets. Tim Healy and Steve Ascher are executive producers for HISTORY. Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin, Ethan Goldman, Morgan Spurlock, and Elizabeth Wolff are executive producers for Warrior Poets.