BREWERY OF THE MONTH: Oddside Ales
Everyone has their point of breaking, and for Oddside Ales Founder Chris Michner, it came a few years after graduating college from Michigan State University, where he spent some time homebrewing with a friend. Beer was put on the back burner in favor of education and pursuing a career, and, soon enough, he found himself worn by accounting.
"I liked the idea of brewing better than sitting in a cubicle for 60 hours a week," Michner said. "It just gets old."
He settled in a suite in an old piano factory called Clark's in Grand Haven, and soon began work on the taproom and brewery, which opened on March 17, 2010.
"When we first acquired it, it already felt like a taproom," Michner said. "It had that industrial warehouse feel to it, like most old factories do."
The whole idea behind the brewery was to make 'unusual ales' that feature unique ingredients, bold twists and unique flavors to intrigue the palate. Oddside started on a very small production scale (20gallon), which is perfect for a brewery geared toward experimentation. The brewery has now created a portfolio more than 80 beers strong, which keeps taproom offerings ever-changing.
"The unusual beers tend to bring people in the door, but they'll drink the regular styles, too," Michner said. "Sometimes we look to food for inspiration. For example, our Mayan Mocha Stout is based on the classic Mayan hot chocolate."
Oddside's flagship is Citra Pale, which features a fantastic display of Citra hop bitterness and flavor over a relaxed pale base. The other regular offerings include Bean Flicker, a blonde ale featuring local coffee, Mayan Mocha Stout, brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg and habanero peppers, and a Pineapple IPA, which gives the brew a sweet taste amidst a moderate bitterness.
"There are so many breweries and beer bars around, and to stand out from the crowd these days, you have to think outside the box, and that's what we're good at," said Erik Frederiksen, longtime bar manager.
In 2012, Oddside began looking for an off site production facility, and secured one four miles away. By Winter, the 15bbl brew house was in full operation. Oddside had been distributing statewide before the expansion, and got an idea of the public response to their beers. Oddside acquired a six-head bottling line, upping production significantly, and set Citra Pale to be released year round, with other specialties to be released, in quantity, once a year.
"First, we test a beer in the taproom to see what the customers say," Michner said. "Then it goes to our distributor in kegs to see how it does in the marketplace. We check out the reviews to see what people are saying and go from there."
Lineup highlights for this year include Mint Stout, Bourbon Barrel Mayan Mocha Stout, Instigator IPA, Hells Yes Helles Lager, Bourbon Citra Pale, along with a Hefeweizen and a Red IPA.
"We're not trying to make the IPA that everyone else makes, or a pumpkin beer," Michner said. "Everyone releases one, and we say 'Let's release our apple pie beer instead,' which we make with Vandermill Cider."
There are limited plans for Oddside's future, having recently completed its first major expansion and maintaining current markets.
"This is a fun place, maybe the best around, to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new," Frederiksen said. "That's why I started hanging out here. It's fun to try new things, and variety is the spice of life."
BEER OF THE MONTH: Keewenaw Brewing Co. Old Ore Dock Scotch Ale
This brew pours a semi-clear copper with a bright, cream-colored head that smells of caramel and biscuit. A little lighter than medium bodied, the beer exhibits great burnt caramel flavors with notes of biscuit and toffee with little to no hop presence. This brew is also aged in red oak barrels, lending some faint, earthy barrel tones to the presentation.
- In February Siciliano's Specialty Market in Grand Rapids was voted RateBeer's Top Grocery for beer in the nation in addition to HopCat being named the No. 1 beer bar in the nation for the second year.
- On March 8, the 4th annual Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival will feature live music, games, great food, and of course, more than 150 craft, specialty and import beers. Visit jacksoncountyfair.net for more info.
- Also happening on March 8 is the 5th Annual Brew-Ski festival. Enjoy live music, skiing and more than 220 beers from around the U.S. Event is free (beer token-based event) and packages are available.
- At the Art of Beer Festival, explore more than 100 local brews at the Mendel Center in Benton Harbor alongside great food and live music on March 22. Visit artofbeerfest.com for more info and tickets.