Pictured: Trusty beer testers Nick Manes, Kim Kibby, John Wiegand at Dark Horse Brewing Co. Photo: Joe Boomgaard
Say what you will about West Michigan, we have an innate ability to vote for ourselves, particularly when it comes to beer.
Beer City USA – check.
Best beer bar – check.
Best beer retailer – check.
You get the idea. We take self-promotion to a master level that would earn us respect even from a noted huckster like P.T. Barnum.
While West Michigan certainly has its fair share of great breweries, it’s far from the only region in the state with top-notch offerings. To prove the point, REVUE West Michigan headed east to explore more of what the “Great Beer State” has to offer.
(Yes, we have fun jobs.)
Joining the whistlestop tour of the central and southeast Michigan beer were:
• Joe Boomgaard: Beer Czar of Revue and Managing Editor of sister publication MiBiz
• Kim Kibby: Creative Director of all Revue publications
• Nick Manes: Beer Bro/Juggalo Correspondent for Revue and Staff Writer for MiBiz
• John Wiegand: Staff Writer for MiBiz and de facto “new guy” in the office.
We set out in the early morning from Grand Rapids one late-August day with the mission of experiencing as much of the beer culture in that part of the state as we could pack into one day.
Here’s what we uncovered.
Horrocks Farm Market
7420 W. Saginaw Hwy., Lansing
shophorrocks.com, (517) 323-3782
The farm-market style grocery store offers a wide selection (as in, hundreds) of craft beers from around the globe. But the pièce de résistance is its new tavern inside the store that’s designed to allow patrons to “sip and stroll.” During our visit, crews were in the process of adding another 20 taps for a grand total of 50 beers that will be available for consumption in the store or for take-out in growlers.
(Note: We all shared a pint of New Holland Dragon’s Milk.)
Kim: Very nice store and staff with a huge selection of beer and wine, food and gardening goods. Bonus: FREE COFFEE!
John: Dragon’s Milk is a favorite of mine, but at 10 in the morning it just tasted like beer and bourbon to me.
Nick: Great hearty beer to call breakfast. An amazing store. Grand Rapids stores should take note of the shopping possibilities of having 50 beers at your disposal.
Joe: Soon to be 50 beers on draft – at a grocery store, no less! Great to see a small business being so innovative. They also have a killer selection of Michigan-sourced produce. Don’t miss the free coffee, either.
Jolly Pumpkin Ales
311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor
jollypumpkin.com, (734) 913-2730
Sour beers are Jolly Pumpkin’s specialty. All the brewing is done off site using open fermentation, oak aging and bottle conditioning. The company also has a location in Traverse City.
Kim: Bière de Mars was my fave — certainly tart, almost like a cider, but more earthy and slightly creamy. Sours are slightly outside of my comfort zone, but this seems like a good place to experiment. Funky-yet-cozy atmosphere with an eclectic menu – and kick-ass truffle fries!
John: Fuego Del Otono was my first walk down the sour lane. A nice break from IPAs and stouts. Refreshing and unique.
Nick: La Roja was a solid amber ale with the appropriate sour notes drinkers of Jolly Pumpkin have come to know and love. The place itself felt a little bit dungeon-y. Dark and dank.
Joe: I’m a fan of sour beers, and Bière de Mars was the musty, citrusy standout of the bunch. The wait staff was a bit quirky. Our attendant signaled that she was ready to take our order by telling us, “My pen is poised.” Solid food.
Grizzly Peak Brewing Company
120 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor
grizzlypeak.net, (734) 741-7325
Kim: The Grizzly Peak Pale Ale was dry, citrusy and medium-bodied – hoppier than most pales. Solid. Lodge-y/historic ambiance (inside).
John: Bear Paw Porter was a generic porter. Nothing to write home about, although I was a little sun-baked and beer-broiled at that point.
Nick: Steelhead Red was a decent amber but nothing particularly noteworthy. Being able to have the beer outside on the sidewalk, however, was a plus. More breweries should have un-cordoned patio sections on the sidewalk.
Joe: The Bear Paw Porter was solid, if unremarkable, and it was great to be able to enjoy it at the sidewalk table on such a gorgeous day.
ABC Microbrewery – Arbor Brewing Company
720 Norris St., Ypsilanti
arborbrewing.com, (734) 480-2739
Arbor Brewing has three locations: a pub in downtown Ann Arbor, a brewpub and beer garden in Ypsilanti and a pub in Bangalore, India. The Corner Brewery is an appealing setting with plenty of room for socializing and kicking back a few adult beverages with friends. The wait staff has just the right amount of surliness to keep things interesting.
Kim: The Mackinac Island Fudge Stout was not as chocolatey as the name suggests. Thin-bodied, but a smooth, OK stout. (Should have had a Buzzsaw!) The Corner Brewery featured a large space with a reading nook and nice beer garden. Bar stools were emblazoned with the names of regulars.
John: The Mackinac Island Fudge Stout was a smooth stout and not nearly as fudgey as I expected it to be.
Nick: Buzzsaw IPA has been one of my favorite IPAs in the state and is often difficult to find in West Michigan. Having it in a hefty 20-ounce mug in the beer garden while watching drunk bros play cornhole at 3 p.m. on a Thursday was also a highlight.
Joe: One of my favorite stops on frequent trips through the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. The Corner is everything a beer hall should be: Ample room for socializing, an outside beer garden complete with games, and oh yeah – solid beer. I only sampled the Kaladega Knights, a session black IPA, but it was very good.
93 Ecorse Rd., Ypsilanti
unityvibrationkombucha.com, (734) 277-4063
While not traditionally consumed as an alcoholic beverage, kombucha is an ancient drink that Unity Vibration ferments into something akin to an American wild ale. Currently just a production facility, the company expects to add a tasting room yet this year. Bombers of Unity Vibration’s various offerings (which are gluten-free) can be found at the better bottle shops throughout West Michigan.
John: Hippies everywhere, man. I dug the vibe of the joint and their story of starting up in the beer business. I think they have something there, especially in foodie markets like Grand Rapids, as fermented foods gain popularity.
Joe: I’ve been known to buy their Bourbon Peach on occasion, so it was interesting to see the craft behind Unity Vibration’s kombucha beer. They’re clearly a passionate bunch.
Bitter Old Fecker Rustic Ales
Somewhere in a suburb of Chelsea (Note: This is only a production space at this time.)
The brewer (a.k.a. Head Fecker) Nate Hukill aims to get back to “when people used to put all sorts of weird s**t in beer.” The results are anything but weird. Bitter Old Fecker uses nontraditional ingredients to create unique flavors that are unavailable elsewhere. His hand-bottled, labeled and numbered concoctions may not ascribe to strict beer style profiles, but they do truly uphold the craft of brewing.
Kim: Kaplan had lovely floral notes balanced with earthy morels. A tricked-out “reserve” version of Jet with extra hickory was smoky, peppery, boozy and DARK. And glorious, as in: “Wow. I need a cigarette after this beer!” Unique ingredients lend complexity to the beers, which are full of flavor and body.
John: The modified version of Jet and Kaplan were awesome. This is the epitome of a small craft brewer not running with the herd and doing his own kick-ass thing.
Nick: “The world’s smallest brewery” in the back of a generic strip mall. Also, an amazing brewery! Can’t wait for the expansion to the west side of the state.
Joe: Seriously, folks: This is some of the best beers I’ve ever sampled, period. The mix of unique ingredients is no gimmick. Great earthy notes in both beers that are balanced out after time in the bourbon barrels. Experimentation at its finest.
Dark Horse Brewing Company
511 S. Kalamazoo Ave., Marshall
darkhorsebrewery.com, (269) 781-9940
Popularized by the “Dark Horse Nation” show that debuted on AMC this summer, Dark Horse has been tinkering with beer since 1997 at an ever-growing eclectic site in Marshall. Just don’t try playing AC/DC on the jukebox – or pressing the button for the bidet if your ass isn’t on the throne.
Kim: Crooked Tree IPA is an oldie but a very good IPA that’s full of flavor and aroma with with a fairly drinkable ABV of 6.5 percent. The pub was busy and had many kids, but it features solid beer, good pizza and amusing memos from the management. Rustic décor — mixed with quirky items like an aquarium table — gives the place a laid-back vibe.
John: Raspberry Ale was a great summer beer that’s maybe on the less-manly side (for those keeping score). I think they do a great job keeping it beer – with just a hint of berry.
Nick: Naturally, it’s time for a Double Crooked Tree IPA – because turn down for what? It went great with their delicious pizza and the 12 percent ABV kept my mind off an annoyingly loud patron sitting behind us.
Joe: I love Dark Horse’s pub and atmosphere, but it’s been getting progressively busier given the exposure from their new TV show. Crooked Tree and pizza – what more can a beer lover ask for?
Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro
105 E. State St., Hastings
walldorffbrewpub.com, (269) 945-4400
Walldorff is off the beaten path, but its handcrafted ales more than reward the journey. Customers have the option of a bar or bistro setting. The brewpub offers a decent selection of mainstay and seasonal beers that are well-balanced and full of character.
Kim: Cobain’s Double Dark IPA was a well-balanced black IPA.
John: I had the Bee Sting Honey Rye. I normally avoid ryes, but this brew was pretty good. Crisp with a nice hoppy bite mellowed out by the honey.
Nick: This one is kind of a blur, but I think I had the Amber Waves. It was well worth it because without the extra beer, I probably wouldn’t have drunk-dialed one of my colleagues on the way home.
Joe: I’ve loved Walldorff’s Hopnoxxxious IPA ever since I first visited the brewpub last year. I took a growler home and its citrusy, piney hop flavors didn’t disappoint.
Michigan’s got big – er, um – phalluses
Road trips through Michigan come with great visuals, ranging from picturesque lakes to rolling verdant fields of agricultural crops and interesting urban cityscapes.
Then there are the fantastic, glorious temples to the male member, of which the Revue Central/Southeast Michigan Whistlestop Beer Tour provided more than an eyeful.
It doesn’t even take a perv to see the phallic imagery in a specimen as grandiose as the famed Ypsilanti Water Tower. Here’s a ranking of the top three phallic landmarks encountered on the beer-themed road trip.
All phallic landmarks were ranked on a scale of 1 (tee-hee) to 5 (WHOA!!!).
Ypsi Water Tower
Average score: 5
Kim: This one would make even my grandmother giggle.
John: By far the best. Beautiful rendition and praise to the architect who designed such a marvelous feat.
Nick: Ultimate phallic landmark. Masculinity personified in architecture.
Joe: Hats off to the city council that approved this fine specimen of municipal infrastructure. Think of the marketing possibilities: Ypsilanti. Big ****s. Pure Michigan.
Average score: 3.25
Kim: The tower alone might raise eyebrows, but the strategically (?) placed light fixtures on the Nuthouse building below put it over the top.
John: The tip looks like it had an unfortunate incident with a vise and hammer.
Nick: Long and skinny. Not nearly as phallic when compared with the others.
Joe: There’s just something about a giant bolt towering over a baseBALL stadium.
Chelsea Clock Tower
Average score: 3.375
Kim: Meh, it’s a clock tower. But it did make a ding-DONG sound. The adjacent Kids Stop was hilariously wrong.
John: (No comment.)
Nick: Pretty damn phallic. Made better by the kids stop and the Jiffy Mix factory next to it. Not sure why, but it made me laugh.
Joe: Nicely defined, particularly the domed roof. Its only demerit is that it’s not free-standing.
Photos by Joe Boomgaard and Kim Kibby; Walldorff photo: Ben Darcie