Saturday, July 30, 2016
Gonzo's BiggDogg Brewing, was important for me to go to, even if I wasn't drinking. A few weeks before my trip, there was a group of 9 cyclists, that had left from Gonzo's for a monthly bike ride, they unfortunately met up with a driver of a pick up truck who was apparently intoxicated, who hit all of them and killed five. Several hundred cyclists had a solidarity ride, leaving from Gonzo's and riding the route that the riders rode, about a week before I arrived there. Gonzo's also made a beer to support the cyclists, with proceeds going to a local bicycle advocacy group, While I couldn't drink here, I had to come to show my support. After I paid my respects, I made my way to Brite Eyes Brewing Company, a Brewery and Coffee House with a cafe menu, Tibbs Brewing, a nano brewery using a one barrel system that really reminded me of an old-style soda fountain, Olde Peninsula Brewpub and Restaurant, which claims to be the oldest brewpub in Kalamazoo (I would have thought that to be Bell's, although it might be that while Bell's is the older brewery, Olde Peninsula may have had the first pub), and Boatyard Brewery before arriving at Bell's Eccentric Cafe about when it opened at 11 am.
Dark Horse Brewery looks nothing like any of the previous breweries that I had visited. Pulling into the gravel parking lot, it reminded me, from the outside of a roadhouse/biker bar. The building looked like a wooden feed barn with the entrance on the long side and a General Store Barn opposite the bar. Walking in did not dissuade me of that notion although the aquarium in the corner with miniature brewery vats and the aquarium table next to it did help. I should have taken more pictures inside, but it was dark and crowded, and I didn't think that flash photography would have been appreciated. The bar was in front of the door and ran in both directions, there were a few tables other than the aquarium, but most people sat at the bar. The kitchen was open and was behind one side of the bar which used a rough stone mosaic as the top. I was very interested in the tapheads because they seemed to be recycled from all over. Of the ones that I could recognize, I saw Warsteiner, PBR, and Heinekin, as well as a white assault rifle, a horse's ass, and one of their own tapheads. I had to wonder how they kept track of which beer was behind which tap. I was told that the people behind Dark horse were very big into Reuse/Recycle and a lot of the stuff was found or donated. They would apparently also refill empty six packs that people would bring in. The ceiling was effectively fairly low (about 7 feet) because it was hung with thousands of mugs for people in their mug club. The way it worked was that you would buy a mug and hang it on the ceiling and use it when you came in. The mugs were about 20 oz and getting a beer if you had a mug was actually cheaper than a pint, so for those people that could be regulars, the mug club was a good deal. The food that they served looked pretty good and featured sandwiches, pizzas and calzones, but as I had eaten at Bell's, I did not try their food. Dark Horse does not do flights, so if you want to drink, you have to commit to a pint. As I was not driving, I commited to two pints. I started with Kamikaze Kaleidoscope, a nice Wit with citrus flavors and a dry finish and proceeded to Smells Like a Safety Meeting (formerly known as Smells Like Weed) which was a very aromatic and hoppy IPA with a thick, resiny flavor and despite smelling like it, it was not a hop bomb (48 IBU) and was easily drinkable. After we enjoyed our beers (and my friend, his Calzone) we went to check out the genreral store which had t-shirts, bombers, growlers, and six packs, home brewing equipment, and a selection of essences; things that I think that would work in cocktails as non-potable bitters. They had a variety of essences, but I was very surprised to see one called Malort's Besk. There is a wormwood liquor in Chicago called Jeppson's Malort that is very protective about there Malort name, so much so, in fact, that another local distillery had to change the name of their liquor to Besk, when Jeppson's presented them with a cease and desist letter. I was surprised to see both words on one bottle (even though Malort actually means Wormwood and Besk means bitter). While there were a few things there that interested me, I still had to worry about getting anything I bought to Chicago, so I held off and we made our way to our next brewery.
Territorial Brewing, which is on the west side of Battle Creek. I neglected to notice, however, that it isn't open on Monday, so while we got to their parking lot, there was no drinking there. As there was to be no drinking, we went to the last brewery on my trip, Arcadia Ales, which is located in downtown Battle Creek and just blocks from the Amtrak station where I would be going to travel ultimately to Midland for several days. I had been to Arcadia a few times and tried several of their beers before, but I like it, they have a good selection, and I wanted to eat dinner before I left, so it was a good stop. The food that they serve focuses. like many other breweries, on sandwiches, barbecue, and pizzas. I went with the Barbecue Sampler which came with Brisket, Pulled Chicken, and Pulled Pork, and two sides, I went with vegetables, Beets and Zucchini, because I needed something besides meat or starch. The brisket and pulled pork was good, as were the vegetables, but as I have found in previous experiences, I would never choose pulled chicken on my own because it's pretty tasteless and boring. Of the beers that I tried, I had had a few before and knew that I liked them. I went with Rapunzel Wheat IPA, Sky High Rye West Coast Pale Ale, Angler's Ale ESB, B-Craft Black Double Black IPA, and Cereal Killer Barley Wine. Of those, I had previously had the Sky High Rye and the Angler's Ale and I think that the Sky High Rye was still my favorite. The Rapunzel wasn't bad, nor was the B-Craft, but the Cereal Killer, while it didn't taste bad, was pretty heavy and boozy, which I kind of expected of a Barley Wine, and not something you might want to choose on a hot summer day. With Arcadia, I concluded my tour and while it was tough at times and I wasn't able to get to get to all of the breweries that I wanted to, I did add a couple that I hadn't planned on. It was a challenge but it was also a lot of fun. I got to try a lot of beers that I had not tried before and I will definitely do it again.
Whichcraft Taproom and decided to try beers from breweries that I traveled to, but was not able to drink at. This became breweries that I was interested that fell into the area in which I had been traveling. Of the beers that I tried, three were from breweries that I had stopped at and wasn't able to drink and two were from breweries in the area in which I was interested. I tried Saugatuck Daze On Saison (arrived as they were closing), Gonzo's Vanilla Porter (were not open yet), Odd Side Funk Soul Brother Dry Hopped Sour Ale (in the area, but a little out of the way, their beers are to unusual to ignore), The Mitten Triple Crown Brown (arrived as they were closing) and Latitude 42 Mayan Sunrise Stout (traveled near, didn't have time to stop). All of these beers were interesting for their own reasons, but, while I am generally not a huge stout or porter drinker, I think that my favorites were Gonzo's Vanilla Porter, which had a very prominent vanilla flavor, and the Latitude 42 Mayan Sunrise which started with bitter chocolate and cinnamon and finished with a burn from the Guajillo Chiles. Visiting the Midland Brewing Company, I discovered that it was closed for remodeling, which disappointed me a little until I found out about the Larkin Beer Garden, which was pouring, among a few other things, beer from Midland Brewing Company. As it was close, I walked there and discovered food trucks, picnic tables, games of bags, giant connect four and jenga, and beer from, besides Midland Brewing Company, Perrin Brewing, which was a brewery that was on my original list, but because of delays, I had to cut. I started with a Perrin Black and went to a Midland Brothers IPA. It was nice to be able to try beer from both breweries, which were pretty good and worked well in the beer garden atmosphere. In all, I was able to try 85 different beers from 32 breweries, 24 of which I visited. It was a great experience and I would definitely do it again.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Grand Rapids Brewing Company, which was about half a mile a way opened at 11 am, so that is where I went. I was happy to see that the vintage space also had ample bike parking on the street. I walked in and sat at the bar, met one of the friendliest bartenders I would meet on this trip, and was happy to find out that they were serving brunch. For my brunch, I was very hungry so I ordered something hearty, a Waffle Sandwich with Fried Chicken Breast, Fried Egg, and Smoked Cheddar smashed between two Rum-Infused Waffles, topped with Powdered Sugar and Vodka Soaked Cranberries, and served with Silverfoam Syrup and Home Fries. While the place was a tavern and brewery, it still struck me funny that the waffle sandwich and syrup were both made with alcohol. It was very good, sweet and savory, and would provide me enough energy to be going for a while (even though my trips in the morning and early afternoon would all be short). The flight they served was 6-3 oz pours of beers that the brewery had predetermined that they wanted to feature. It gave a good variety of the beers that they brew, which all seem to have low IBUs and were pretty sessionable, but it might have been nice to be able to look at what else they might be serving. I was served Silver Foam American Lager (4.5% ABV, 10 IBU), Rosalyn Bliss Blonde (a blonde Ale infused with Mango-Ceylon Tea, 5.2% ABV, 19 IBU) Violet McMillan's Cranberry Pale Wheat, John Ball Brown Nut Brown Ale (5.5% ABV, 25 IBU, Brewer's Heritage Bavarian Hefeveizen (5.6% ABV, 11 IBU), and Fish Ladder IPA (7% ABV, 80 IBU). While the beers were not bad, a small taste of a session beer is going to be light on taste. Of these beers, the Fish Ladder IPA had the heftiest taste, although I think I might have preferred the Violet MacMillan's if it had been a little heftier. It did have a nice tartness to it, but it was a little light. The Fish Ladder had a solid taste, although I'm not sure that I liked the specific hop flavor. I had a nice brunch, a nice conversation, and enjoyed trying the beer, but I needed to continue my tour, so I left to return to Founders.
Founders Brewing Company is the largest brewery in Grand Rapids. It has a large space, centrally located, that is very open and has a wide variety of beers. I sat at the bar, in front of the chalkboard menu, and saw that they had a nice selection of beers served only in the tap room. I decided that since I am pretty familiar with the beers that they served, I would try the ones that I couldn't get elsewhere because it would probably be a while before I was able to get up here again. Looking around the room, which was very open and used a lot of rough wood, I saw that while they did serve food, and the large menu had some stuff that looked really good (a lot of barbecue), it was counter service and there was a long line, so I was glad I had eaten previously. For my beers, I chose Ctrl Alt Delete, a Munich-style Alt Ale with a copper color and a bigger flavor than its 3.3% ABV might indicate, Nitro Rubaeus, a tart raspberry ale infuse with nitrogen to soften the edges and give it a nice head (I had had and enjoyed the Rubaeus before, but it was sharp and needed to be sipped. The infusion of Nitrogen softened it up and gave it a good head while still leaving it very tart.) Red's Rye IPA, a very good Rye IPA I had had previously; I decided to have this one for a friend of mine. My last beer was Nitro Frangelic Stout, a hazelnut oatmeal stout with a very good head. With the hazelnut flavor, it really reminded me of Frangelico (hence the name). Of these, I think that the Ctrl Alt Delete was my favorite. Founders seems very much like a destination place and there were what looked like a lot of tourists there (including myself). While the beer was good, there might be other places I preferred to go first.
ELK Brewing, a small place neighborhood place (that is apparently working on expanding in the northern suburbs of Grand Rapids). When I arrived, I discovered that Sunday was half-price pint day. When I asked about flights, I found that a flight of pints would cost the same amount as a standard flight, so I decided not to have a standard flight. As I would be biking a long distance, I decided that a flight of pints would probably not be a great idea either. I told the bartender, who was also an owner, this and he was very excited, because he is a cyclist himself. He suggested that I get a pint or two and if there was anything else I wanted to try, he would gladly give me a sample. I started off with the Expresso Blonde because I had tried a coffee blonde by OddSide Ales that had blown my mind. This one was pretty good, but was more subtle on the coffee flavor. I also tried the PB &J'Ale'y because it sounded too weird not to try, the Rye IPA, the Dankalicious IPA (again with the pot references), and the ESB. The flavors of PB&J were in the PB & J'Ale'y, but I'm not sure that that was a good thing. Of the two IPAs, the Dankalicious had a deeper and longer lasting hoppy flavor and I think that's what I preferred. Of the bitter beers though, I think that I liked the ESB best. After having the pint and the several tastings, I decided that it would be best to stop there and when I went to settle up, the bartender wished me a good journey, told me to say to the other brewers down the road, said that the beer was on the house. I was very happy and while I did accept the free beers, he also got a very good tip. The next stop was a former funeral home half a mile down the road called Brewery Vivant.
Brewery Vivant was located in a former funeral home. While it was pretty big, it wasn't exactly what I expected. It looked more like a church to me and the inside furthered that theme for me. It had plaster walls, timber ceilings, and a stained glass window at the back of the room behind the bar. I am not sure if the building or the theme for the brewery came first, but they go together extremely well. The aim is to evoke the feeling of a Belgian or French Abbey and the beers that they make are Belgian Abbey Style, with the many beer styles that that involves. Looking at the food menu, I was kind of sorry that I wasn't hungry yet because the food that they offered was very definitely a step up from standard pub fare. There was the standard burger, and a few sandwiches, but there was also a Charcuterie and Cheese plate, Escargot, Steak 'N Frites, Roasted Bone Marrow, and Diver Scallops, among other things. Their aim is to be local, seasonal, and as farm-to-table as possible. Even though I didn't have any, the food really excited me, and I will have to figure out a way to return, just for the food. While I talk about the food without having it, I did try a flight of their beers which were served in 4-5 oz glasses. The beers that I tried were Farm Hand French-style Farmhouse Ale, Big Red Coq, a Hoppy Belgo-American Red Ale, Devastation Bourbon Barrel Aged Double IPA, and Wit Belgian-Inspired Wheat Ale. Teh beers were served in 5 oz goblets and a curved serving tray. All of the beers were very good, but my favorite was the Devastation. It was a big lightly sweet beer with flavors of bourbon (vanilla and wood) and pineapple flavors. It also wasn't exceptionally bitter. With the pineapple flavors, it actually kind of reminded me of a Tripel. The place was nice, the food looked good, the beer was good, and the people were friendly, but it was time to move on.
Cranker's Restaurant and Brewery was south of town, but still considered a Grand Rapids area brewery. The trip took a little over an hour which included my only traveling on an off-road bicycle trail. My first impression when I pulled up was that the building used to be a fast food restaurant. It was a stand alone building with angle parking on three sides, a long driveway, and a turnaround. There was no bike parking and nothing I could lock up to, so I parked next to the building and hoped nothing happened to it. Walking in did not dissuade me from the idea that this used to be a fast food restaurant although there was now a bar and the tables were upgraded. I sat at the bar and ordered dinner and a pint because they did not offer flights. The food menu was all over the place from barbecue, to sandwiches and burgers, to Tex-Mex. I also noticed that they were a small chain, with locations also in Mt. Pleasant and Big Rapids. It was pretty warm and I still had a long way to go, so I wasn't really interested in anything heavy. I ordered two pieces of Fried Cod with sides of Grilled Vegetables and Mac and Cheese. I also had a side of Parmesan Fries. For my beer, I ordered a Professor IPA, a West Coast-Style IPA with flavors of Citrus and Apricot. Both the beer and the food were okay. They weren't bad, but neither were they outstanding. I could eat and drink here, but it isn't a place i might choose again. While I was here, I talked to a couple who seemed to have been doing their own brewery crawl. They asked where I had been and where I was going and wanted to know about breweries in Holland. I told them about the breweries there and they asked to take my picture, which they nicely tweeted back to me.
Old Mill Brewpub and Grill in Plainwell, Michigan, about 29 miles south. According to Google Maps, it would take me about 2 1/2 hours to get there. I had noticed that it was taking me a little longer than Google estimates, because I was having to occasionally stop and check my directions. The route was pretty much a straight shot, so I expected that the time should have been pretty close. Unfortunately, after about two hours, I started getting a cramp in my leg. I stopped for a few minutes to try to work it out, but it didn't do a lot of good. I got back on the road and arrived at the brewery at 9:35 pm. Unfortunately, the brewery closed at 9:30 pm. The tradition of just missing the my last brewery of the night was continuing and I was not liking it. The place looked very nice and apparently, the building is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Built in 1870, it was once the largest buckwheat flour mill in the country. It was very nice, but I would not be drinking there, so it was time to continue my journey to Kalamazoo to stop for the night. The place that I was hoping to stay was 11 1/2 miles away and should have taken a little over an hour to get there. This would have been during the daytime with two legs that felt fine. As it was, my leg continued to get more painful and the terrain became more hilly as I got closer to Kalamazoo. The road was also very dark, but luckily I had good lights and the traffic was light. I made it to the hotel a painful hour and twenty minutes later and was given a room on the third floor. I was also told by this clerk that I could put my bike in my room here as well. Walking up the stairs on my own, let alone with a fully loaded bike on my shoulder, was not something I enjoyed, but I did make it. I had some Advil with me, which I hoped would help, and I figured I could get some ice to help things out. Of course, with the way things were going, I couldn't find my Advil and the ice machine was broken. I did have some Icy Hot which I hoped would help a little. My leg was sore, but tomorrow was going to be the last day and I was going to meet a friend who lives in Battle Creek early. The riding was almost over.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Macatawa Ale Company which was about 1/2 a mile away. While it was on a main road with a lot of traffic, the stand alone building didn't have a lot around it to draw people there. When I pulled up, there were a couple of people working on the side of the building. They asked me my opinion on what would be the best way to install a bar to be used for bike parking and I told them. I walked in and found that I was the only customer, so while I sat at the bar, I also used a table on the other side of the room to plug my phone in. Macatawa does not serve flights and their smallest serving was 10 oz, so I was only going to be drinking a couple of beers if I was going to continue on the road. My beers were a Citrillo APA and Erin Go Bragh-less Irish Red which were both very good although I think that I preferred the hoppy sweetness of the Citrillo. Talking to the bartender, who was one of the owners, I found out that Macatawa was about a year old and that all of the owners work day jobs yet. They were making a profit, but not enough yet to support everyone well yet. The owner behind the bar was a boat carpenter and he had built everything in the bar. It was simple, but it looked very well made. I also found that they drew most of their customers on weekend evenings when they would have musicians in. Macatawa is very much a mom and pop shop. The beer and service were very good and I hope they continue to succeed.
The plan, after Macatawa, was to get on the road toward Grand Rapids. I found out though, at Macatawa, that the other brewery, Big Lake brewery, which I knew about but was going to wave off because I thought it too far, was only 2 1/2 miles away on the same road as Macatawa. The plan changed and I decided to make my next stop Big Lake Brewery. Located in a strip mall, I thought it might be a little difficult to find, but it was listed on the sign at the entrance to the parking lot and while simple, the sign above the brewery was pretty easy to see. While the bar had a pretty good number of people, the tables were fairly empty which was good for me because I wanted to plug my phone in again while I was drinking and socializing. Not that I needed it, but Big Lake served no food although it was a BYOF. I did see people come in with pizza and also Thai food from the restaurant next door. The flight at Big Lake consisted of six beers of your choice which are served in the order written on your order in a boat shaped flight tray. There seems to be a couple of schools of thought on flights. Some places will serve them in the order that you order them which is less cofusing, but may cause problems with taste if you order, for instance, a stout before a kolsch. The other is to serve from light to dark which preserves taste, but can be confusing as to which beer is which. In either case, I try to drink my beers from light to dark so I can taste everything. For my flight I got Stoner IPA, a dank IPA that has an aroma similar to weed, Mt. Baldy, a Michigan Weizenbock (basically a strong Weiss beer) collaboration with New Holland, Chinook Strong, a Strong Ale made with Chinook hops, Lawrence Brown, an Imperial Brown Ale made with Kona Coffee, Midnight Rider Black IPA, and Citra Session IPA. While I was drinking and enjoying my beers though, I enjoyed my time here with the other patrons. I met someone else from Chicago (who splits his time between Chicago and Holland), several people who liked the idea of my bike trip, and a guy who really liked my t-shirt (it was a friendly cartoon Easter bunny with a smile on his face and a human foot in his paws with a stump with an axe imbedded in it behind him). With the exception of the Citra Session IPA, the beers that I happened to order were all relatively high ABV beers, so I was feeling it a little when I left. Of these beers, I think that I liked the Chinook Strong best. After this stop, the next stop was going to be in Hudsonville about 15 miles away.
Pike 51 Brewery/Hudsonville Winery is located on M-121. There is a wide shoulder, it was a very sunny (and hot) day, and traffic was relatively light, so the trip was fine, for the most part. I say for the most part because I had to cross a railroad track that crossed the road at an angle. This is the bane of all cyclists because if you don't hit the track right, it's easy to get pulled into the rail and to go down. This happened. I felt foolish, scraped my knee a little, and ended up on my back. With a full pack, I felt a little like a flipped turtle. I laid there momentarily while I made sure everything was still attached and moved correctly. When I got back up, I noticed that I had a tar stain on my knee (that took a week to clean off). My bike was still fine, so I continued on my short way to Pike 51 Brewery/Hudsonville Winery. While I haven't been to Napa, the place looked to me like I would expect a small Napa Winery to look. The building was farmhouse style on the outside and on the inside there were many bottles, a trellis on the ceiling, and a large bar. They also had a large patio, but as I had just come in from a long bike ride, I wasn't interested in sitting outside. Besides, I wanted to plug in my phone. While I could have ordered both wine and beer, because this was a brewery tour, I stuck with their beer offerings which were written on a list on a mirror behind the bar. For my flight, I went with Brett Saison Farmhouse Ale (fermented with Brettanomyces yeast), Eagles Dare Session IPA, Glory Daze IPL, The Kush IPA (several breweries seemed to want to emphasize the similarity between some hop aromas and the aroma of marijuana), and Yay, Stout! Honey Wheat Stout. None of the beers, while not bad, were also not outstanding. The flavors while there, were moderate and inoffensive. They were friendly and while the beers were not outstanding, it was a nice place to stop.
White Flame Brewery was only 1/4 of a mile a way in the direction that I would be going anyway, so when I found that out when I was at Pike 51 Brewery, I decided that I had to stop. It was less than a 5 minute bike ride. The building was mostly wood with a marble topped bar and the tap list on a board behind the bar that can be quickly changed. For my beers I chose Golden Boy Golden Ale, Eagle Eye Chai Rye Pale Ale with Chai Spices, Two Lips Sour Pilsener, Lumpy Space Princess Pineapple Pink Peppercorn IPA, and Red Shoes Pale Ale with Habaneros. When I was waiting for my beers, I noticed the tapheads which were all very different and creative, as were the beers that they served (all ales). As I was sitting at the bar enjoying my beer, a couple of women walked up to me and asked, "You're a cyclist, aren't you?" I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and my gloves and helmet were in my bag which was at my feet. I answered yes, that I was a cyclist, but I was trying to figure out how they knew. One of them pointed to my hands which were not tanned while my arms were (because of my gloves). I talked to them a little about where I had been and where I planned on going and they asked for a picture with me, which I gladly obliged. After I enjoyed my beer, I left and made my was to my first brewery in Grand Rapids, Osgood Brewing which was also on the same road, 7 miles away.
Osgood Brewing was in a strip mall and was pretty easy to find and that was a good thing, because by the time I got there, it was getting late and I was hungry. The place was pretty big and kind of reminded me of a former car lot showroom (with a bar). For dinner, I wasn't in the mood for a sandwich because I had been biking all day and I didn't want pizza, because I thought it would take too long. I went with something high calorie, high carb, and very good. This happened to be the Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese with Pulled Pork, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Cavatappi, Barbecue Sauce and topped with Bread Crumbs. It was good, filling, and went well with my beers which were the 358 American Pale Ale, Boomhauer Pale Wheat, Journey IPA, and Reverie Saison. All of the beers were pretty good, the 358 and the Journey were fairly hoppy, and the Reverie was very citrusy. Of the beers that I tried, I think that my favorite was probably the 358. I called Osgood the first Grand Rapids Brewery, that is not exactly true because it is actually still in the suburbs in Grandville. After I left, my aim was to get to The Mitten, which was on the Northwest side of town.
When I left Osgood, it was still light out, but by the time I got into Grand Rapids, the sun had set. I had never biked in Grand Rapids, the route was not straight, and I didn't know exactly what i was looking for so it took me a while to find The Mitten Brewing Company. By the time I found it though, it had just closed. This was beginning to become a theme. I was very interested in this place simply for the design. It's located in an old Firehouse and has a Baseball theme. The Pizzas on the menu also looked pretty good, but as I had just eaten, I would probably not eat again. In any case, while I had found it, it was too dark to photograph and to late to drink, so it was time to find a place to sleep. I ended up at the Travelodge Grand Rapids (which is actually in Wyoming) and got a room with a King-size bed, Blackout Curtains, a huge room, flat screen television, and a hot tub for $50. Why so cheap? It would have been a great room in the 70s. While it was clean, it was also pretty worn, although they did let me park my bike in my room (again suggested by the front desk). I rolled into my room, unpacked, and crashed until the next morning. Sunday I would explore Grand Rapids and travel to Kalamazoo.