Saturday, July 30, 2016

Michigan Brewery Tour, Conclusion and Addendum

I woke up Monday morning still with a sore leg.  It was not, however, nearly as sore as it was when I arrived on Sunday night.  Luckily, while I would have some biking to do in the morning, I would be meeting a friend early, who would be giving me a ride to the final breweries and finally to the train station.  There are many breweries also in Kalamazoo, but it appeared that many either did not open early or did not open on Monday, so while I was going to be able to visit them, I would not be able to try their beer.  The only brewery that I would be able to drink at would be the largest brewery in Michigan, Bell's Brewery.  Even if I would not drink at them, I did want to see them and see where they were, so after a quick breakfast, I made my way downtown, where most of the breweries were.  I was happy to find out that where I was, on the west side of town, was uphill from where the breweries were so it was an easy coast, even if it 5 miles to the closest brewery.  The first brewery I came to, 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.

I told my friend that I would meet him around noon, so I was early, but I figured I could manage to keep myself occupied.  Bell's Brewery started in 1985 in the location where their Eccentric Cafe and General Store are located.  From the outside, it's a large yellow brick building that resembles a factory or warehouse with the company store on one corner.  The entrance to the cafe is in the parking lot behind the general store and, I was happy to see, a large bike rack.  I parked my bike and went inside to come upon something that very definitely no longer looks like a factory or warehouse.  It still has high ceilings and a cement floor with mosaic tile further in, but it has timber ceilings and hardwood furniture.  There is also a very cool stained glass window opposite the entrance.  The bar is also looks like dark and heavy wood and there are about 20 taps with the present tap menu on the wall behind the bar.  It uses colorful labeled signs for each beer that hang on the big sign behind the bar and can easily be changed out.  I sat at a table in a corner where I could be close to a plug so I could charge my phone but I could also see, if not the door, than at least the bar.  As I was was waiting for my friend, I decided to take it easy and started out with a Cafe exclusive, All Four Ale.  It was a bitter APA with a piney and resiny flavor and a nice head.  I am not sure where the name came from but it was pretty good.  When my friend arrived, I ordered a flight and some food.  I had scoped out the menu and there were several things that I was excited about.  What they serve is bar food with a pretty good charcuterie and cheese selection, but it is seasonal and locally sourced.  I decided to start with the Poutine, a staple of Canadian (and Quebecois especially) drunk dining.  It started with Hand Cut Fries, to which was added Cheese Curds (which did squeak, so they were very fresh), Pulled Pork, and Mushroom Gravy.  I had been considering also ordering a burger, but after this arrived and seeing how large it was, I was glad I held off.  I will admit that poutine is not pretty, but it is rich, heavy, and very good, and I really enjoyed it.  For my flight, I went with several more cafe exclusives, all of which had some sourness to them, some from the yeast used, some from other ingredients, but they were all good.  I ordered Le Batteur, a rustic Farmhouse Ale brewed with Brettanomyces which gave it a definite sour flavor, The Wild One, a Wild Brown Ale (also using Brettanomyces) that starts as individual batches and is mixed to achieve the taste that they are aiming for, Boon Compnion, another APA that used Lemon Zest and Lemon Verbena and was so lemony, it really reminded me of Pledge.  It was good, and the lemon flavors went well with the beer, but as I said, it was extremely lemony.  My last beer was one of their seasonals that is available in cans, Poolside, a sessionable Belgian-Inspired Wheat Ale with a light clove flavor and a tartness that comes from the addition of Montmorency Tart Cherries from Traverse City.  Honestly, I think I liked the idea of this one better than I liked the taste, although I am not sure if it was the beer itself, or the order in which I drank it.  I may have to try it on its own some time.  Of the other beers, I think i liked Le Batteur the best.  After enjoying the food and drink, it was time to proceed with what would have been one of the longest riding segments of the trip.  My friend, however, had a Suburban in which he loaded my bike and I into and we proceeded to Marshall, MI, 34 miles away.

What was in Marshall kind of surprised me.  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.

The next brewery on my list was supposed to be 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.

I left Battle Creek to go to Midland, my hometown, where I planned to rest for a few days.  I did this, but I got to thinking that there was also a great taproom and a brewery in Midland that I could travel to and continue trying new beers without much effort.  I went to 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.              

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