On picture says it all for these local Michigan beers from Keweenaw Brewing Company.
Family vacation. Time spent on the beach, enjoying the company of your children and siblings, reliving childhood memories, visiting famous epic craft breweries. What? You don’t do that last one? Well, I did. Today I trekked about an hour or so east on Interstate 94 to visit Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI. What a trip it was.
On a damp, drizzly day in southwest Michigan. while the lake offered only treacherous waves and undertows, and whilst my wife and children were off picking pounds and pounds of blueberries , I rounded up my father, brother, and sundry others for a trip to one of my favorite breweries.
Adjacent to the original brewery is the Eccentric Cafe, where we ordered our flights of beer and lunch before the 1:30pm Sunday tour.
Beer flights are my friend. Bell’s gives you a piece of paper and you can write down any six beers you like. None of this rigid beer flight menu nonsense – this is a true a la carte beer selection. Nice.
My choices were many. I selected, from left-to-right: Third Coast, Round House IRA, Quinannan Falls, Smoked Stout, Larry’s Latest Pale Trial #1, Midwest Pale Ale.
You’ll find these six beers to be amazingly awesome. How good were they?
Third Coast Beer
You can find this locally, at least that’s the case in St. Louis area grocery stores. It’s light and crisp with a nice hoppy note. There’s a barely cloudy and yellow body, with a fresh and enjoyable flavor and texture. If you’re out on a hot day, this is a great beer. Unfortunately it’s about 60, cloudy, and drizzly in late July. What kind of weirdo part of the country is this?
Two drunks at the bar said that this was the best Bell’s beer ever, and the bartender agreed. IRA stands for Indian Red Ale. Basically this is a thoroughly hopped red ale, and I have to agree that this is quite the beer to behold. Malty, caramely, with a nice hop and spice finish. Smooth, excellent body with a mellow aftertaste. I could (and did) drink this all day. There’s a rich dark red color and a wondrous (rye?) aroma. I have to agree that this was a splendid beer, unlike anything I’ve had before.
Officially called the Quinannan Falls Special Lager Beer, this beer presented mild hops and a light color. The aroma was neither fruity or flowery. Really this is a light hoppy one note beer, although crisp and fresh. Nothing noteworthy and probably not something I’d get again, though a solid effort.
I like smoked beers and I like stouts, so I thought this would be a good choice for my flight. It was dark and definitely smokey without being meaty or baconish (like the O’Fallon Smoked Porter, for example). Super smooth with mild richness and nonexistent effervescence. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lack of overpowering aftertaste. This is a nice novelty beer, but the one beer flight sample was sufficient. I did sip on my brother’s cream stout, which I actually prefer over the smoked stout.
Larry’s Latest Pale: Trial #1
I guess Larry Bell regularly experiments and this beer is one of his latest trials. Well done, Larry. This pale ale was amber and translucent, with nice pale ale flavors, lighter and smoother than other similar style pale ales (like Schlafly’s). Lighter doesn’t necessarily mean better, because this is a great beer. Despite being a little flat, I got great grain flavors that were stronger than the hops profile, without much of an aroma. Imagine a mild yet traditional English-y style ale. That’s this beer – I really enjoyed it.
Midwest Pale Ale
Another beer you can probably buy locally, this was lighter in color than the Larry trial beer. With a subtle hop flavor, I got a nice light beer taste without being a light beer. This is a great hot day beer… which, again, is a shame since it’s so chill today.
Six great beers. Let’s soak in the ambiance and sip.
I violated a cardinal rule of restaurants. Usually, if there’s a Cuban sandwich on the menu, I order the Cuban sandwich. I also passed on the brisket platter. I was in the mood for something lighter, so I stuck with the turkey avocado sandwich on wheat with a side of salt and pepper chips. Save room for beers.
Lunch won’t overpower any beer, and it was pretty good, even if the turkey was a little dry. They used a creamy potato salad style mayo on the bread, which was a nice touch. The pickle was some kind of super tart dill – a damn good pickle.
I came across some light reading on the way to the restroom. This is important journalism, people:
Apparently I missed some kind of amazing party last night:
Those beers in my belly, it’s time for the beer tour. We can bring beer in a plastic cup… no glass. How about another IRA?
The beer tour was hipster-heavy that day, my friends. Me and the other Simpsons, and a bunch of hipster people. Awful hats and beards and tight jeans and girls who look like a depressed Lisa Loeb.
Of course the first question on the tour, hosted by the knowledgeable and diligent Kenny, came from my father. Bell’s uses Kalamazoo municipal city water, though they filter out the chlorine and iron. Dad’s had a beer flight and more, so why not ask Kenny what the pH of the water is after filtration? Kenny doesn’t know. Raise your hand during the brewery tour? That’s a paddlin’.
Most of the people on the beer tour had a beer in hand, not including my preggers sister. Always bring a DD on your beer tour, even if it means a hyper-pregnant sister.
I took some needlessly detailed photos of hops and hop pellets.
My brother, Officer Stinkypants, wanted his photo in front of a big metal barrel. Done.
Kenny the tour guy explained the whole beer process… I wasn’t really listening. The mash tun (pictured above) is where the malt mash, which is hot water and grain, turns into sugar. That is then mixed with hops and yeast, which ferments somewhere else to provide acid, flavor, and alcohol. Beer is made. Boom.
While I was taking this picture and Kenny was talking, Dad dropped his empty plastic cup onto the echoing concrete floor. Cut that man off.
I even posed for a quick photo.
I admired the many knobs and tubes and doodads that the brewers used.
We noticed the old tymey sign outside that belied the modern operation indoors.
Just look at all the special craft beers they make here!
Kenny told us that many beers were made at the Kalamazoo location that were only available at the attached cafe. Most of the nationally-available beers are actually brewed 10 miles away in Comstock, Michigan. The specialty craft beers are made here in this room. Yum.
All their beers are non-pasteurized and unfiltered.
Speaking of specialty beer…
Kenny told us that these monstrous barrels were Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from California that will ferment beer through 2014, and they aren’t sure what they are going to get out of these! The small barrels only age for six months, but I’m sure the contents will be amazing. It took quite a bit for me to restrain myself from causing a distraction so my brother could heist a barrel.
Of course, while we are ready to go… Dad is chatting up poor old Kenny.
On the way out the door, we snapped some pictures of the sample grain and hops that were passed around on the tour. Gratuitous over-sharing, people. I can’t help it.
So many beers from which to choose. It’s difficult to restrain myself.
On the way out, we hit the gift shop. I bought a skull cap, t-shirt, and trucker hat. And four six packs of beer.
What an amazingly successful vacation trip. I thank my wonderful wife for taking my children for a few hours so we could venture out to the beer capital of southwest Michigan. Well worth the hour drive each way, ideally the first of many brewery tours. Such is my burden – try and sample so many beers.
Greetings from the extended Simpson family vacation in southwest Michigan. More specifically, the bucolic town of Union Pier, which is barely in Michigan from Indiana, just off of Interstate 94. We visited the local (relative) boomtown of New Buffalo to get some amazing ice cream and, of course, beer provisions. The local beer scene here is robust.
Yes, only three of these four beers is from Michigan. The third is from Wisconsin, which is basically Michigan if you’re from Missouri. Whatever… I’ve never seen any of them.
Saugatuck Brewing Company – Saugatuck Oval Beach Blonde Ale
About an hour north of here, Saugatuck Brewing Co. is in or near Douglas, Michigan. Apparently I bought their best-seller, the Oval Beach Blonde Ale.
What a great beer! Crisp wheat ale flavors. (I originally typed wheat ale flames, so I was clearly several local beers in when taking notes… the perils of my duties.) There’s a subtle sweet finish. The beer is cloudly and fully of body. Great for a hot day, or an unseasonably cool late July day apparently. You pick up a modest fruit aroma that doesn’t really make it into the flavor of the beer.
Berghoff Brewery – Dortwunder
I guess Michigan and Wisconsin aren’t the same thing? Northernish states that get too damn cold in the winter, one on either side of Chicago.
Although it’s been around for 120+ years, I’ve never heard of Berghoff Brewery out of Stevens Point, WI. Their contact page says it’s a Chicago-based beer, and the brewery history lists a long lineage of ownership and locale changes. So, although it’s not a Michigan beer.
The confusing brewery history aside, I had never seen the Dortmunder before when I bought it.
Smooth mellow beer with a wonderful balance of malts. The malts seem lightly toasted and provide the right German beer richness. Worth seeking out again, perhaps in STL.
Shorts Brewing Company – Huma-Lupa-Licious
Bellaire, Michigan, though not the TV home of one Fresh Prince, instead houses Short’s Brewing Company and their hoppy Huma-Lupa-Licious beer.
Nothing says vacation house like beer in a plastic cup. Nothing says IPA like having a gigantic hop on your label.
As expected, this was quite hoppy and bitter, but not overpowering. There’s a light fruit flavor and mild body, and it smells more flowery than fruity. Great orange / amber cloudiness, with essentially nonexistent effervescence. I’m no hop-head, but this is another good Michigan brew.
Round Barn Brewery – Kolsch
I’ve had some beers from wineries, and they can be amazing. Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Michigan is another winery that makes some good beers. (There’s a tasting house in Union Pier, apparently… perhaps I’ll be visiting.) How is their Kolsch?
For a Kolsch beer, this is quite malty, giving me a somewhat surprising flavor profile. Tasty, but a little surprising. Lots of Kolsch-style beers are lighter and crisper, but I enjoyed Red Barn’s. Dark for a Kolsch, with a minimal effervescence. It had many of the typical German ale aromas and flavors. Instead of something unique and poignant, it is just a good German-style ale. Not quite what I was looking for, but a tasty treat nonetheless.
Future Local Beer Plans:
So, having barely scratched the surface of Michigan beers, I have more work to do. I see a Bell’s Brewery tour and tasting in my future. I’m going to check in on this Round Barn tasting room in Union Pier. Shore Line Brewery is on the way back home, as is the Journeyman Distillery. Basically I have a lot of sights to see while I’m up here.
Yet another strange brew from the Friar Tuck’s new beer section: Wells Banana Bread Beer
I love banana bread. Seeing three to four severely brown, overripe bananas on the kitchen counter doesn’t just mean fruit flies – it means it’s time to make banana bread (I prefer the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe from scratch). I also love beer, so how could I not buy a banana bread beer?
You probably didn’t need me to tell you this to know it, but this is one of the oddest beers I’ve ever tasted. Wells & Young’s Brewing Co. understatedly calls it a “unique brew”. Really? Tell me more.
The aroma is a 100% banana smell, but not banana bread or even a ripe banana. I was baffled by this beer but my wife nailed it – it tastes like banana flavored Runts. Banana candy. Whatever they put in banana Runts or Laffy Taffy, that’s the smell and taste of this beer. So strange.
Pouring the beer, more banana candy aroma. The taste is minimally malty, but enough that you get some of the “bread” flavors you might expect. But still the candy banana flavor dominates.
If you made beer bread with banana bread beer and added bananas… what would happen? Banana bread beer banana bread…
I don’t dislike this beer, and it’s certainly interesting. Would I ever buy it again? Meh… debatable. I mean, I love banana candy. I always went for the candy no one else liked because it meant more candy for me. Grape Jolly Ranchers, uber-cheapo peanut butter chews, candy-coated black licorice, banana taffy… I’m cool with all that stuff. My palate is very accepting, but I’m not sure this is the ideal early summer beer. Maybe if it’s cold and I’m by a firepit in my yard and something fruity/malty is in order, then perhaps this is a repeat buy.
If you want to try something new and you like bananas (the sweet candy-ish bananas), then you should probably: Drink This Beer
(Otherwise… probably not something that’s worth the money.)