Michigan Beer and Food Road Trip – Hoppy Holidays
Looking for the “best” of anything is an art form, at least to those of us you trust to do that for you. You want to know where to find the best Burgers? You come asking me. I’ve clearly done the research. It’s a guaranty that if I don’t know the answer to “where can I get the best Burger in Tulsa, OK,” I definitely know the right person to ask. Part of the reason I moved to NYC is because I heard it’s the best. Well, that’s pretty much true. However, there is one major exception to the rule.
The best Beer in America is NOT in New York. Hold it right there. I don’t want you to get all into a kerfuffle. New York has it’s fair share of awesome beers and I do mean AWESOME but pound for pound, or hop for hop, it’s my home state of Michigan. Do the research. Google it. Taste the Beer. The Great Lake State is known for top quality suds.
Michigan is widely celebrated for having down right stupendous brews and from all parts of the state. Why is that? It could be the passion of the brewers. It could be long standing tradition. It could be access to better grains. It could, and probably is a lot of things but most importantly, and you New Yorkers listen up, it’s the water. People argue that you can take the Bagel maker out of NYC but you can’t take the Bagel. Why? “It’s the water.” Well that’s certainly true for Michigan but science backs up the statement, Michigan’s water is perfectly PH balanced to make Beer.
Beer can be made any number of ways, using any number of ingredients and unless you’re German, there are no rules. Wine tastes like Wine. Bourbon tastes like Bourbon. Tequila tastes like Tequila. Beer, well, Beer has the most diverse array of flavors of any alcoholic beverage available. The flavor wheel for Beer is like an artist’s easel with more colors and combinations than you could ever hope to use up. Beer is awesome.
As the Beer Sommelier at my bar, Idle Hands, I spent 2011 being absolutely obsessed with craft beer. So when I was planning my annual trip home to visit family & friends, I thought it might be fun for all of us to gather up into one vehicle and visit a number of Michigan’s fantastic breweries.
Our trip began in Lansing where my friends Logg, Lynce, Adam, Michele and Pherf jumped into the rental van my wife and I had picked up at the Detroit airport. Even though I was still a little full from the Custom Burger by Pat Lafrieda Burger I had at Laguardia airport that morning, I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way across the state to our first brewery without a snack. First stop of our trip, Quality Dairy or as we call it “Q.D.”
Quality Dairy is a chain of 31 convenience stores located in the Lansing area of Michigan. Originally opened in 1936 by Gregory J. Martin and Harvey Mack, the original business was merely to supply fresh milk in a cash and carry retail store. A few years later they started making their now famous Ice Cream and the business was off to the races.
Q.D. now offers a variety of modern day convenience store items like Beer, Motor Oil, Potato Chips, Cigarettes, Lottery Cards and the like, but that’s not what sets the business apart. It’s all the fresh made Dairy Products, Baked Goods, Sandwiches, Coffee and the Donuts, especially the Long John! This Donut of mid-Michigan lore is a long, glazed donut, covered in various frosting’s and stuffed with various stuffing’s. It’s perfect in the morning with a cup of Coffee or as a late night snack on the way home from the bar. But for this occasion, it was best served as a road trip snack, washed down with another Michigan delight, Vernor’s Ginger Ale.
Founders Brewing Co
235 Grandville Ave SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503-4037
Started by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, Founder’s Brewery keeps one idea in mind, make Beer you love. Specifically, according to them, they want to offer up “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor.” They’ve won all kinds of awards and accolades from any number of proven Beer organizations, which you can read about on their website. But more importantly than all of that, their Beers are truly delicious and I couldn’t wait to pull up a seat in their Grand Rapids Tap Room.
The Founder’s Tap Room offers a variety of whichever of their Beer’s are freshest along with a tasty and extensive Deli Menu. All of the Sandwiches are made to be washed down by tasty Beers and if you don’t know what to order next what what to pair your Food with, the incredibly attentive and friendly staff will guide you through a great suggestion. If they have it available, I definitely suggest a pint (or several) of the Tealow Chai Brown. It’s an amazing Beer that’s made with locally roasted Chai Tea Leaves that gives it a nice bright and spicy taste. Hell yeah brew dogs, it’s winner! Not playing the role of designated driver? Then point yourself right into a glass of the Bourbon barrel aged Backwoods Bastard.
I personally ripped through a couple Beers and a delicious “Charise’s Reuben” with Smoked Turkey, Dill Havarti, Baby Spinach, (hold the Tomato), Red Onion, Avocado, (hold the Slaw), and 1000 Island served on Sourdough. Do not and I mean DO NOT, skip out on the Founder’s Beer Cheese Dip, made with Cream Cheese, Smoked Gouda, Founder’s Pale Ale, Red’s Rye, Centennial IPA, Red Peppers, and Spinach, baked and served with Crostinis and Tortilla Chips. You may want to get a second order to pour down your pants.
After our delicious Beer and Food tasting was over, Founder’s director of sales, Michael Bell, offered to take us on an exclusive tour of the brewery itself. Sorry folks, it’s not open to the public but if you open a cool beer bar in NYC and serve Founders to the people, maybe you too can get a glimpse into what makes their Beer so awesome.
Thanks Mike. We loved it. My only regret? The parking ticket we got while taking the tour. We’ll chalk the $20 up to tour guide fees!
Bell’s Brewery Inc: Eccentric Cafe
355 E Kalamazoo Ave
Kalamazoo, MI 49007-3807
I’ve been drinking Bell’s Beer since I could get into bars (notice I didn’t say since I was “of age.) Before I even knew what the term “craft beer” meant, I was sucking down pint of Bell’s Amber, Lager, Solsun and more at various Michigan watering holes. They make some of the best god damn Beer on the planet and for some reason, no matter how many times I have called and emailed them, founder Larry Bell will NOT ship his amazing suds to my new home of New York City.
Bell’s Brewery began in 1985 with a vision that still remains in tact today, create unique, flavorful, artisan Beer that challenges the tastes buds as well as the mind. Their Summer Seasonal wheat beer, Oberon, their intensely hopped IPA, Two Hearted Ale & their rich, chocolatey Kalamazoo Stout are well renowned brews. If you’re ever in their hometown of “K-Zoo,” be sure to set aside some time to hang out at the Eccentric Cafe and taste some of the Beer wizardry that goes into the crafting of their delicious product.
While we only had about an hour to do just that but were able to knock through a decent amount of tastes before we had to take off.
Christmas Ale – Using 100% Michigan barley, they’ve made a dry + toasty holiday Beer that you can drink all afternoon.
Smoked Stout – It’s easy for a smoked Beer to taste primarily like smoke. but not this one. You’ll mostly get good Chocolate and Coffee tastes with a light smokiness in the background. It’s like all the most awesome breakfast flavors in a glass.
Golden Rye – If this wasn’t 6%, I could drink this crisp and refreshing Beer all day long. I could see this being especially fantastic on a really hot summer afternoon.
Dagger Stout – Beware a dry hopped imperial Stout! This bad boy tastes sweet on the front end and has a lingering bitterness on the end. Then the ABV turns around and drives a knife through your liver!
Arcadia Brewing Company
103 Michigan Avenue West
Battle Creek, MI 49017-3605
Battle Creek, MI is a truly historic town as far as this great country of ours goes and certainly one of the more important ones in the growth of Michigan as a state. If Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle & Pop or Dig Em the Frog ever graced your kitchen table, you can thank the Kellogg company of Battle Creek. More than 100 years ago W.K. Kellogg created Corn Flakes right here and your breakfast hasn’t been the same since. But that’s not all, Post Cereals and General Foods are from the town as well and that’s why it’s nicknamed “Cereal City.”
Sadly, tours of Kellogg’s are no longer available but who needs ’em when you have Arcadia Ales? Founded in 1996, this brewery started with one goal in mind, to make handcrafted British-style Ales. From their process to their brewing equipment to the Barley that goes into the Beers, their is one commonality, it’s all sourced from England. You can stop by any time to TC’s Pub and try as much of it as you can handle. Enjoy a few pints, try some tasty in house food and do it all while watching them Brew the beer you are drinking right through the windows in the pub.
Pay attention to your beer calendar and try to visit Arcadia when you can try the Arcadia “Cereal Killer” Barley Wine or their delectable “Jaw-Jacker” Pumpkin Ale. Otherwise, all of their Beers are unique and tasty. Be sure to dip your lips into the “Loch Down” Scotch Ale. It’s one of their flagship brews and damned if it doesn’t taste a little like caramelized bananas. As for the Food menu, while there’s a lot to choose from, there’s two things TC’s is best know for. Their BBQ, which is all smoked in house and their selection of Pizzas. Steer yourself to one of the Pizza’s made with their own sweet Red Sauce, like the Tuscan Pizza. It’s Very garlicy but made with just the right amount of rosemary.
Michigan Brewing Company
402 South Washington Ave
Lansing, MI 48812
Ever heard of Webberville, MI? Well they haven’t heard of you either! Even though I lived only a couple miles away from it, if it wasn’t for the Michigan Brewing Company, I wouldn’t have heard of it either. This small brewery started under all of our noses, making Beer and selling it right out of the brewery room floor in a small warehouse. Since then they’ve moved into a bigger facility, opened a brew pub in downtown Lansing, MI and inked a deal with one Bob Ritchie to make his signature Beer. Wondering who Bob is? Well, when I met him back in the 90s while he was Yodeling in the Valley, that was his name but you probably know him better as the Kid, Kid Rock that is.
Kid Rock worked with the MBC to create BadAss American Lager, a smooth, easy drinker that’s incredibly smooth and well balance. It’s the kind of Beer you can drink for hours on end and best served while you’re partying, rockin’ out or just relaxing with your friends. It would be easy for someone to point at the brewery and make all kinds of (silly) accusations. When you have drank as much MBC Beer as I, you realize something really quickly after just one sip of BadAss, just like EVERY Beer they create, it’s unique, incredibly well balanced and refreshing to drink.
We didn’t make it to the brewery but we did get a chance to table up in the downtown Lansing Pub and kick back a few coldies. One of the best parts about the MBC Lansing Brew Pub…the basket of fantastically roasted Peanuts in the shell that are waiting for you at the table. I triple dog dare you not to eat any. It’s impossible.
At this point, I was no longer in charge of driving us around. This created an opportunity to play one of my favorite games; Russian Brewlette. The rules are simple, I let the server (or bartender) choose my next Beer without telling me what it is or asking for any qualifiers. The only wrong answer, is something I’ve already been served on that visit. Our sever this evening decided to play a game back with me. She wouldn’t tell me what she brought and I had to guess after only a sip or two.
Celis Grand Cru – This Belgian Style Strong Ale is actually light, a little sweet and almost Pale. Like a house facing west, it’s bright in the front and easy times in the back.
High Seas IPA – Can you say “I-P-Hey-oh”?!?! At 7.6% this is way too easy of a drinker to be safe. Be sure to put on your floaties before taking this one out to sea.
Nut Brown Ale – Damn. For a hearty Browne Ale, this Beer is very effervescent. I might even say it’s the most drinkable Brown Ale I’ve ever had. No one thinks of Wheat Toast as being awesome until you have a Wheat Toast that blows you away. Insert MBC Nut Brown Ale.
BadAss American Lager – Sometimes you just want a Beer. Not a Barley Wine or a Strong Ale or Belgian Dubbel, just something that you can drink, enjoy and get drunk on. BadAss is that Beer. It’s a Pale Lager, and it’s not meant to be offensive, wreck your palette or send you off wondering which hop producer or yeast grower helped to make it. It’s as definably an American “Beer” as a Chrysler is an American car.
FYI – I batted a perfect game, guessing every single beer she brought!
While we only were able to hit 4 Michigan Breweries, there are a whole bunch more worth trying and honestly too many to list out after what is already an epic post. But trust me, go to Michigan and drink the Beer. You’ll start to understand why Michiganders have so much pride in their state.
Dec. 28 & 30, 2011