|A new, exclusive BeerNexus column!
Award winning home brewer
"A girl takes on the beer world!"
This August, my friend and beer expert, Joe, joined me on a road trip out to the Midwest. We
wanted to explore the once renowned Beer Capital of the world, Milwaukee. You should have
seen the looks we got upon announcing our vacation plans. They ranged from horror to
sympathy. "Milwaukee?" We heard from a lot of our yet-to-be-reformed wine drinking friends.
(I'm not sure why we have them either.)"What's out there?" they asked. "Beer history! Pabst,
Schlitz, Miller, Blatz, all got their start in Milwaukee.""But you don't drink any of that stuff. . ."
Touché friends! Even still, we had faith that the Badger State would not disappoint. Along the
way we drank our way across Michigan, and did the same heading home though Indiana.
And wouldn’t you know it, the first place on our trip was a complete accident. Right across the
street from our hotel in Southfield, MI was the Copper Canyon pub. It was fate- drinkers meet
pub. E-Harmony couldn't have done a better job of match making. It was a beautiful place and
the perfect location but yet, it was empty. A restaurant at 6:00 pm on a Saturday night, dead!
Joe and I fought the sinking feeling in our stomachs and ordered a sampler.
Their Northwestern Gold was surprisingly complex and flavorful for the style. The Copper
Canyon Alt and the Wheat both smelled fantastic, but were disappointingly weak and watered
down. The Devils Peak Ale had great color, but again under-whelmed with its lack of hops and
depth. Joe liked the Calico Red, which to me it was like a typical macro red, no real body but
smooth and tasty. My favorite was the Buffalo Jump Stout, not the best I've had but the coffee
notes were balanced and it was quite drinkable. They also had a burger and a beer special for
$10.00. After a few more beers, stouts for me, Reds for Joe, all I can say is
thank heavens our hotel was so close by!
Our first planned beer stop was Royal Oak, MI. With three breweries within blocks of one
another, we couldn’t resist. The first one we visited was Bastone's. I immediately loved the feel
of this place. The décor is metallic and chic; the bartender incredibly friendly. Even better, he
bought us every third round even after we told him we’re from out of town. The Belgian Double
was outstanding, very balanced, with the proper sweetness and a great smoothness. That’s
where the good news runs dry, which is better than me running dry. The Hefe tasted over
banana-like with a hint of asparagus. The IPA was weak and grassy. Both the Blonde and
Pilsner had a rubber band taste, the latter with a metallic third note. The Red was far too biscuity
and required a water chaser to get down. The Belgian Triple tasted like a decent Saison,
a little fruity and sour. I wouldn’t call it a Triple, more like a strikeout.
So much for the chic atmosphere!
Next we went to Royal Oak Brewery. They definitely had delusions of mediocrity. The ESB,
Northern Light, Summerzest and IPA were all average. The Porch Sippin Porter was , shall we
say, drinkable. So too was the Royal Oak Red. It was sweet and malty and had reasonable body
and flavor. The Hefe was the loser of the bunch. It had a distinct smell of burning tires and
tasted even worse. It was the only beer we couldn’t finish. From us, that is saying somehing.
Our final stop in Royal Oak was Lily’s Seafood. I checked my list of breweries again before we
went in. ‘Beer and Seafood?’ I thought. Apparently so. When our sampler was served in wine
glasses, I got that strange sinking feeling again. Fortunately, bucking a trend in Michigan, the
wheat beer was tasty. It had depth and a great body to it, very balanced. The Light tasted under
fermented, like a mouthful of malt. The Honey Lager and the best bitter had practically no taste
at all; the Stout had a weird burnt flavor that was so strange I wasn’t sure if I liked it for being
so awful. The best thing about this outing was the check. We got a 5-beer sampler in generous
white wine glasses for just $2.50. Yes, that's $2.50! Did I mention it was only $2.50??
Even when we weren’t actively looking for it we found local brew. Just lucky I guess. While at
Greenfield Village we drank two distinctive beers at the town's lone tavern. One was Whistle
Stop mocha java stout and Big Bell’s Porter. Both were wonderful, complex and flavorful. The
Stout was super-aggressive in its coffee flavor. I love espresso, so I enjoyed it, but I think
outside of we Seattle coffeehouse fans it may have been a little much.
Before heading out of the Detroit area, we had to stop at the city’s namesake, the Detroit Beer
Company. This place had no décor, no frills. I couldn't say the decorating was bad because
they didn't have any. We sat right across from the stainless steel tanks. This place means
business! Their Light and the Detroit Lager were good for those in the standard macro-loving
crowd. They were crisp and clean. The Detroit Red was just malty enough. The J.B. Brown had
fantastic mouth feel and a deep, wonderful flavor. My favorite by an overwhelming margin was
the award winning Detroit Dwarf. Classified as a Keller, the first thing I noticed was its sweet,
inviting aroma. It begged me to drink. How could I say no? It’s a little potent, 6.8% ABV, but
you’d never know it by its smoothness. It was delightful; a beer highlight of the trip!
On our way out of town, we stopped in Ann Arbor, MI to visit two more brewpubs, again just
blocks apart. What amazing selection - twenty microbrews in two stops! And we had all twenty!
We first stopped at Grizzly Peak, themed like an old log cabin. Most of Grizzly’s problems were
with weakness in the first two beers and off flavors in the third. Their Gold finished rubbery;
their Centennial Pale Cask ended like a mouthful of flowers; their Oasthouse Wheat Ale (yes,
wheat ale) had a finishing taste of laundry detergent. The Steelhead Red was watered down and
without character. The high points were the El Hefe, a very drinkable and refreshing brew with a
subtle hint of banana. The Bear Paw Porter, was served entirely too cold, hiding a delightful
chocolate flavor that appeared when warm. The Grizzly Peak Pale was oh-so-well hopped. The
best was our last one, the County Cork Irish Stout, a delicious, creamy and decadent brew.
After all that beer, we went for a second round at Arbor Brewing Company. Well, I do drink like
a girl you know. At Abor we had eleven beers! Eleven! Our samples came out in shifts. The No
Parking Pilsner was decent and the Big Ben House Mild was more useful as palate cleanser than
beer. As Clint Eastwood might say, the rest of the beers fit into three sections: the good, the bad
and the just plain ugly. Firstly, what is up with Michigan and the cold, dark beers? I picked an
ice shard out my Fancy Fest Irish Stout. It was so cold that with my eyes closed, I couldn’t
even name the style. When it warmed though, there was a lovely espresso flavor and a great
character that just opened up to me. The Milestone Cask Porter was a refreshing shift, as I
didn’t even have to wait for the brew’s delicate balance, its mellow dark chocolate undertones,
and wonderful sweetness to come out. The Baby Joe’s Dunkel had a well-roasted flavor and
would have been very drinkable over the course of an evening had we not done all these samples.
The Brasserie Blonde was the highlight of the evening. What? Don’t let the name be misleading.
This Belgian was filled with vibrant spices that created a great taste without overwhelming the
beer’s sweetness. A lot of care quite obviously went into this brew. The Bavarian Bliss Hefe was
more like a saison with a random sourness throughout the notes. The aftertaste was like
vegetable soup. Also in the ugly category was the H-XL, and under-fermented overly malty
American Pale. It was far too new to be consumed by the general public. So what made the
superugly and nasty list? Three of the brews live on in infamy. One was the brewer's homage to
pork fat, a smoked lager, second was a rotten grapefruit laced Sacred Cow IPA, and third, their
Flying Blind Alt, which ended like a gym sock that hadn't seem washing in several months.
Been to any of these places and want to sound off on your favorites? Recommendations for
other thirsty travelers? Want more information for your own upcoming adventure?
Let me know! :-)
And while you're at it, send a note to the firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him how much
you're looking forward to reading about the rest of my beer journey.