This year we took our 2nd annual “Brewcation” to Michigan, and I’ll describe this year’s trip by saying that there were four breweries, three days, and two beer geeks! That was super cheesy…but accurate, so it’s cool.
Matt and I decided to once again spend the weekend of his Spring Break (Matt is a teacher) in Michigan bouncing from brewery to brewery, sipping samples and collecting and filling growlers of delicious liquid bread. This year we switched it up a bit and visited Bell’s Brewery, Founder’s Brewing Co., Brewery Vivant, and Greenbush Brewing Company. We’d been to the first two before, but Vivant and Greenbush were new to us.
On Friday night we arrived in Kalamazoo, checked into the Radisson within walking distance of Bell’s, and walked over to their Eccentric Cafe. This place has a really unique, eclectic feel that comes from the African masks, old maps, and local artwork that adorns its walls. It’s housed in what seems to be an old train station, judging by the super high ceilings, brick walls, its proximity to lots of train tracks, and the engraved steel beams that hold up part of the upper balcony in the taproom. Or, I could be totally making that up and it’s just an eclectic old building with a ton of character!
Bell’s Top Three Tastes:
#1) Larry’s Latest Lager Trial: This American Pale Lager was sweet (as in sweet corn and honey), floral, clean and crisp. It truly tasted like liquified bread with a subtle and simple wheaty, malty finish. It reminded me quite a bit of Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale.
#2) Consecrator Dopplebock: I’ve since had this Dopplebock out of the bottle, and the fresh-out-of-the-tap beer is so much richer, sweeter and fuller than any bottle I’ve had. This beer tasted like gooey raisins and chocolate grapes.
#3) Experimental Hop #2: This beer was so unique! It’s aroma was all blueberries, but it tasted like a smokey pine tree. Sweet at first, then it smacked you in the back of the mouth with bitter hops. We filled our growler with this bad boy, as it was the only growler fill choice that we couldn’t buy a bottle of at home.
The next morning we ate a breakfast fit for giants and drove north to Grand Rapids to visit Founder’s and Vivant. Founder’s recently expanded its already sizable taproom and now it has a second, smaller bar over by the gift shop side of things. We sat here and, unlike last time, were able to talk a bit more with some of the bar staff who seemed comparably less frazzled than last time we visited. One specific and very well-bearded bartender was super friendly towards us even after I frightened him out of his wits by nearly spilling my water everywhere (typical). I think he trusted us despite my clumsy behavior because Matt is also currently very well-bearded, too. A Beard Bond was formed and he spoke to us. Anyway, I mentioned that our next stop was Brewery Vivant and he told us that his friend is a brewer there and that we should really try his latest brett beer, called Coq D’Or (The Golden…Rooster). “OK,” we said!
Founder’s Top Three Tastes:
#1) Backwoods Bastard: This Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy aged in oak bourbon barrels was sticky sweet and syrupy, tasting like liquid raisins and some prune notes and had a warm kick towards the end from the bourbon. Balanced nicely with some hoppy character, this smooth beer coats the tongue with vanilla, oak, and a bit of chocolate too.
#2) Solid Gold: Maybe I liked it because it was so different from their typical offering, but this beer was super clean, crisp, and refreshing. HIghly carbonated it scrubbed my mouth clean with lemon, wheat, and sweet corn flavors, all encased in bready bubbles, with a light hop finish.
#3) Red’s Rye PA: This bold, rye beer packed a powerful punch of pine and citrus hops. Out of the bottle this beer is always a winner, but straight from the tap its fresh herbal qualities are especially distinctive.
On to Vivant we went, where upon walking inside, we were immediately impressed by the interior space. Vivant is housed in an old funeral home and the taproom sits inside the old chapel. Simply put, it’s gorgeous. This being a Belgian-focused brewery I was already excited to be transported (through beer) to the place of my dream vacation, but the arched stained glass windows, community-style wooden tables with benches, thick wooden ceiling beams, and the main bar set before an altar of beer glasses made it feel like we actually might have arrived in beer heaven. We actually sampled every single beer that they had on tap while waiting to attend the brewery tour. On the tour we learned that Vivant is the only LEEDs certified brewery in the United States and that’s part of the reason they chose to can all of their beers. The brewer who gave the tour either gave one of the most detailed and informative tours I have ever been on, or this is first brewery tour I’ve attended since really getting into home brewing myself and I finally understood what the heck they’ve been talking about all this time. In any case, this place was very impressive and the beer delightful.
Vivant’s Top Three Tastes:
#1) North French Ale: This Biere de Garde was my favorite beer of the entire trip. Like a handful of Vivant’s offerings, it managed to be both bready and tart in the same mouthful but this one in particular was incredibly drinkable, like a tart cherry scone. Fizzy and bright, with earthy pepper, coriander and a hint of floral vanilla, this beautiful orangey-auburn beer was a joy to drink.
#2) Undertaker: Similar to North French Ale, this Belgian Dark Ale began one way and ended another; it was surprisingly tart but also bready. It began with coffee and soft dark chocolate kisses, turned to bready malt and a slight grassy funk, and finished with a tart cherry zing.
#3) Coq D’Oro: Tropical fruits and green grape flavors impressed me in this juicy Belgian Pale Ale, which was a refreshing thirst-quencher wrapped in a blanket of earthy Belgian herbal funk.
That night we left for Holland, MI to stay the night. On Sunday morning we drank some delicious coffee at local coffee shop Lemonjello’s and then made our way to Sawyer, MI for a stop at Greenbush Brewing Company. Sawyer is a small, small town, and from the outside, Greenbush is unassuming. But when you walk in, it’s incredibly full of character and fun. Local artists create pieces that hang all around the brewery, but the walls are truly covered with their hundreds of mug club glasses. As a local informed us, at $40 for a lifetime membership this isn’t surprising. I probably have the fondest memory of this place out of all four. It felt very welcoming and the staff was remarkably friendly. AND Greenbush cures their own bacon in house, (COME ON!?! Yes.) which was of course delicious.
Greenbush’s Top Three Tastes:
#1) Loonar Eclipse: This was an incredibly refreshing Witbeer. When I first began to delve into craft beer, citrusy wheat beers were my favorite and this reminded me why. Lemon peel aroma, allspice, clove, cumin and banana flavors were suspended in a cloudy froth of grassy wheat.
#2) Starchicken Shotgun: Citrusy, hoppy and refreshing, this was a pleasantly vegetal, juicy, and oily hop rave in my mouth, without any bitter aftertaste. Cheers to Spring with this delicious IPA!
#3) Mulehead: This Belgian Farmhouse Ale was peppery, funky and herbal, with subtly spicy raisin flavors. I love finding a great “barnyard” beer and this fit the bill for sure.
After that, we went home with our four growlers filled and our Brewcation itch scratched…for the time being. Cheers!
What other breweries in Michigan should we visit to next time? Do tell!