I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and fell in love with craft beer during my college years. I have many fond memories spent with friends accompanied by some of the best beer produced in the state and in my opinion the country. Drinking Bell’s Oberon by the lake on a warm summer evening watching the sun go down is a little slice of heaven.
When I moved to California in 2007 I left behind nearly all of my favorite beer: Arcadia, Bell’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Founders and Detroit Brewing Company just to name a few. Only Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales distributes to the Left Coast. Sure, the Bay Area beer scene is incredible, but at times I long for my Michigan brew.
The void is filled at least once a year when I travel back for an annual trip to Northern Michigan with the guys I befriended in high school. This is the thirteenth year we’ve decided to spend a long winter weekend on the shores of Crystal Lake near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We hike, watch movies and sports, sit around a fire and nurse a keg of local beer. It’s our respite from the stress of responsibility and we catch up.
This year I decided to stretch the trip out for nine days from March 11-20. I have family to visit and wanted to do a statewide beer safari. Before moving I didn’t tour many and since then the craft beer industry has exploded. It’s one of the few economic bright spots with a solid nationwide reputation.
Michigan is currently home to 81 breweries ranking fifth behind Oregon and in-state sales have doubled since 2007. All the extra cash is fueling $70 Million in brewery renovations and expansions statewide.
Next week I plan on crisscrossing the state to visit seven breweries, five of which whose beer I’ve never tried. I’ll also be visiting one of my favorite BBQ restaurants in Detroit that’s become a hot spot for craft beer. Here’s my current itinerary that includes tours or interviews at four locations.
- Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Dexter, MI. Brewmaster Ron Jeffries is giving me a tour and sitting down for an interview. The New York Times recently declared his Oro de Calabaza the best Belgian Golden Ale in the world.
- Liberty Street Brewing Company, Plymouth, MI. A close friend of mine lives in town and has been telling me about this place for years. I’ll be stopping in for a set of tasters and speaking with Trisha Verma, co-founder of DrinkMichigan.org.
- Slows Bar-B-Q, Detroit, MI. I’ll be chatting with owner Phil Cooley and his beer team about their approach to serving craft beer while eating the delicious baby back ribs with a side of mac-n-cheese.
- Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, Warren, MI. They won two awards at last years GABF and a cult following has formed.
- Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI. The second largest craft brewer in the state with a $6.6 Million expansion in the works that will top production at 50,000 barrels. I’ll be touring the facility and hope to nab a few bottles of Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which will be released on March 12.
- Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids, MI. One of the 12 breweries to watch in 2011 according to Draft Magazine. They specialize in styles from Southern Belgium and Northern France.
- Shorts Brewing Company, Bellaire, MI. One of the fastest growing breweries in the state after opening in 2004. Their portfolio of beer includes Key Lime Pie and Pistachio Cream Ale. I’ll be checking out their Bellaire facility while the brewery in Elk Rapids undergoes a $1.4 million expansion.
- Right Brain Brewery, Traverse City, MI. I don’t know much about this brewery so why not stop? I’ve heard a few good rumblings and plan on sliding in for a selection of tasters.
I might include a few more quick stops, but the schedule is tight and the miles will add up. Another factor is Michigan’s unpredictable weather. It still snows in March so my fingers are crossed.
In the end, I’ll recap this grand tour in another pilgrimage essay or break it down into profiles. Feel free to share any trip suggestions covering beer or food.